How Global Professional Services Firms Are Overcoming The Challenge Of Talent Management

Catherine Lynch

Ask any leader at a global professional services firm about their current biggest challenge, and more than likely they will say talent management.

Talent management encompasses multiple facets of human capital management, including employee engagement and retention, onboarding new hires, equipping the workforce with the right skills, succession planning, and performance management. Professional services firms are moving towards models where they can run their organization less like a hierarchy of static business processes and more like an open talent marketplace.

Employee engagement and onboarding

Global firms experience high rates of employee turnover, up to 30% annually is not uncommon in the Big Four. Addressing employee engagement can be a challenge, particularly with millennials in the workplace who have different expectations of work and tenure. Onboarding new hires so that they can ramp up to be billable resources can take 12 to 18 months, and the financial impact on the profit margin of having resources “on the bench” can be critical for small and midsized firms.

Multiple talent management solutions in place

It is not atypical to find multiple talent management solutions in place across a firm that are not connected; this presents challenges in deriving a single view of who is delivering work where at any one time. For example, EY has over 500 talent management systems in place globally. In the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack (or just from a billing perspective), it is very important for firms to know which resources (including contingent and freelance workers) are at which customer site on which day.

Limited succession planning and workforce analytics

Succession planning is often in place only for executive-level resources, which makes it more difficult to manage the workforce’s composition. Firms need to expand their succession-management practices to stay competitive within evolving markets.

Workforce analytics can help ensure the right profile and skills mix by using predictive models to address resource gaps that impede success.

Continuous performance reviews

Many firms are abandoning annual performance reviews, creating the need for multiple performance review cycles each year. Accenture was one of the first firms to communicate this change in performance management, and PWC, Deloitte, and SAP have also implemented continuous performance assessment processes.

5 key areas for professional services firms to address in the near term 

1. Talent acquisition 

The competition for top talent is intense for global professional services firms. All the Big Four firms are competing to get the most promising college candidates. To make themselves attractive to candidates, firms can promote their employer brand on social networks to promote a positive image among future recruits and to nurture future talent early. Tools such as Glassdoor keep metrics on whether a company provides opportunities for career growth. Talent acquisition is about identifying talent in the marketplace and building a pool of potential candidates, sometimes to fill expertise needs that aren’t even requirements yet.

Accenture has been experimenting with on-demand labor platforms for over two years. It has developed a Collaborative Crowd Platform for its 394,000 employees, matching professionals with 30,000 hours of work. Optimizing the matchmaking process, Accenture Crowd Platform is also streamlining the business for the company’s distributed and virtualized global workforce.

2. Onboarding talent 

The onboarding of talent is important for successful integration into a firm and instilling corporate culture and values into new hires. However, there’s often room for improvement in the onboarding experience. Firms need to quickly, consistently, and efficiently convert new hires into engaged, empowered, productive, and billable employees. Time to revenue is of the essence. Employees who go through a structured onboarding process are 58% more likely to be with an organization after three years.

For global professional services firms, the employee lifecycle can also include former employees who return to the company, which is known as the “boomerang effect.” Firms such as Infosys are actively networking with alumni as a potential source of talent and rehires. Enterprise Jungle is a platform that enables networking with alumni and retirees.

EY has adopted a novel approach to onboarding new hires by combining virtual reality and a cognitive onboarding assistant. EY provides a VR experience to new hires for a virtual visit to their new workspace and a simulated talent review. The onboarding assistant is based on a chatbot powered by cognitive intelligence and can respond to myriad questions a new employee might ask. A thousand questions that might be asked by a recruit have been compiled, with answers, into the chatbot. Significant cost savings can be achieved by reducing the onboarding process, even by a single day, by leveraging digital technologies.

EY is putting people at the center of its talent management program and harnessing digital tools such as VR and cognitive technologies to enhance the employee experience and engage differently with an increasingly diverse workforce. 

3. Learning and development

Large global organizations are struggling with the inability to find or train enough employees with the right types of skills to remain competitive. The traditional model of instructor-led classroom training is not only expensive, but the timing is not always right. Firms need to constantly update their employees’ skills to deliver new and extended services and offerings to the client base. Learning management needs to be re-imagined so that learning and collaboration can be continuous, on-demand, and available on mobile platforms at any time. The emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and on-demand training testify to the evolution in skilling up the workforce.

4. Recognize, engage, and reward performance

Only 55% of employees feel that performance reviews are effective. Resource engagement levels and retention can be increased by establishing a consistent, performance-based culture and tying compensation to performance based on quantifiable goals. Creating a continuous dialogue and feedback loop on a regular basis can contribute significantly to improving employee engagement.

5. Workforce planning and analytics

Firms must maintain a fine balance between having the right skills in-house and deploying resources on billable assignments to customer projects. Increasingly, firms are reaching out to open talent platforms to augment their workforce with contingent workers and freelancers. It is important to develop a global view of workforce planning across regions, industry segments, lines of business, and clients.

Predictive analytics is becoming increasingly important in talent acquisition as sophisticated analytics teams begin to prioritize recruiting workflows, assess the quality of hires, and use pre-hire assessments.

Shifting demographics and digital disruption are pushing professional services firms to become more agile, more collaborative, more attentive to employee engagement, and more open to pulling in resources from external talent networks for sourcing projects.

Learn more about digital disruption in the professional services industry.


Catherine Lynch

About Catherine Lynch

Catherine Lynch is a Senior Director of Industry Cloud Marketing at SAP. She is a content marketing specialist with a particular focus on the professional services and media industries globally. Catherine has a wide international experience of working with enterprise application vendors in global roles, creating thought leadership and is a social media practitioner.