McKinsey PEI: Courageous Change Explained

the image is the cover for an article on the new mckinsey pei dimension courageous change

Last Updated on March 28, 2024

The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI) is an important component of McKinsey’s recruitment process. The PEI is designed to assess a candidate’s fit with the firm’s values and purpose, as well as their ability to navigate complex situations and make an impact.

Until recently, the PEI covered three dimensions that were evaluated. However, McKinsey has recently introduced a new dimension to the PEI, called “Courageous Change”, which evaluates a candidate’s ability to adapt to significant change and navigate ambiguous situations.

In this article, I want to shed some light on this dimension and provide you with potential sample stories that you could use as the foundation for your own stories.

Overview of the McKinsey PEI Dimensions

The PEI evaluates candidates on several dimensions, including “Personal Impact,” “Inclusive Leadership,” and “Entrepreneurial Drive.” Each dimension assesses specific skills and behaviors that are critical for success at McKinsey.

Inclusive Leadership. Show that you can handle a diverse group that accepts you as their leader, with each member looking up to you. Tailor your leadership style for different groups and different members of the group. Demonstrate that you can structure, divide, and delegate tasks. Motivate your team, and improve the team spirit and the working environment. Coach team members in their areas of weakness. Mediate conflicts between teammates and goals; meet goals. Be a trustworthy authority that people can learn from. Provide space for individual team members to perform at their best, give them room to voice their opinions, and champion their contributions. Summing up, let your presence have a positive impact on the team and lead to a strong outcome of a particular project or task.

Entrepreneurial Drive. Show ambition and dedication by pursuing several goals at the same time. Ideally, you are intrinsically motivated and not pushed by external factors. To achieve your desired outcome you overcome some obstacles or face headwinds. Follow the goals with energy and passion under time pressure, surpassing even your own expectations in the end.

Personal impact. Persuade a group or individual to adopt a certain idea or plan of yours (this does not imply that they necessarily have to like you). The idea can be unpopular but lead to a necessary decision or recommendation. Get people on your side or on the same page to enable a constructive working environment. By getting everyone on board, you create a sustainable way of working or even a solution to a difficult problem.

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Introducing Courageous Change

We are now seeing that across most offices Entrepreneurial Drive is removed from the interviewers’ curriculum and replaced by Courageous Change. However, some offices request candidates to prepare for all four dimensions in the McKinsey interview process.

The “Courageous Change” dimension is designed to evaluate a candidate’s ability to embrace change with courage and positivity and to be adaptable in unexpected situations. This dimension is particularly important in today’s rapidly changing business environment that consultants face daily, where the ability to adapt to new circumstances is critical for success. Being adaptable to change has always been part of the corporate agenda, but over the last years, it seems that the pace of change has only become faster and its magnitude more severe.

By revisiting a time when they experienced a significant change or encountered an ambiguous situation, candidates should showcase their ability to learn, grow, and make an impact in new and challenging situations.

It is important to note that McKinsey did not come up with a completely new dimension here as a lot of the elements that were relevant for Entrepreuenrial Drive are still relevant here. However, to score at the maximum and impress your interviewers it is important to also consider the differences between the two.

Content Elements for Courageous Change

Consider the following content elements when drafting your story during your interview preparation:

AdjustabilityQuickly adjust to new situations and change your course of action if needed.
Impact FocusFocus on areas that move the needle the most/where you have the biggest impact (80/20 and prioritization of tasks).
InitiativeShow initiative to tackle the issue; be a self-starter and not driven by someone else.
ResilienceHave the resilience and energy to deal with setbacks and stressful environments.
Learning from ChallengesUse challenging situations as a learning and step-up opportunity and to help others navigate challenging times.
Decision Making with Limited InformationAct based on limited or ambiguous information that is available to you.
Creative Problem-SolvingOvercome obstacles or face headwinds with creative and new ideas or approaches (focus on impact and sustainable solutions).
Positive Attitude in ChallengesRemain positive throughout the whole experience and see challenges and crises as opportunities.

In sum, demonstrating your ability to adapt to change, see opportunities, create lasting impact, and bring others along for the change is crucial for success in the Courageous Change interview.

Sample Answers For Courageous Change

Below are two sample answers for the new dimension that could provide you with the foundation of what content should be included for this dimension. Use it as an inspiration and create your own stories.

Similar to the other PEI dimensions, I would recommend that you create two stories for this dimension as well for two reasons. First, interviewers might want to hear a different story or second, you might have to talk about the same dimension twice with different interviewers.

When creating the story, use my battle-tested SCORE Framework for maximum impact and clarity. Also, remember that a typical Personal Experience Interview can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes and contains a lot of questions by the interviewers such as “How did you feel at that moment?”, “Why did you react in such a way?”, etc.

Remember all the details of the story and be prepared for potential challenges and deep dives.

Now, let’s look at the two examples for different applicants:

Experienced Hire Courageous Change Story

As I was leading a project team, we faced an unexpected challenge: our initial approach was significantly questioned by a key stakeholder. This moment was pivotal; I knew our project’s success hinged on how we responded.

Rather than reacting defensively, I prioritized understanding the stakeholder’s perspective. This involved arranging a meeting to discuss their concerns in depth. During this conversation, I actively listened, asked clarifying questions, and empathized with their viewpoint. It was crucial to demonstrate that their input was valued and taken seriously.

With a clearer understanding of the stakeholder’s concerns, I convened with my team to brainstorm a new approach. This session was marked by open dialogue and creative thinking. We evaluated multiple alternatives, considering both the stakeholder’s feedback and our project objectives. The team demonstrated exceptional adaptability during this process, shifting gears quickly and efficiently.

The remedial actions I took included:

  1. Revising the Project Plan: Based on the stakeholder’s feedback, we adjusted our strategy, ensuring it aligned with their expectations while still meeting our project goals.
  2. Enhancing Communication: We established a more frequent and transparent communication channel with the stakeholder. This ensured ongoing alignment and built trust.
  3. Leveraging Team Strengths: I delegated specific tasks to team members whose skills were best suited to address the new challenges. This optimized our response and maximized efficiency.
  4. Implementing Feedback Loops: Regular check-ins were scheduled to assess the effectiveness of our new approach and make timely adjustments if necessary.

These actions not only addressed the stakeholder’s concerns but also strengthened our project’s overall strategy. This experience was a testament to our team’s ability to adapt to new circumstances, embrace change with courage and positivity, and collaborate effectively to find optimal solutions. It showcased my versatility as a leader, the adaptability of our team in unexpected situations, and our collective commitment to achieving the best possible outcome for all parties involved.

Project manager faced with a challenge

Intern or Graduate Hire Courageous Change Story

During my internship in a dynamic, fast-paced start-up environment, our team was confronted with a major shift: our ongoing project was suddenly put on hold due to a change in the firm’s priorities. This abrupt change presented an ambiguous and challenging scenario.

Instead of viewing this as a setback, I embraced it as an opportunity for growth and learning. Even though I was the youngest on the team, I initiated a meeting with my team to reassess our position and brainstorm potential pathways forward. It was my internship project that was affected by this and I wanted to fix this. This proactive approach was crucial in shifting my team’s perspective from disappointment to opportunity.

The remedial actions I undertook included:

  1. Conducting a Thorough Analysis: I started by analyzing the firm’s revised priorities to understand the underlying reasons for the change. This helped us align our efforts with the new direction.
  2. Identifying Alternative Projects: I led a collaborative effort to identify new projects that were in line with the firm’s updated objectives. This involved researching potential areas of interest, evaluating their relevance, and considering how our skills could be applied effectively.
  3. Skill Development Plan: Recognizing the pause as a chance for personal development, I proposed a skill enhancement plan for the team. We identified key areas where we could improve and sought out online courses and workshops that could bolster our capabilities.
  4. Regular Updates with Supervisors: To ensure alignment with the firm’s goals, I arranged for regular check-ins with our supervisors. This maintained open lines of communication and provided us with valuable feedback and guidance.
  5. Adapting to New Roles: The shift in projects required me and the team to adapt to new roles and responsibilities. I encouraged the team to embrace these changes, seeing them as chances to expand our experience and versatility.
  6. Fostering a Positive Team Environment: Throughout this period of change, I focused on maintaining high morale and a positive team environment. Regular team meetings and open discussions about our progress and challenges helped keep everyone engaged and motivated.

Through these actions, I not only aligned myself with the firm’s new priorities but also leveraged the situation to enhance our skills and expand our professional horizons. This experience was a powerful reminder of what is possible if you adapt to rapidly changing environments, proactively address ambiguous situations, and turn potential challenges into opportunities for collective growth and personal development.

Intern faced with an ambigious situation

Preparing For the “Courageous Change” Dimension

To excel in McKinsey’s Personal Experience Interview (PEI), specifically the “Courageous Change” dimension, thoughtful preparation is key. Here are steps to prepare effectively:

1. Identify Two Relevant Situations

  • Reflect on your experiences and identify two situations where you demonstrated the qualities McKinsey seeks. These situations should showcase your adaptability, resilience, and ability to drive change. Choose scenarios from your professional life, academic experiences, or extracurricular activities. The aim is to find examples that highlight your ability to manage change effectively and creatively.

2. Context Selection

  • Ensure your chosen situations have a clear context. Professional scenarios could include leading a project through unforeseen challenges, adapting to a new role, or navigating company restructuring. In a university setting, this might involve leading a group project under changing requirements, or adapting your study approach to overcome academic obstacles. For extracurricular engagements, consider times when you had to adapt to new team dynamics or overcome logistical challenges in organizing events.

3. Structure Your Story with SCORE

  • The SCORE Framework is crucial for structuring your response. Focus on:
    • Situation: Briefly describe the context and challenges.
    • Complication: Highlight the specific changes or obstacles faced.
    • Outcome Expectation: Discuss the outcome if you would not have intervened.
    • Remedial Actions: Concentrate mainly on the actions you took to address the challenges. Detail how you adapted, overcame obstacles, and what innovative or creative solutions you implemented.
    • End Result: Conclude with the outcomes of your actions. Emphasize any positive impact, learning, or growth that resulted.

4. Discuss with Experienced Individuals

  • Talk through your stories with friends, peers, or professional case coaches who have a deep understanding of McKinsey’s evaluation criteria. Their feedback can help refine your stories, ensuring they align with what McKinsey looks for. They can also provide insights into how to articulate your experiences more effectively.

5. Anticipate Interviewer’s Questions

  • Prepare for potential questions the interviewer might ask. Common queries include:
    • What were your feelings during the situation?
    • Why did you choose a particular course of action?
    • What were the results of your actions?
    • How did you adapt your approach in response to changing circumstances?
  • Think about these questions in advance and prepare concise, reflective answers. This preparation will help you respond confidently during the interview.

By following these steps, you’ll be well-prepared to impress your interviewers with clear, structured, and impactful stories that demonstrate your ability to thrive in McKinsey’s “Courageous Change” dimension.

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