Despite an improved economy, reinvestment in training and an uptick in compensation, consultants are less content with their jobs than they were a year ago. What follows is an exclusive Best Firms to Work For Special Section highlighting the survey’s major findings from the more than 13,000 respondents representing some 350 firms.
By Jess Scheer
Does consulting have a crisis of confidence?
After reviewing the results of our exclusive Best Firms to Work For and Best Small Firms to Work survey, it would appear so. One of the main findings of the survey is confidence levels fell in five of the six facets of employee satisfaction in 2011 as measured by Consulting
magazine’s annual rankings.
The lone exception was compensation satisfaction, which essentially stagnated (up slightly from 4.00 to 4.01 on a 5-point scale). More than 13,000 consultants completed the survey, the profession’s largest independent analysis of employee satisfaction.
As a result of the underlying causes of employee disengagement, consulting firms should anticipate high voluntary turnover for the foreseeable future, especially among junior-level staff. Within four years, the majority of pre-partners say they intend to defect (73 percent of entry level/analysts, 66 percent of consultant/recent MBAs, 55 percent of senior/experienced consultants and 46 percent of director/managers.)
What’s more, those numbers likely represent a best-case scenario. Based on our experience tracking consulting retention for the past eleven years, Consulting
has learned that once someone places a clock on their tenure at a firm by saying “I don’t think I’ll still be working here in x year(s),” they’ll often end up leaving much faster than they initially anticipate. They’re much more susceptible to the cold call from the executive recruiter, the employment inquiry by a client or the friend who has long considered opening up her own firm.
The other reason the data represents a best-case scenario is that it’s only based on feedback from consultants that think they may work for a “Best Firm.” In other words, the approximately 350 firms represented in this data are, by default, likely among the top half of all firms, when ranked by employee satisfaction. Firm leaders at firms where morale and culture is palatably low should anticipate far higher anticipated attrition levels.
But even among the top firms included in this analysis, the high anticipated attrition rates are problematic because they come despite significant investments intended to improve employees’ experience inside their firms. Most notably:
- Morale has climbed two consecutive years and is now higher than it was before the downturn.
- The average consultant worked an hour less per week in 2011 than in 2010, ending a six-year span of incremental increases in workload.
- The average number of training hours increased by more than 12 percent in 2011; the average number of training hours had declined the last two years.
- Compensation is up across the board: Almost 80 percent of consultants reported that their base salary increased in 2011, including almost 30 percent that reported double-digit raises.
The biggest takeaway from the survey may be that employee satisfaction, especially among highly employable consultants, is not something that can be turned off and then on again. Once trust has been broken, it takes more than a raise and a reinvestment in staff training to rekindle consultants’ desire to stay at their current firm.
Firm leaders that think their staff will remain loyal because they’re treating them better now may be in for a surprise.Losing consultants at the rate anticipated by these survey results is particularly problematic for three reasons:
- Coming out of the downturn, many firms are operating lean—having resorted to layoffs during the worst of the recession and conducting only limited hiring thus far through the recovery. Moreover, the downturn forced firms to weed out underperformers in low-demand areas, meaning that those that would leave now would be top performers who possess the most in-demand skills.
- Firms are already understaffed at the pre-partner level. During the prior downturn (2001 to 2004), firms cut staff disproportionately from the bottom of the pyramid and did very little campus hiring. When the economy recovered in late 2004, voluntary attrition was highest among the lowest ranks. Fast forward seven to ten years and many of those who were let go, never hired, or left the profession during the prior recovery would now be at least managers/directors. A second spike in defections now would exacerbate an already challenging leverage model.
- Hiring experienced talent is an increasingly difficult proposition. First, talent is scarce for the reasons sited above. Second, relatively few consultants (27 percent) say they have interest in re-entering the profession, indicating consultants are projecting all consulting firms with the negative traits experienced at their current firm. Those at the senior-most staff levels are the least likely to anticipate that their next career move will be to another consulting firm.
Despite these broad challenges reported in the aggregate, there are notable exceptions. The following pages profile 15 Best Firms to Work For and the 15 Best Small Firms to Work For. Each firm has a unique story to share, a best practice worth considering, and a lesson or two to be learned and even implemented at your firm.
| Definition of the Consulting Service Lines Used in the Best Firms to Work For Survey
| Few firms’ consulting services fit exclusively in a single service and the categorization below should not be read as suggesting these firms only provide services within that one bucket. Instead, the grouping is an attempt to compare firms in natural peer groups based on the service line from which the bulk of their revenue is generated.
| Financial Advisory Services
Financial and risk advisory services that reduce risk exposure for clients through assuring and justifying business decisions, assuring regulatory compliance and supporting the identification, reduction and management of business risk.
| IT Consulting
Consulting services aimed at improving business performance through leveraging technology in processes and decision making.
Consulting services that blend one or more of the above service lines.
| Operations Management
Consulting services that improve the effectiveness of the client’s value chain, including each of the major processes in client operations.
Consulting services intended to improve the long-term growth prospects of a company and the capabilities to enable that growth.
| Human Resources
Consulting services aimed at managing the employee "lifecycle," consulting around the people component of change management.
| 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, and each poses its own challenges in today’s market environment. The following describes the issues at play within each category.
|| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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 layoffs of 2009 tested their decision-making and internal communication skills. In 2010, 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.
How (Dis)Content Are My Consultants?Consulting
| Who Took the Survey?
| The Best Firms to Work For rankings are based on an online survey conducted in the summer of 2011. More than 13,000 consultants participated, representing approximately 350 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. Below is a breakdown of participants, by staff level.
magazine’s Best Firms data does two things no internal employee satisfaction can do: 1) as an independent third party we garner more candid feedback from your consultants than they might otherwise share with an internal survey or 360 degree feedback program; and, 2) we can compare and benchmark your firm’s
employee satisfaction to that of your peers or competitors.
While we would never share your firm’s data with another firm, or vice versa, we can aggregate a custom peer set and provide a side-by-side comparison versus your firm, split by staff level, practice area, geographic office, or however would best fit your needs.
We also offer off-the-shelf reports identifying and quantifying which of 18 different facets of employee satisfaction best motivate consultants to want to stay with their current firm longer (and what specifically motivates consultants to want to defect sooner). The data is split by staff level within each service line. This report series is especially helpful in determining where to focus investment in your retention programs.
In addition, Consulting
magazine is proud to be partnering with Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, a leader in staff retention advisory services. His work over the last several decades has resulted in lowering staff turnover by as much as 70 percent.