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CONSULTING FIRMS MUST REINVENT THEMSELVES

06 July 2020
By Camille Watine and Geoffrey Taal, Audencia Grande Ecole programme students

WHEN people are asked about the world of consulting, here are some frequently used words: "Careerism, suits, very expensive for not much, all the same, long hours, high salaries..." However, at a time when the awareness of the meaning that one wishes to give to one's professional activity seems to be hitting the new generations hard and sensitizing the older ones, how can this image of consulting be reconciled with the new expectations?

Indeed, even if Generation X is hardly spared, the changes in the behaviour of Generations Y and Z seem all the more marked. More and more people are questioning their career choices, the path they wish to take and the impact they want to have in a society with ever-increasing challenges. The rise of CSR-related issues seems to be one of the reasons for these changes in behavior. It is certainly not the only one. We also note that the turnover rate in consulting is extremely high compared to other sectors of activity. In France, the average turnover rate in consulting firms is 15.1% according to the Center for Economics and Business Research.

This figure is perhaps to be compared with the behaviour of the younger generation when it comes to consuming goods and services. The latter are indeed known to be very untrustworthy, in particular because their access to information has increased tenfold in recent years and increases the competition between companies.

So would access to information also play a key role when it comes to hiring? Today, it has become common to hear young graduates saying, "I can't decide what company to join." The very fact that they can even use the term "choose" reflects a growing paradigm shift that illustrates the fact that companies, including consulting firms, are under scrutiny and have to deal with this change. Based on these observations, consulting firms must reinvent themselves. Can we say that the traditional balance of power has been reversed and how should consulting firms reinvent themselves to meet the expectations of the new generations?

THE new expectations of the younger generation have consequences on careers especially in consulting where it seems that young workers often consider consulting as a boost for their careers. They acquire strong analysis skills and working capabilities and after one to three years they leave to start a career in another firm and in many cases not in the consulting sector.

Martin, a junior KPMG consultant explained,“I believe young consultants today have particular expectations of their work; they are looking for significant missions, an empowering management and of course good working conditions and a balance between private and professional life.” Three main themes emerges from this quote.

First of all, many young workers show a great deal of sensitivity to environmental and societal issues and therefore want to conduct missions with a real impact.

Then, junior consultants are looking for recognition from their managers, they want to be able to take many initiatives and have responsibilities especially when being a junior. The management is at the heart of a firm’s atmosphere and this management is all the more important as more or less all consulting firm are promoting the same values and are claiming they empower and responsibilise juniors. The values are not a criterion of differentiation between consulting firms and are reflected in the management. The question they should asked themselves is how are those values implemented on a daily basis? Fortunately, this millennial generation has an easy access to information. Professional social networks such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor can easily provide young consultants with information about the working conditions of a company. It is easier today to have insights.

The last important point when defining career expectations is the balance between personal and professional life. This point is obviously linked to good management. According to young consultants, a good dynamic is also necessary as well as a warm and friendly atmosphere. As Martin stated, “It has to be a working environment but also a pleasant place to evolve. Considering the fact that today salaries are very similar from one consulting firm to another, the atmosphere can really make the difference.”

IN order to meet those new expectations, the consulting firms had to restructure themselves and to launch new policies. The new “No routine” HR policy by KPMG illustrates perfectly the willingness to change mentalities about consulting and seduce the young generation. This campaign is based on 3 pillars: a working environment "a thousand miles away from being immobile", and innovative and meaningful projects. A lot of impulses are given in this direction today to break the codes and prejudices of the consulting world. Consulting firms are increasingly aware that these policies must be part of their strategic directions.

Moreover, management is freer than before. It seems that, for example, managers pay less and less attention to the time their consultants leave the office as long as their work is done. Most of the time junior consultants can organize their work at their convenience and satisfy their needs of freedom. Are the days of binding managers gone?

Finally, many consulting firms are beginning to focus on flexible career paths and hybridization of skills. The objectives of the firms are twofold: allowing consultants to grow professionally and, of course, counting among their teams qualified people with atypical profiles. "I chose KPMG because the company has adapted to my needs." Martin was able to pursue a thesis while becoming a consultant at KPMG. With his manager, they managed to converge their interests.

 

THE career vision and expectations of individuals towards the professional world is undergoing a genuine renewal and seems to be evolving alongside more general societal changes.

We can therefore see that many players in the consulting industry have had no choice but to reappropriate their management style and adapt to the new challenges. Thus, the personal challenge for employees to reconcile a search for meaning with the work environment is increasingly integrated into the development methods of firms.

Salary no longer seems to be the only negotiating lever and this pattern is changing the cards in the relationship between firms and consultants. The employer/employee balance of power seems to have reversed somewhat, leaving more room for staff to express themselves about their personal balance in the work environment and pushing firms to take this into account.

Without this consideration of the individual in their thinking, it seems difficult today to imagine that labor supply and demand will meet on the labor market.

The first reason is in line with the above arguments. If talent leaves the company, who will be able to meet the customer's quality requirements? To what extent would such a firm be relevant without the right people? The other perspective would be to ask to what extent the firm would be able to impel relevant advice when it is already unable to apply it internally? How can an old-school company carry out innovative projects and advise others? Once again it is the credibility of the company that will be questioned in the eyes of the client. Finally, without taking into account the changing expectations of the new generation and the current context in structuring HR policies, the entire corporate culture is likely to be affected. A company in which employees do not recognize themselves through the values they promulgate cannot be a vector of relevant added value in the projects carried out.

AS we have already seen, companies are truly scrutinized by young graduates or young employees and are therefore subject to ever higher expectations. Consequently, if nothing is done by consulting firms to meet the expectations of the new requirements, it is likely that the "juniors" will decide to go elsewhere and even the most talented will choose to change companies. We would then see a "Brain-Drain" phenomenon develop, continuing to increase the company's personnel turnover. If the company were to see its talent leave, it would immediately affect its efficiency. Indeed, consulting relies heavily on its human capital. If the company were to find itself without its best recruits, the whole balance of the company would be in danger of wavering. Not only would this mean that assignments could not be carried out efficiently, but also that the people who are supposed to occupy the positions of responsibility in the future may no longer be as competent. The image of the company will also be affected in the long term, for various reasons.


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