Intelligence Briefing: Employee Experience Consulting—Winter is Coming

Liz DeVito

I love winter. It’s that magical time of year when consultants dust off their metaphorical crystal gazing devices and share the business trends they see gaining momentum in the New Year. And when it comes to workplace trends, there is nearly unanimous agreement that attention must be paid to the employee experience. 

Let me stress that this is not just about consultants making a market. Over the course of the last 18 months, my research has revealed a sense of urgency among organizations that, in deference to Game of Thrones, “winter is coming” in the war for talent and battle plans must be laid.  I also have seen the emergence of new titles for HR professionals that underscore this shift—Vice President of People & Culture, Chief Experience Officer, Employee Experience Manager, and People Experience Coordinator.

These titles are more than a spin on traditional HR roles. They are a new way for captains of industry to signal the market that they consider the employee experience a competitive advantage and are holding someone accountable for making it happen. Their lieutenants are moving beyond the boundaries of HR to adopt the principles and practices of customer experience—brand, personalization, and engagement—to become an employer of choice in a remarkably competitive talent market where empowered employees are complicating the traditional contours of labor supply and demand.

For consultants, this is a clear case of opportunity meets demand, which led me to focus my current research on a select group of providers and their ability to deliver employee experience services. What I found is a landscape typical of any emerging market, albeit one where a positive growth trajectory is assured as providers rapidly mobilize around the opportunity.

The market is fragmented. The mix of consultancies operating in this space range from boutique specialists (e.g., Habanero Consulting, Eagle Hill Consulting, and Strativity) to mid-sized strategy firms (e.g., North Highland, West Monroe, and McorpCX)  to global multidisciplinary consulting providers (e.g., the Big Four, Conduent HR Services, and Mercer). This is a rich marketplace where buyers can find a consultancy they can grow with or that best matches their corporate values and price point.

There is no clear leader. Very few firms actually go to market with a branded employee experience service offering. Deloitte, Eagle Hill, Habanero, IBM, and North Highland stand out for having done so, but for many, it’s the flip side of customer experience or a by-product of digital transformation. Some firms, such as the HR consultancies, have the capabilities, but do not yet have frameworks for organizing their vast resources in a holistic solution. This cohort remains a viable provider segment, nonetheless.

A mix of old and new. There’s a lot of innovation going on, as can be seen in Deloitte’s Simply Irresistible Organization model, which seamlessly blends services, technology, and analytics. IBM, in collaboration with Globoforce, launched the only global benchmarking tool in the market today with The Employee Experience Index. And yet, there are many success stories where providers are so deeply immersed in the client’s culture that they effect change from within using mainstream consulting approaches, as do Eagle Hill Consulting and Strativity. Which leads me to my last observation.

Passion rules. In my five years researching the HR consulting market, I have never encountered such passion as I have for the employee experience. There’s a crusading sensibility on the part of consultants and clients alike that wholly revels in the human experience. Perhaps this is a factor of it being early days, but I think it has more to do with a business zeitgeist for culture building in an increasingly automated age. If that’s the case, I expect employee experience consulting to go nowhere but up.

Liz DeVito is Associate Director, Lead for HR Consulting Research.