After reviewing the results of our exclusive Best Firms to Work For survey, it appears consultants are working harder and longer hours, and our results show that it’s taking a toll on client service. But firms are fighting the good fight as culture and career development scores improve.
The most telling industry data, perhaps, to emerge from our Best Firms to Work For survey appears in the "survey averages" chart from 2009 through 2012. The overall scores in each category the survey measures show where the profession is in relation to the last four years beginning with the “new normal” of 2009.
Looking at that chart, the most jarring drops occur in the Work/Life Balance and Client Engagement categories. Is it that consultants are working harder? Is it that people are never feel disconnected from the office or clients? More likely, as the economy rebounds and firms struggle to find the talent to keep up with demand, employees are left with very little downtime, jumping from one engagement to the next. And it’s having an impact on the Client Engagement scores. Seems likely.
On the positive side, firm culture remains strong, likely because consultant job satisfaction tends to rise as consultants are engaged in stimulating work in dynamic industries. Several industries—healthcare, financial services, public sector, energy, retail and manufacturing—fit the bill. Plus, firms are doing well. There’s nothing like a positive bottom line, (and bonuses that come with it) to help morale. And culture will remain high as long as consultants see investment in them, and the Career Development numbers would indicate that’s happening across the industry.
From an individual firm perspective, what else can we say about Bain & Company. The firm simply amazes each year and it’s now 10 consecutive years as the No. 1 firm. And Stroud Consulting is putting an impressive run of its own together—three years in a row and four out of five—as the top firm in the Best Small Firms to Work For survey.
Meanwhile, five firms—CapTech, Carlisle & Gallagher, Loft9, Aspen Advisors and Strong-Bridge make their Best Firms debut.What Makes a Best Firm?
To be named a Best Firm to Work For firms were ranked in six categories. Each measures a different aspect of employee satisfaction. The following describes the issues at play within each category. The criteria used for Best Small Firms is identical, but it measures firms between 20 and 250 consultants.Client Engagement
This category reflects the quality of work consultants perceive their firm is doing. It is not a measure of the actual work being done, but the more valuable a firm’s consultants perceives their work to be, the more engaged they tend to be in their client’s—and firm’s—success.Firm Culture
Firm culture reflects the shared values, standards, ethics, and goals of a firm. Gone are the days when firms would hire a generation of future partners from a leading campus and hone their skills and ethos over the course of a career. Today’s firms are comprised of talent that has spent years at other firms, and in other industries. Building and sustaining a strong culture, despite the lack of homogony in background and life experiences, becomes all the more difficult.Firm Leadership
Economic uncertainty tests leadership in big ways. The economy of the last several years certainly tested their decision-making and internal communication skills. In 2012, leadership had to chart a new course and generate confidence in the firm’s direction. The more confidence the rank and file consultants have in their leaders, the more apt they are to be happy at their firm. But the opposite is also true.Career Development
The campus pipeline is just starting to be refilled this year, which will force some promotions up through the higher staffing levels. However, setting and communicating those goals is a challenge. Handling it well can make consultants want to stay with your firm longer; doing it poorly can encourage defections.Work/Life Balance
This category reflects how well consultants perceive their firm as enabling them to balance their life outside of their day job. Given the heavy work and travel regiment required, this is a difficult task. But understanding which firms handle this challenge can go a long way to identifying true employers of choice.Compensation & Benefits
This category reflects consultants’ satisfaction with their compensation and non-cash benefits and does not necessarily reflect which firms pay the most. The happier consultants are with their job, the more they’re willing to settle for making less. Such is the case with consultants from smaller firms who continue to report higher satisfaction despite smaller paychecks. But when consultants are unhappy, this category tends to be the easy scapegoat for their frustrations.Who Took the Survey?
The Best Firms to Work For rankings are based on an online survey conducted in the summer of 2012. Nearly 13,000 consultants participated, representing more than 400 firms. The consultants operate in every service line, across at least 32 different project/practice areas, and serve clients across all major industries. About three-quarters of the respondents came from the United States. Consultants at every staff level participated. Here is the breakdown of participation, by staff level.