The building blocks of a new business – the story of an intrapreneur

By Philippe Mauchard | Co-founder and core global leader of McKinsey Solutions
Philippemauchard Intrapreneur

Recently, McKinsey Solutions was mentioned by renowned Harvard Business School innovation professor Clayton Christensen together with Dina Wang and Derek Van Bever, in an article they wrote about disruption in the consulting industry.

The article, Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption (see original HBR article) describes several changes impacting professional services and highlights McKinsey’s integration of alternative delivery models, such as McKinsey Solutions, into our client work as an example of the self-disruptive moves firms will need to take to deliver continued client impact. Christensen also interviewed our Managing Director, Dominic Barton, and they discussed some of the challenges McKinsey has faced, and still faces, in building McKinsey Solutions (listen to the podcast).

Having been at the core of the global team that built and led the McKinsey Solutions organization from bottom-up, going from a handful of employees to the 550+ it has today, I experienced these challenges first-hand and they’ve taught me more about making change happen in a large organization than any of my previous roles as a consultant. In this blog, I’d like to give some background on how McKinsey Solutions came about, as well as discuss the two key drivers of our growth that stand out for me: innovation and entre-/intrapreneurship.

In the past few years, the explosion of big data has been phenomenal and the questions people have been asking are: “How can you harness it, combine it with proprietary knowledge, and deliver it to decision makers in a meaningful and innovative way?” and: “With the frontier between strategy and execution blurring, how can we continue to make effective and timely decisions in an ever more uncertain environment?”

Some 7-8 years ago, we at McKinsey & Company were asking ourselves the same types of questions. There were discussions going on in the firm about the fact that we were investing a lot, year in, year out in proprietary knowledge to address issues in business and society. We were wondering whether we were getting the best out of these resources and especially whether our clients were benefiting as much as they could from this knowledge. By proprietary knowledge I mean the databases, assets, models, and tools that we regularly develop for our teams to be more effective, convincing, and impactful.

The end result of these discussions boiled down to a mandate to design a new set of services with the intention of building on this accumulated wealth of intellectual property - and this ultimately became McKinsey Solutions. Our objectives in how we best equip our clients for impact were two-fold: first, help our clients consistently gain more detailed relevant and impactful insights on an on-going basis; and, second, do something we hadn't really done before - investing not only in the content of the knowledge but also in the way it is delivered.

The innovative delivery is probably the key differentiator of McKinsey Solutions, in hindsight, almost even more than the content itself. McKinsey is known for addressing complex issues and surfacing unseen problems, and our Solutions are basically a way to bring scalability to our ability to do so and deliver our knowledge in a more standardized and packaged way. Also, and maybe more importantly, it's sustainable. People in organizations can continue to benefit from the combination of the data, software, and analytic expert support as and when they need it.

Our mindset over time has been that there must be an app that would resonate with the business world – and this thinking ‘there must be an app for that’ is what has inspired us to go on this journey. If you think about iPads, iPhones, and all those smart devices, apps tend to be a concentrate of something new and useful. We’d been thinking for some time about developing an app for the business world that embeds the coolness of these smart devices with the business dimension i.e., it has to be available when you need it, simple to use, and nimble. Plus, the delivery method should be fun and much more appealing than typical business support processes, tools, systems, dashboards, ugly charts, and so on. And of course, it also needs to be cost-efficient.

To achieve any innovation, you have to be entrepreneurial. You need to be bold and a bit of a maverick, have a rebel mindset, challenge yourself constantly, and be unafraid to get out of your comfort zone. But — like any innovation in a company — you also have to have a strong commitment from the top leadership and a handful of people who are mandated in a cocooned way to try new things out. Then progressively, once you see there is a proof-of-concept of the more extreme models, you need to try and work more on the 'intra' part of the intrapreneurial approach, which is how you can better embed what is in development. You should ask yourself, for example, would the new ideas maybe work in a more sustainable way inside the parent company? McKinsey Solutions is a prime example of how a group of entrepreneurs became intrapreneurs and developed an idea into an innovative set of new services.

Today, we have around 20 Solutions at different stages of their life-cycle, in core areas with more coming on board all the time. Our ambition is to offer Solutions on an even broader range of relevant topics to decision makers in businesses and public institutions. This will, of course, require us to find ways to continuously innovate as well as make sure we continue to get the balance right between entre- and intrapreneurship; or work in collaboration with complementary third parties — an area of growing importance to us.

Philippe is a Principal in the Brussels office of McKinsey & Company and core global leader of McKinsey Solutions. Over the last 3 years, he has focused on assisting global clients in both leveraging existing McKinsey Solutions, as well as in upgrading their business intelligence performance and innovating their approach to developing and leveraging business insights.
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