5 tips to managing talent effectively in the consulting industry

30 May 2016 Consultancy.uk

The convergence of a number of mega trends – including changing workforce demographics, the demand for digital  skills and increasingly competitive knowledge marketplaces – has brought talent management back to the higher echelons of executives’ agenda globally, and in the consulting industry it is no different. In order to stay ahead of the game, and come out on top of the ‘war for talent’, a robust talent management strategy is key.

According to a report from Oxford Economics, replacing staff costs UK businesses more than £4 billion per year. This cost is derived from two core components: the productivity cost (the cost of lost output while a new worker gets up to the standard expected of them) and the logistical cost (the cost of finding and absorbing a new worker; includes advertising, recruitment and onboarding). Across all industries, the loss of an employee earning £25,000 a year or more carries an average financial impact of £30,614, although the bottom-line cost varies substantially across three key variables – the sector in question, the size of the firm hiring a new employee, and the background of the worker being recruited.

More specifically for professional services, including the accounting and consulting sectors, the industry is estimated to lose between 3.5% to 4.0% of its total output on labour turnover. In light of the massive costs attached to attrition, and the rising competition for talent on the back of buoyant markets, it is becoming increasingly important for consulting firms to adapt their talent operations to the changing business landscape, says Neil Curry, Business Director at Deltek, a global service provider that provides ERP and talent management software to consultancies. “Effectively managing talent and avoiding the risk of losing staff to competitors is moving up the partner agenda,” Curry says. One way to do this is in his view to implement a robust talent management strategy.Labour turnoverTo help management and IT consultancies with winning the ‘war for talent’, Curry highlights five strategies that partners should consider:

Align your talent strategy with your business strategy
The first point looks at the ownership and accountability for talent strategy. “Don’t just leave the talent strategy with the HR department, discuss it at board level. If the talent strategy is intertwined with business operations it effortlessly provides a broad overview of your talent needs compared to your project planning, making it easier to select the right people for the right projects.” Taking this approach helps consulting firm’s speed up their response times, for instance, to meet new projects requirements or ramp up requests on existing engagements. It in addition it provides HR teams with a better forecast for when new hires are needed, allowing them to start recruiting before the resourcing request is urgent.

Value diversity
Several studies have in recent years shown that diversity is critical in enabling organisations to innovate and adapt to meet the changing demands of the market and individual clients. One study concluded that employees of diverse organisations are 75% more likely to see their innovative ideas brought to life, while other research by Grant Thornton, revealed that cultural diversity benefits strategy execution and governance. “The success of your firm depends on your people’s skills and ability to work together. The focus should be on building synergy by including different characters in your team with skills complementing each other,” comments Curry.

There is, however, more to diversity than gender and race. “We tend to forget about the different generations. There are currently three generations (Baby boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) working together. Each one brings its own mind-set, work habits and technology knowledge,” and as a result, consulting firms are advised to “make the most of it” by mixing skills, backgrounds and knowledge.

Communicate with your staff
Research by recruitment firms among consultants show that one of the main reasons in the consulting industry for leaving a firm– is the lack of (perceived) career growth opportunities. While such opportunities may be around, communication is key: “The best way to avoid losing staff is to keep them motivated and engaged. Open the lines of communication with your teams, and collaborate on project planning and upcoming activity. Additionally, give your team the chance to choose the projects they would like to work on rather than mandating activity.”

Motivated and engaged consultants

By making consultants feel included and appreciated, a sense of belonging will rise, which in turn will translate into increased loyalty and lower attrition. “Showing you understand their aspirations and equally their frustrations – will reinforce the connection between staff and the firm,” comments Curry.

Develop your people
Studies show that while companies spend time identifying potential leaders there is very little follow through in helping these future leaders grow. A lack of personal development opportunities is commonly cited as one of the top reasons why employees leave a firm. “Your performers are more likely to stay if they feel they are being developed and add value to your firm.”

In order to differentiate themselves, consultancies should take the time to identify and develop talent within your firm. “Internal promotions provide a clear signal to consultants that personal development can translate into career progression. Striking the right balance between growing talent from within the ranks instead of hiring externally should be considered as a KPI within a wider recruitment strategy,” recommends Curry.

To bridge the skills gaps for project requirements and internal activities (e.g. sales, project management, leadership), the use of long term development plans and engagement review plans is advised.

Make the most of your employee data
A recent IDC survey found 60% of consulting firms don’t have a talent management system. Yet, the authors found, in line with the technology-driven disruption taking place across industries, technology should also play a central role as an enabler when it comes to talent within the consulting sector. “A unified technology solution can help you get a handle on talent related data. You can have all the information you need on objectives, performance and training in one place to support decisions around who should be on your next projects.”

5 tips to managing talent effectively

Besides bolstering resourcing, learning & development and skills development, a state of the art talent management system will also allow partners that manage operations to tap into the power of strategic workforce planning. “By implementing a data-led talent management approach, it will allow consultancies to forecast future needs and better prepare for future talent issues.” 

Rethinking the talent management strategy will in summary deliver three key benefits to consulting firms, says Curry. “Firstly, by aligning operations and talent strategy you will be able to manage resources more effectively. Secondly, including your employees in project allocation decision making and ensuring development plans are in place will make staff feel more engaged in their role and the business. Finally, going through your company data and furthermore, understanding it, will ensure you are coherent in your strategy and assist in advanced planning for any recruitment needs.”

For more tips on building the right talent management strategy download the free e-book Talent Management for Dummies.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.