Judgment Calls

Book review: Published by the Harvard Business Review, this book examines the stories of 12 big decisions and the teams behind them.


(Photo: Kayla Chobotiuk)

JUDGMENT CALLS: 12 Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams that Got Them Right
(Harvard Business Review)
Thomas H. Davenport and Brook Manville

It’s a bit meta to include, among the case studies of successful decision-making, the story of a consulting firm—the source of so many case studies. But McKinsey & Co., and its radical departure in how they hire, is the most instructive example in Judgment Calls, a new “guide to making better decisions.”

In the 1980s, the consulting firm had a problem: it was growing so fast that it couldn’t find qualified associates. McKinsey, along with most of the industry, relied heavily on MBA grads to fill its ranks. But there weren’t enough of them to go around. And so, in 1992, McKinsey ditched the MBA-first approach to recruiting. It began scouring the PhD programs, medical schools, law schools and so on to find “smart people,” then training them to be consultants.

The idea of non-traditional hiring practices wasn’t groundbreaking, but McKinsey’s systematic approach—building alliances outside of the business schools, and engineering “internal market receptivity” within the MBA-heavy McKinsey organization—was. Twenty years on, nobody doubts the decision was a winner. Says one former director of recruiting: “The diversity of background helps our problem solving, which is the heart of what we do.”