You know the business world is changing when a highly secretive firm like McKinsey opens the kimono and actually addresses the myriad scandals that have befallen the firm in the past year.
As you’ll read in this Fortune column as well as a more in-depth Q-and-A that’s embedded in the piece, McKinsey’s top partner, Kevin Sneader, has ushered in a new era of authenticity and responsibility by sending a letter to employees acknowledging “mistakes” and “learning from those mistakes.” We shall see if either promise becomes reality.
I’ve blogged about McKinsey’s high-profile missteps in South Africa, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Each also received massive coverage in the New York Times. But in each Times article, one needed a magnifying glass to find the briefest of statements from a McKinsey spokesperson that either admitted wrongdoing or spoke to how the firm would avoid committing such transgressions in the future.
If you believe what he says, Sneader promises the Nixonian-like secrecy will change, beginning from the inside out.
That’s critical since, if partners and employees believe they can continue to engage in shady, unethical or illegal behaviors and not suffer consequences, nothing will change.
That said, if you take the time to read Sneader’s responses to Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky’s questions, you’ll shake your head at the double talk, obfuscation and evasiveness. But, hey, the longest journey begins with a single step.
It remains to be seen if the Fortune interview was an experiment to test the transparency waters or the beginning of a new era of authenticity in the strategic consulting world.
I hope that, for McKinsey’s sake, they will stay the course and begin to admit mistakes, change policies and, yes, apologize for their wrongdoings.
In the long run, McKinsey may have no choice since, as Fortune CEO Today columnist Allan Murray writes: “More than ever, business leaders need to step up and show their actions are benefiting society… and admit they make mistakes.”
Fortune 500 C-Suites are still dominated by executives who choose silence over authenticity. But employee activists and consumers alike have made it clear they will no longer work for, or buy products from, companies that aren’t contributing to society at large. “These groups are increasingly challenging companies large and small to put purpose ahead of profit,” says BrandFoundations Chief Brand Architect Steve Goodwin. “It’s one of the primary reasons we’re partnering with Peppercomm to deliver a one-day ‘Purpose-Way-Impact’ workshop that helps organizations crystalize their most powerful “north star” foundational messages in a way that the stale, old ‘Mission-Vision-Values’ construct simply can’t match. It’s the perfect ’tip-of-the-spear’ for Peppercomm’s StandSmart offering.”
Organizations that continue to cover-up misdeeds may eventually win in court, but they most certainly will lose in the court of public opinion.