Accenture to overhaul annual performance review cycle

08 September 2015

Accenture will replace its old bell-curve form of performance review by a more people friendly form of assessment. The consulting firm cites that the traditional performance review itself has been shown to be underperforming. It often selects narcissistic characteristics, disengages even those positively reviewed, and is seen as a bane by managers and HR professionals alike. Accenture’s move sees them joining other early adopters of change in the qualitative and quantitative assessment of staff.

Accenture, one of the world’s larger employers with more than 330,000 employees, recently announced a shakeup to the way it evaluates its staff. Traditionally, like many of its rivals, Accenture uses a bell curve evaluation system to determine and rank the performance of its employees.

Bell curve
The approach ensures that the performance of employees is relative and comparable, whereby only a certain % of the population (‘top performers’) gain top notch scores and, at the other end of the tail, a similar % of the professionals is rated as underperforming. The overlarge majority of the population sits around the mean performance level. The bell curve approach has large implications for the wallets of accountants and consultants, as both pay and bonus are typically linked to scores.

Bell curve

From September onwards, a bell-curved way of ranking its staff will be a thing of the past. Resulting in, what Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme states to The Washington Post, a “massive revolution”; by the ditching of the annual performance review, the consulting firm is “… going to get rid of probably 90% of what we did in the past.”

Reasoned change
The reason for the change is multifaceted. The company’s own research and outside studies show that performance reviews take time, cost money and often do not even perform themselves. One problem with the bell curve is that it has the tendency to select those good at performance reviews, which can be those with narcissistic traits. “Employees that do best in performance management systems tend to be the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting,” explains Brian Kropp, the HR Practice Leader for CEB. “Those aren’t necessarily the employees you need to be the best organisation going forward.”

That the current system is flawed is not necessarily news to many managers. A CEB study finds that 95% of managers are not satisfied with their firm’s method for enacting reviews, with 90% of HR leaders too weary of the technique – citing that it often does not provide accurate information.


Performance reviews also have a way of negatively affecting those reviewed, even if their outcome is positive. According to a Brain study, reviews tend to trigger disengagements and constrict openness for creativity and growth.

Besides not being accurate, selecting narcissistic personality types and negatively affecting employees, the review takes up a considerable amount of time. Managers spend up to 200 hours per year dealing with the review process, from getting training on the latest techniques to filling out forms and delivering them to staff. As a result, the cost of the process for a firm with 10,000 employees is estimated to be around $35 million per year. “The process is too heavy, too costly for the outcome,” remarks Nanterme. “And the outcome is not great.”

A new approach
Instead of performance reviews, Accenture will implement a system by which employees after assignments are provided with timely feedback from managers. “All this terminology of rankings— forcing rankings along some distribution curve or whatever—we’re done with that,” Nanterme elaborates on Accenture’s decision. “We’re going to evaluate you in your role, not vis-à-vis someone else who might work in Washington, who might work in Bangalore. It’s irrelevant. It should be about you.”

Pierre Nanterme - Accenture

The aim of the new approach is to support employees to perform their position better in the future. “The art of leadership is not to spend your time measuring, evaluating,” explains Nanterme. “It’s all about selecting the person. And if you believe you selected the right person, then you give that person the freedom, the authority, the delegation to innovate and to lead with some very simple measure.”

Sea change
It is not merely Accenture exploring this way of transforming their managers’ engagement with subalterns. KPMG recently experimented with a change of assessment in India, while Deloitte also announced it was piloting a new scheme – whereby performance reviews consist of four relatively simple questions.


Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.