How strategy firms foster professional development

22 September 2015 7 min. read

Culture is the glue that binds a firm together and it’s the hardest thing for competitors to copy, says Michael Mcloughlin, Managing Director of IRG Executive Search. In this article he explores how strategy consultants McKinsey & Company, BCG, A.T. Kearney and Bain & Company foster a great company culture, and the positive impact it has on professional development and engagement performance.

It plays an essential role in the performance of any business, and as an industry, Consulting is highly dependent on the values and loyalty of individuals. Consulting firms rely on the culture and moral within their organisations more than most. Statistics have shown that a company’s culture has a direct impact on employee turnover and a Columbia University study indicated that the likelihood of job turnover at an organisation with rich company culture is a mere 13.9%, whereas the probability of job turnover in poor company cultures is 48.4%.

Culture is what makes up the ethos and ‘feel’ of a business and inevitably assists a firm to reach their goal. Everything from vision and ambitions, to beliefs and structures are contributions to culture. Company culture has great influence in both attracting and retaining the best talent, in addition to directing the innovation, people development, and client focus within a firm.

Culture is what makes up the ethos and feel of a business

What does great company culture look like in the consultancy industry?
The benefits of a positive firm culture cannot be understated, particularly in an industry where there is so much emphasis on a consultants ability to leave positive impressions on peers and clients. Some of the most prevalent aspects of company culture within consulting firms are as follows:

Work-life balance:
In a fast-paced industry, it is easy for individuals to become consumed by their work and neglect their life outside of their career. Ensuring that any employee has the time they need with friends and family is of paramount importance, because it can impact their mood, ability to work and general well-being. Consulting firms are becoming more aware and considerate in this regard although there is still more to be done. There is now greater respect for an individual’s personal time. Flexible and creative work arrangements can be agreed to accommodate work-life balance.

McKinsey & Company

As an example; McKinsey & Company have a “Take Time” policy, which allows consultants to take additional unpaid leave of 5 to 10 weeks between projects, used to pursue personal interests and spend time with family. In a similar approach, A.T. Kearney runs a ‘Success with Flex’ program which offers a range of flexible work and alternative-path programs such as opportunities for part-time, home working, or even internal job rotation to provide flexibility in balancing the needs of both work and life, as just one of their routes for flexible working. Programs such as this are invaluable to employees as they generate ‘workplace happiness’. The Harvard Business Review has conducted a decade of research which demonstrates that happiness increases nearly every business and educational outcome: raising sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%.

Professional development:
In many cases, consultants stay in the industry due to their love of the profession, the ability to drive change and work with a wide variety of people and clients. In order to retain this motivation, a clear path of progression is essential to avoid feelings of stagnation. As a firm that have great appreciation for both culture and progression; A.T. Kearney are aware that long-term success depends upon the individual progression of consultants and make every effort to accelerate the progress of advisors along a clearly defined career path. Advances can be made as rapidly as abilities allow. The firm was also recognised as a ‘Top Employer for Career Progression’ in 2014 in the ‘Top Employer’ Awards. The Boston Consulting Group also offers unique programs for top performers that reward top talent at the firm, such as ‘The Strategy Institute’ – a special international project team that develops a long-term look at strategy and competitive advantage.

A.T. Kearney

To ensure their employees are actively striving to improve, top tier consultancy firms implement an ‘up or out’ policy. Formal performance reviews are given at the end of every project, where Consultants must demonstrate that they have developed their skillset in the desired capacities, otherwise there may be a suggestion for ‘Exit’. As an alternative approach, McKinsey & Company has a ‘subject matter expert track’ which moves consultants into specialist practices – indicating a more ‘grow or go’ attitude, which in turn improves employee morale and adds to a culture of collective growth and development.

Team spirit:
Many tasks within consulting require co-operation between team members, for example; project planning and execution. In an approach to addressing the team work objective, The Boston Consulting Group worked with Professor Leslie Perlow of Harvard Business School to create a global program called PTO (Predictability, Teaming, and Open Communication). PTO establishes a detailed road map for every BCG project. These maps include transparent working norms and priorities and a collectively agreed-on time-off goal for each team member. The idea is to build a deeper understanding of how to manage complex projects, connect more deeply with colleagues and clients, and build the teamwork and leadership skills of BCG consultants.


Hiring people that share drive and determination is a great starting point for fostering team spirit and creating a collaborative team culture. Firm’s also practice moral building strategies, such as organising group activities to bring staff closer together such as all consultant meetings. Bain & Company also participate in a co-operative working style that emphasises teamwork, trust and tolerance for diverging opinions, which is driven by the companies "one team" structure. In an industry with such high opposition rates, the collaboration and partnership between team members can be a significant factor in successful and effective project management which ensures they can triumph collectively against competitors.

What does this mean?
Working within a firm with a culture that fits their personality can have a major impact an individual's professional development. A strong cultural fit can allow individuals to feel at “home”, grow as an employee, learn new skills and take on further responsibility. This benefits both the firm and the individual, allowing them to grow and develop together.

Bain & Company

Culture is a boundless mediating factor in firm accomplishment. It should be respected and valued, the ripple effects of a firm with a great culture are directly correlated to performance and success, including efficiency and earnings. Once the culture is learned within a business, it lays the foundation for direction, aspiration and objective for the future.