Building a learning culture that drives business forward

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of a podcast involving Matthew Smith and Elizabeth Young McNally for the McKinsey Blog, sponsored by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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In this episode of The McKinsey Podcast, Diane Brady speaks with Elizabeth Young McNally and Matthew Smith about how individuals and organizations can build skills and create a learning culture. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

Diane Brady: Hello and welcome to The McKinsey Podcast. I’m Diane Brady. We all think we can learn. But it’s more of an acquired skill than you think. And there is a reason why most company learning programs don’t work. Joining me today are two McKinsey partners who can tell us a lot about the fundamental and underappreciated skill of learning, not just how we improve that skill as individuals, but also how we nurture it in others, and how we create a real learning culture in our companies. Elizabeth Young McNally is a global leader of the McKinsey Academy out of Stamford, Connecticut. And Matthew Smith is McKinsey’s chief learning officer based in Paris. Liz and Matt, welcome.

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Matthew Smith: Thanks, Diane.

Elizabeth Young McNally: Thank you.

Diane Brady: Let’s start by talking a little bit about where you sit in this universe. Tell us what you do. Matt, I’ll start with you.

Matthew Smith: I am the chief learning officer here at McKinsey. What that means is I look after the learning and development of all of our 30,000-plus colleagues globally. That involves deeply understanding what the needs of our people are in terms of the capabilities they need to be successful, not only within McKinsey but also in their broader careers.

And then I turn that into a set of offerings that they can take advantage of—like leadership-development programs, internal and external courses—and make sure that we’re meeting those needs. That’s my job in a normal year.

In this very abnormal environment that we’re in now, where obviously many people are not able to go to in-person programs or attend live learning sessions, we’ve also been working very hard to ensure that all of our offerings are fit for the moment that we’re in. We’ve been doing a lot over this past year in particular to pivot much of what we do to digital and distance formats.

Diane Brady: I know from remote schooling that it’s a challenge to transfer to a digital environment. Before I go on to Liz, it sounds a little like you crowdsource programs. That’s not quite accurate, is it?

Matthew Smith: Well, I wouldn’t say we crowdsource. But we try to get the best of what’s offered externally and combine that with things that we create ourselves for our own people. I’ll give you an example. A skill like how to lead a McKinsey project team or how to solve problems in a very McKinsey-specific way, that’s not something that we can just source from the outside world.

It’s something we have to build for ourselves, for our own people. But, on the other hand, if we’re trying to teach people how to code in Python or the fundamentals of machine learning and artificial intelligence, there’s actually a lot of great material out there.

Over the past few years, there’s been just an explosion of external content available on sites like Coursera and Udemy and LinkedIn. We want to tap into that. We want to make sure that we offer our colleagues a mix of internally created programs for that very McKinsey-specific content, as well as the best of external content on skills that we don’t really need to reinvent the wheel on.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Matthew Smith is a partner and former chief learning officer in McKinsey’s Paris office, and Elizabeth Young McNally is an alumna of the New York office. Diane Brady is a senior editor with McKinsey Global Publishing in the New York office.


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