A changing of the guard is underway in corporate America as Baby Boomers begin to reach retirement age in droves. The resulting generational difference is just one force disrupting longstanding perceptions of what work and employment are. All this change creates an environment rife with opportunity for HR consulting firms as very large companies find themselves needing to turn on a dime to address the emerging challenges of the day head-on. Consulting spoke with CEO, North America, and Managing Partner with BPI Group’s international business unit, Juan-Luis Goujon, about some of those changes as well as the changing definitions of work and consulting itself.
Consulting: How would you characterize the overall state of the HR consulting market?
Goujon: It’s interesting what has happened. The world of employment, the world of work, the way business was conducted and the impact it has on people, most of us were late in the sense that it took us a while to realize everything around us had changed after the financial crisis. It took us maybe 2-3 years to really catch up with the needs of our clients and the way in which we deliver our services and price them. It was a learning experience and the market has changed a lot. You have on one hand sort of a comeback of smaller structures. With digital the way we communicate has made it possible for smaller companies that are more nimble with great consultants and thought leadership to be in contact with clients that 6-7 years ago would be confined to very much a local impact.
Consulting: What are clients demanding?
Goujon: Clients needs have changed. We have 4-5 big buckets of items in which there is a pressing need. For me the first would be leadership models—how they are struggling to develop leaders. I think eventually the baby boomers are going to leave the labor market and companies will have to change to new leaders more rapidly than they ever thought. There’s also a big age cap to contend with. Another is the skills gap, partly because of the generational gap but also because the kind of people with the skills they must possess to adapt to the strategies of these companies has changed enormously. There’s a demographic gap of course but there’s also a skill gap and how to fix it is one of the big things. Another would be culture and employee engagement. We like to tell our clients that we have to stop talking about measuring engagement and doing very little about it. So let’s measure it less, let’s presume it can be better and start working on it rather than continuously monitoring whatever parameter we use to measure it.
Consulting: What are some of the unique HR challenges all this disruption is presenting?
Goujon: The way we look at work and employment. Think about Uber. How many “employees” does Uber have? I use quotes because legally they are not employees. Those are the people that contribute to the success of the company, so how do you motivate and engage them? How do you know they have the right skills? It’s a fascinating time because the sense that people have of employment, of what a company is has changed. I see it day to day with some of my consultants that are younger, late 20s early 30s, and the way we try to get them on board, the way we compensate them, what do they value in the company’s offer has changed dramatically since 2008. Some of the things we do today for our employees were almost unthinkable in 2007. How you are able to lead through these very changing and unpredictable times. Some are saying the Greek crisis may be the next Lehman. That has completely changed some of the plans of very large companies
Consulting: Are the HR challenges in the US and abroad largely the same?
Goujon: I’m sure there are differences for certain organizations, but since we work only with very large global organizations they are I would say amazingly similar. We have four offices in Russia, some of the things for maybe different reasons in terms of the leadership model, the fact that you have a generational gap. A lot of these things are very much global, and the way organizations look at these issues and try to solve them is very similar and homogeneous. Our job is to be able to give that similar performance throughout the globe while at the same time trying to adapt to the local specificities.
Consulting: What makes a successful global HR strategy?
Goujon: The easy answer is people. Leadership. It’s really being committed to the fact that people are your biggest asset. People are what make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful organization. Also the belief that everyone deserves a good leader. Being able to balance the employee needs and the skills the employee brings to the organization with the organization’s needs and what it offers. It’s about being able to transform and do it in a balanced way. We’re very much used to zero-sum games, and we’re in a world where that equation is not right and I think that’s what’s really changing.