The globe's best consulting firms for digital HR transformation

25 October 2017

The Big Four firms – Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – along with rivals McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company, are the globe’s best consulting firms in the area of digital HR transformation, according to a new competitive benchmark study. The frontrunners, with Deloitte marked out as the study’s runaway leader, are followed by a group of challengers, including BCG, BearingPoint and Accenture.

According to a recent Deloitte survey, 71% of the organisations surveyed give HR analytics a large priority. Looking at the current trends and developments in HR, this is not a surprise as HR processes are increasingly optimised and digitalised. As a result, the role of HR is changing from an administrative and operational function to a more strategic and advisory one. HR professionals consider HR analytics to be a condition to successfully fulfil this new role and provide the organisation with data-driven advice – putting the consulting industry at the heart of HR transformations for most businesses.

Every year, dozens of analyst firms rate the quality of the services offered by consultancies. One of those firms, US based ALM Intelligence, recently released its competitive analysis of the digital HR transformation space, trying to answer one simple question: who are the best digital Human Resources (HR) transformation consultants in the world? To come to its analysis, the firm assessed how well consultancies are doing with regards to realising results for their clients. Researchers looked into the breadth and depth of their consulting offerings, and their ability to deploy those capabilities across sectors and geographies.

From its global database of leading consulting firms, the analysts uncovered that there are twelve names which stand out in digital HR transformation. In an era where digital is very important, and in which digital transformation consulting has become a $23 billion industry, organisations are embarking on large transitions to transform their HR functions, and they way they operate. While this includes numerous functions, regardless of who is in control of an organisation’s digital transformation agenda, top priority among HR leadership and management is the matter of successfully adapting to cloud computing.

The globes best consulting firms for digital HR transformation

The shift to cloud-based HR service delivery models is a technologically driven, structural change, which cuts across multiple industrial sectors, just as the advents of multidivisional corporate structures and the outsourcing of non-central business needs were in the past. Similarly, transitioning to this new model is complex, and involves significant business risks – so to consider how to best navigate this situation, consultants have seen demand for their services pick up notably. Digital HR transformation consulting involves the application of a set of tools and approaches – including data analytics, design thinking, and connected systems – to help clients redesign their HR organisations, processes and service delivery models to fit the digital age.

Other key services part of HR transformation consulting include HR technology strategy, HR security, HR vendor/software selection, HR architecture and change management, but also newer offerings such as HR process automation through robotics and cognitive computing. According to the most recent data of ALM Intelligence, the global digital HR transformation market was worth $4 billion last year, part of the wider $31 billion HR consulting market, which itself represents around 12% of the global consulting industry.

Twelve HR transformation leaders

The twelve leaders in the digital HR transformation consulting space are: Deloitte, PwC, EY, KPMG, Bain, McKinsey, Capgemini Consulting, Accenture, BearingPoint, BCG, IBM and CGI. These firms are described by the analyst as firms that understand that helping clients digitally transform their HR functions is not just about cloud computing, even while companies make it their express priority. These firms instead demonstrate an ability to assist clients with taking full advantage of digital technologies in the HR function, not just those which are the trend of the moment.

These industry leaders are able to excel in three key areas. They are able to design tailored solutions to the individual needs of clients, assessing software vendors including SAP, Oracle and Workday, all of whom these firms have close relationships with, in order to match the best fit for a client’s unique requirements. Then, the twelve leaders also provide in-depth functional knowledge – separating them from other providers, who perhaps rely more heavily on general digital transformation know-how – specialising in the nuances of transformations specifically within the HR field. The leaders also know that digital HR transformation needs to be steered by the requirements of an overall business model – meaning they have demonstrated skill in the alignment and management of numerous stakeholders – balancing the interests of separate departments to work towards shared (human capital) goals.

Market leader: Deloitte

Deloitte has been named the most advanced supplier by the report. The Big Four firm’s position as the clear leader in the market reflects on the firm’s success in combining strengths in Human Capital practices, along with the digital prowess of its rapidly expanding Deloitte Digital arm. As is the case with a number of global consulting firms buying up digital and design players, Deloitte is using its digital acquisitions to offer bespoke services and inject new thinking into different sectors – in this case HR. Providing HR transformation consulting through its Human Capital practice, primarily, the team works closely with Deloitte’s Digital division. The firm also often utilises its multiple assets to enhance this service, including its Bersin subsidiary for research and analysis into new HR trends, as well as its Greenhouse collaboration and ideation spaces.

Top 12 HR Consulting firms

PwC, the globe's largest consulting firm (together with subsidiary Strategy&) ranks second. The firm's secret to success is a strong strategy-through-execution approach, as HR transformation generally requires providers to provide a wide array of capabilities. While PwC boasts deep expertise and top-level partner status with major cloud HR technology systems providers, the firm’s strength also resides in its connections with innovative digital HR start-ups, along with its in-house assets of the same order.

EY and KPMG sit joint third. EY views the process of HR transformation as a holistic issue – thus it approaches the field from the perspective of its client’s broader business objectives, integrating its digital capacities fully into the firm’s global People Advisory Services practices to support this philosophy. KPMG meanwhile coordinate their activities similarly through its People & Change division, along with their Global HR Center of Excellence. KPMG’s end-to-end value proposition in the market includes strategy, operating model design, as well as implementation services.

In fifth, McKinsey & Company has extended prowess beyond high-level digital HR strategy, into more tactical capacities, even though HR consulting is not the firm’s traditional focus. Offering services such as translating clients’ HR and business objectives into hypotheses that can withstand empirical tests via data analysis, McKinsey has obtained a leadership position in this market.

Following close behind, Bain & Company is the sixth and final firm that belongs to the group of absolute industry leaders. Bain has marked itself out from its competitors by maintaining a focus on the human element of HR. While, like McKinsey, Bain is mainly known for its work in corporate strategy and management, it has played to its strengths in the segment well enough to extend its reputation as an industry leader in the delivery of digital HR transformation engagements.

Top challengers

Behind the group of leaders, follow six consulting firms that yet still boast an excellent track record and service portfolio in the field, despite trailing the upper echelons of the sector. BCG, BearingPoint, CGI, Capgemini Consulting, Accenture and IBM are each well positioned to challenge for outright market leadership if they progress quickly in the field. So far, they are in the top twelve, each focusing on the delivery of the three key areas of bespoke solutions, leveraging in-depth knowledge and a wider-view approach toward business-orientated HR transformation consulting.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

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.