McKinsey’s 5 Moments of Need Journey

This blog is excerpted from episode 23 of the Performance Matters podcast where Bob Mosher speaks with Katie Coates, Senior Learning Manager at McKinsey Global, on her organization’s 5 Moments of Need solution, the business drivers for this shift, their journey thus far, and the lessons that have been learned along the way.

Bob Mosher (BM): Today—one of my favorite subseries, Experience Matters! We are honored to be joined by one of our heroes in this industry—Katie Coates from McKinsey.
She is one of those rare L&D leaders who is not afraid to risk—not afraid to fail forward if you will, and truly is a leader in all that she does. Katie, welcome!
Katie Coates (KC): Thank you so much, Bob! It is great to be here with you. Thanks for that wonderful introduction, I’m honored.
BM: So, deserved, and on that note, would you give us a bit more about your background and the current state of your team, so we have a better understanding of the current lay of the land there at McKinsey?
KC: I’ve been in Learning and Development for over 25 years. Currently I lead Learning for our Internal Firm Services. So about 13,000 professionals in our IT, Human Resources, Talent, Recruiting, Finance, all of the organizations that support our business. Our team—right now, we’re pretty new so the firm has recently started investing more in this area. I have one curriculum manager that works with me and a couple of delivery folks that help us deliver our programs.
BM: So, why The 5 Moments? Could you give us a little bit more about the journey that brought you to this approach?
KC: Our managing director talks a lot about the pace of change right now. It’s moving faster than ever before. And it will never be this slow again. And when we look at the complexity of the world and of our work and of our requirements, we really must start thinking about how do we do this? How do we become more flexible, more agile? How do we really focus on performance of our people to give them the skills and the knowledge, the mindset, that they need to really perform in this environment? As you know, we spent some time learning from you and Con about The 5 Moments of Need, and really looking at our internal Learning group and how we focus on performance first, instead of training or education. But really, what does it mean to actually do your job? I think that’s critical given the business environment now.
And we are in a space where we are in test and learn modes. So, we’re trying all kinds of new strategies; The 5 Moments of Need, Performance Support, bringing learning into the workflow. It’s just pivotal.
BM: I love the blend! It’s all part of that journey of what true blended learning is. So, Katie, tell us a bit about what have you worked on? What have been your milestones, projects, or even outcomes that have helped you and your organization mature in this thinking?
KC: We provide consulting services. We help organizations solve wicked problems. And part of the deliverables that our consultants provide to clients are written materials. These are PowerPoint presentations, or we call them pages or decks. And one of the first things that consultants learn when they join McKinsey is how to create pages in the McKinsey way, in the McKinsey format, and the McKinsey methodology. And what we found is that there is so much out there—even if you do know PowerPoint—when you come into McKinsey, there is a McKinsey type of PowerPoint—all kinds of add-ons and things like that. There’s also a way of thinking about creating and structuring documents. So, we use logical structuring for how we build out our pages. And the logic that’s around that—top down and bottom up—type of logic. So, there’s a lot for a new consultant to really wrap their head around as they start to do this type of work.
So, the very first project was to create a performance support tool which is very different from what we’ve seen out there. We’ve seen a lot of support tools out there that are helping sales professionals, but this was more about taking a softer skill, if you will, and building it into a performance support solution. And we built it.
It’s a small window that pops up with the consultant as they’re working on the PowerPoint and it walks them through “How do you produce a page?” “How do you choose the type of chart you want to create?” “How do you create that chart?”
We provide them with tons of resources and example pages they can pull from and leverage to create a new page. It’s very, very powerful.
We rolled it out as part of our new hire orientation, so when they join they get access to this support tool. To-date we’ve had around 8,000 professionals touch this tool. And, as expected, they use it for quite a bit of time after they leave the new hire orientation and then it kind of dwindles down. But that’s kind of what we expect to happen over time.
BM: So, what’s your feeling, Katie, about soft skills? Because one of the big things we hear often in performance support is, “Yeah, you guys, I get it. The pop-up thing. You’re embedding it in PowerPoint. Get that. The old days of RoboHelp or even Help itself within software. But you can’t do this for soft skills.”
With the journey you’ve been on, particularly in this first project, what are your feelings on that—what I frankly call a myth about performance support?
KC: It took some convincing for me too, right! I had to dig into it to really figure it out. But you can break anything down into a process. So, we took this and we broke it down into, “How do I create the story line--the story I’m trying to tell? How do I design the page? Then how do I produce the page?”
So, when we did our Rapid Workflow Analysis (RWA), we looked at this and we broke it down into those three big process buckets. And then within that, you go into “What are the key activities and what are the quick steps for those activities?” Then you use the pyramid approach of “What else do you as an individual need? And what other resources do you need to complete the task?”
So, you can break it down. I’m working on another project right now. We’re just in the beginning stages but we’re trying to provide support for all our people managers—our people leaders. We call it “How do I?” “How do I hire someone?” “How do I develop them?” “How do I evaluate them?” “How do I expand them and help them grow in their career?” And then, “How do I handle issues?”
BM: Let’s now talk a little bit about lessons learned. So many people that listen to theses podcasts are not 5 Moments enamored yet, or they are growing into it. You’re a bit deeper into the journey but obviously, as we all do, you still have things to learn.
But think back. What would you do differently sitting where you do now when you look back on the journey?
KC: I think it is about communicating clearly throughout the process. One of the big hiccups we had in the first project was with the learning leaders across the centers. My thinking was more versed in The 5 Moments and in performance support solutions. And when I described this, they got it, but they were having a really hard time seeing it in action. I ended up having to go to India and get my hands into it with them. I think if there was something we had to do over around communication with that team, is it would be in person—really working hands on together. It is the Learning team you really must convince and educate. I think that’s one big area where I would have done it differently. I would have had a few more examples and clearer communications with that group to help them really understand what this all meant.
BM: So, I’m just starting out, let’s say. I’m thinking about going this way. You sort of spoke to that in the longer journey. But the feedback we get is that these stories are so empowering to folks. It builds their courage, right? They hear this and go, “My gosh, I want to be there someday. But frankly, I’m way back here.”
What would you tell yourself in that first day you sat in that seat listening to this methodology for the first time?
KC: Well, I would say, starting small is important. You really pushed us on this. You start small. You pick one thing that you can really work on and do the proof of concept. That was really powerful for us, to do something very small.
So, we took one piece of the written communications and built it out. Then we tested it with learners. We had learners help us develop it—that is key. You have to have the business matter expert, someone who really understands and is in the guts of the business, as part of the design journey and process. We also tested early and often with our learners. That really had an impact on us being able to do this, and do it effectively, then get it out the door. I think that’s one thing.
Secondly, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s the crawl-walk-run model. We’re in walk now and I’m comfortable with that. I think it’s a good place to be. So, I think sometimes when you put pressure on yourself, you think you’re going to do this quick and get it out the door and everything’s going to work perfectly.
But it takes time to build the story, it takes time to get everybody engaged in this, meaning your business leaders, your Learning and Development professionals, your learners—and your managers of the learners too. They are important in this process as well. Then all your coaches and trainers and facilitators—all of those. There are a lot of stakeholders you have to engage. And when you start small you can start to do that more effectively.
That’s my advice. Learning a lot through our work with you, Bob—it’s really about how you pick something small, test, and learn. You’re going to fail. Fail early. Fix it. Get back on things and make it work.
BM: It’s a wonderful pace to go. Sustainability is different than a flash in the pan.
You, in your journey, have taken that crawl-walk-run approach, building on clearly understanding that you have to be successful in each of those efforts, but the broader win is keeping your eye on that bigger picture in the landscape all the time.
KC: That’s right! That’s absolutely right.
BM: We cannot thank you enough, Katie, for the wonderful leader that you are, for the risks you take, for the way you and your organization are so wonderful at sharing your story so that others to can learn.
For more around the projects McKinsey have—and are—taking on download or listen to this entire episode. And be sure to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in the 5 Moments space.

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