Leaders in the Limelight: Pam Lee

Written By

Susan Jacobs

March 23, 2018

Pam Lee

My namePam Lee

My company: McKinsey & Company

My title: Director of Course Operations, McKinsey Academy

My location: Washington, D.C.

Best business advice I ever received: You’re going to reinvent yourself professionally at least a few times throughout your career—don’t be afraid of pushing yourself into the unknown. I’ve been with McKinsey & Company for over 16 years and have had to reinvent myself plenty of times.

I started at McKinsey as an IT business analyst. I loved my work, especially anything that had to do with people-related systems and processes. After working in IT for five years and getting my Master’s in Educational Technology Leadership, I joined McKinsey’s very first eLearning team as a content developer. This was a huge change for me but looking back it was time for me to reinvent myself. Wow, what an exhilarating experience to be part of the start-up team that established what technology-enabled learning should and would be at McKinsey! For over eight years I was in the trenches building digital learning experiences for our employees and our clients. I learned best practices for navigating the digital learning space while working closely with a team of established and experienced practitioners.

About four years ago I was presented with the opportunity to head up course operations at McKinsey Academy, the firm’s newest client-facing leadership development and learning venture. I could finally merge my passion for IT processes with my course development experience and figure out how we were going to build and deliver courses to clients. It was a huge risk, but it forced me to reinvent myself and flex my muscles in a new way.

Most daring personal career move: Making the industry jump from IT into learning. I’m all about keeping harmony; when things are going well I’ll go to great lengths to avoid disruption. In this case I was terrified to leave a role that I excelled in to take a role that I didn’t even know if I’d like. When I was faced with this offer I consulted my manager at the time and he told me, “Pam, you’re awesome in your current role, and you’ve got potential to grow here. If you take the new role, you don’t even know how you’ll do. You could be wildly successful, or it could be a disaster. I support you either way.” Having supportive mentors such as my manager gave me the confidence to take the risk.

What I’m most proud of: My team. Every day I’m so thankful that I have the privilege to collaborate with some of the most amazing learning professionals in the world. We’ve rapidly grown from a small, scrappy team to a thriving organization. I love that we push each other to perform at our best, we openly share our challenges, and we have a learning mindset—we aren’t afraid of admitting mistakes. Instead, we use them as learning opportunities and focus on how we can make improvements for the future. Yes, we do great work, but what really inspires me to bring my best to work each day are the people.

Current workplace challenge: The current challenge I’m facing is scaling. Fortunately, we’ve experienced incredible growth over the past few years. But how can we deliver world-class learning in a scalable way that doesn’t sacrifice quality and keeps all the existing trains running on time? I focus on people, process, and technology.

In my opinion the key to successful scaling is thoughtful investment in your people—making smart hiring decisions; focusing on strengths-based professional development; promoting from within; embracing a feedback culture; and having regular discussions around culture and wellness. This takes considerable time and energy but it’s worth the effort—especially when, shortly after, you find yourself sitting around the table with the best team possible to help you solve your next problem.

Regarding processes, they’ll look vastly different when you’re creating two versus 20 versus 200 courses concurrently. We’re constantly making process improvements, but we’re far from perfect. It’s hard. It’s enough of a challenge to ground one’s work in solid instructional design principles using tried-and-true course development processes, but the constant adjustments based on client need brings the challenge up another notch. As we mature our operations, the need for enforcing process rigor and controlled iteration becomes even more important.

Scaling up technology has been another challenge. Platform and engineering teams need to ensure technology can keep up with client demands. Some specific goals around scaling up technology include accommodating for larger cohort sizes; creating functionality that is reusable and configurable; ensuring efficient platform administration; and improving security standards. 

Something people don’t know about me: I love learning new things (of course, I’m in the industry!), but the absolute best thing for me is learning something new next to someone you love. My eight-year-old son has been taking tennis lessons at our local recreation center every Saturday morning. I used to quickly drop him off and run an errand before pick-up time or sit on the sidelines and catch up on my email. One time I noticed some adults the next court taking beginner lessons. I signed up for the next season and we now we attend tennis lessons together on Saturday mornings. The benefits: not only do I learn a new skill (and burn some calories), but I also engage in a shared learning experience with my son. Talk about real life social learning!

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