Lead(H)er: Jennifer Gormley, Senior Director for Change & Enablement at BCG
Jennifer Gormley views design as a multidisciplinary field, with a strong connection between science, business, and, of course, art.
That perspective has grown stronger over the course of her career. With a degree in communication design, Gormley started her career with a focus on designing magazine layouts and specialty publications. But a colleague who soon recruited Gormley to work at a broadband video startup had a strong belief that good design is good design no matter where or how it happened and that the principles Gormley had learned in publishing could take her anywhere.
“That job was really just an accidental opportunity to apply my degree in a new way,” Gormley said. “Through that experience, I was exposed to the other disciplines around interactive design – specifically user experience - which is very much my focus today, video production, development, product management. I found that I really enjoyed not just deciding what color things were or what they look like, but helping other teams discover those as well.”
From that role, Gormley fell quickly into management and leadership positions, eventually becoming the Director of Creative Services at Schematic before founding her own product design company and working as a consultant for the next six years.
When she was ready to get back into a more traditional office setting, Gormley found herself at McKinsey with a blank piece of paper and a request: Show us your ideas for an online learning platform.
“I think that was the first time that my position in my career and my appreciation of my own skills combined at exactly the right opportunity,” Gormley said.
During her four years at McKinsey, Gormley acted as the Senior Director of Product for McKinsey Academy, a platform designed to turn employees into leaders and build their potential through professional development, experiential learning, and digital tools.
Gormley is now continuing her pattern of education and interdisciplinary thinking as she closes out her first year as the Senior Director for Change and Enablement at the Boston Consulting Group. In this role, she manages user experience and visual design while advising products and tools within BCG’s change and enablement suite, which supports engagements around organizational change throughout the firm.
To be successful in the role, Gormley strives to connect the business, analytical, scientific, and creative aspects that are all at play when it comes to creating exceptional user experiences for clients and case teams alike.
“I'm eager to change the way we define the impact of our work and say that decisions were made not because people like it and rated it on the scale of five out of six, but because it made the business work better or faster, or the engagement was more successful, or more learning outcomes were achieved faster, or we got to market quicker.”
Gormley is also working hard to not only help her team view the world of consulting through a similarly multidimensional lens, but to unlock their personal strengths to find their own professional niches and successes. It’s part of that natural bent towards leadership and a long-term goal for Gormley as she progresses in her own career.
“I think any role that I have in the future will still be about figuring out how to empower team members who come from different backgrounds and different skill sets and different levels of confidence in their contributions to all be their best selves,” Gormley said. “It sounds like a totally cheesy thing, but I do think that that helping individuals grow no matter what work we're doing is really important to our team culture and product success.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
I do a lot of renovation projects. My husband and I bought this very old house, and I every other weekend there’s an electrical project. Later tonight I have to paint one of the downstairs rooms. I also have two young kids, so there's constantly a Lego project or arts and crafts or something like that. So anything hands on, especially since so much of my work day to day is thinking. I like doing sometimes.
How do you typically handle stress?
Procrastination! It's probably the wrong - but the honest - answer. I think that I try to have a really healthy work life balance, and I encourage my team to do the same. There are ways that I’ve just learned to sort of shut off and disconnect when things are getting particularly crazy, and that sort of helps clear my mind. Having any sort of hands-on or totally distracting six-year-old child problems can sort of reset your priorities. I think you have a fresh perspective when you go back to it. Mostly, I let things just pile up and put my head down and pile through them. It’s definitely not good for long term health, but it works for the moment.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I have two each day, quite quickly in the morning. My oldest son now knows not to talk to me until I have the first one, but I have two every day, like clockwork.
What’s one of your favorite spots in the New York City area?
I would say the South Street Seaport. My husband and I and our two boys have lived there in a few different apartments for seven or eight years, so my kids grew up there. I find it relaxing. It has hints of how I grew up on the Jersey Shore -- there were always seagulls there, always boats, so it felt familiar but also sort of ours at the same time.
What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?
I would like to believe the work that I'm doing now will shake out to be one of them. At McKinsey, I felt freed up in a way that I hadn't been until that point to really do things right and to push everybody to rally around a vision and find that vision together. I think that was certainly one of the biggest and most involved products I've ever tackled, and it was the first time that I really felt like the sky was the limit and that I took advantage of that.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I think it was, honestly. I had always wanted to have the influence and power to help team members who wouldn't often have that option themselves. I see myself as a protector and a supporter and somebody who is looking to empower teams. You can't do that if you're not standing toe to toe with other business leaders. Did I see myself in consulting, probably not -- that was a relatively recent development in the industry anyway, and consulting firms and large corporations acquiring design firms has only recently evolved. But I would say I saw something similar in my head 10 years ago. Absolutely.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
I started off my career thinking,“Okay great, I'm going to work in magazines. I'm going to really obsess about print design and do all of the things a print designer does.” And it took too long for me to feel like there were 15 other avenues of my work that I should be exploring. Design is design. I could have easily, at any point in my career, gone on and been designing toothpaste boxes and doing physical product design or video or any number of other things.
I would encourage people to certainly later take whatever their core passion is, whether it's engineering or tech or architecture or UI development or visual design or product management or whatever those roles are, and not restrict your passion to just that one role and that one path. Really learn everything you can about it because it really does broaden your possible path going forward.
In addition, my best roles have certainly come because I worked very hard for them, but also just because of my network. I would encourage everybody who has just graduated school to find a mini board of directors or advisors. Any time I get a new job or any time I'm considering something challenging in my career, there are five people that I reach out to and I ask them for their take. That has shaken out insights from industry leaders in different areas, that's shaken out job opportunities, that's shaken out just a new way or new perspective to think about things. That networking piece is so important. I don't think people do enough of it, or they do it in the wrong way. I can’t just get 5,000 names my LinkedIn profile. It's got to be a curated list of trusted advisors and mentors. That'll really set people up for success as they go out into the world.