Creating a culture where everyone can speak openly and question those in charge, is a rare thing. Speaking out takes guts…and it also requires humility on the side of those receiving it. What’s for sure is very few organisations make it a hallmark of their values, unlike McKinsey. They recognised the benefits of ‘dissent’ in 1933, which is quite remarkable considering it’s an idea that challenges many leaders today.
An “Obligation to Dissent” was first articulated by Marvin Bower, who joined McKinsey in 1933 and later served as managing director. The story goes that Bower asked a junior employee, Fred Gluck how a project was going and he said he thought the partners were approaching it the wrong way. The next day Bower spoke to the project leader and agreed with Gluck’s assessment – the newcomer was right.
According to McKinsey, Marvin Bower views on leadership and culture continue to be a major force in shaping the business today. This is confirmed by ex-McKinsey employee and founder of FiveStars, Victor Ho, who said in a New York Times interview in 2016, “the strongest lesson I learned at McKinsey that I now share with every single new hire is what they call the “obligation to dissent.” It means that the youngest, most junior person in any given meeting is the most capable to disagree with the most senior person in the room.”
In just three words, written in 1933, a value was expressed that continues to be meaningful today, especially in light of Oxfam’s sex abuse, the Weinstein allegations and the VW emission scandal. Dissent is good – it gives people the confidence to speak out and defines a culture that is ready to listen.