Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company that collaborates with clients to solve complex business problems and helps them become high-performance organizations and governments. Accenture operates in more than 120 countries, employs approximately 211,000 people and generated net revenues of US$21.6 billion for the fiscal year ended August 31, 2010.
Accenture has sustained a market-leading position at the forefront of the services industry through its relentless focus on anticipating changes in the marketplace, and evolving itself to tackle new challenges and new players on the competitive landscape. Over the years, Accenture has expanded its activities from consulting to software development and outsourcing, reorganized the way it delivers services from onsite client teams to geographical distributed teams working in ‘offshore delivery centers’. During this time, the organization has managed to deliver highly customized, labor-intensive solutions to help clients in the transformation of their business operations.
On a yearly basis, our board of directors reviews and validates the long-range business plan that defines Accenture’s business strategy over the next 3 to 5 years. In 2008, while the board approved the business strategy, there was a strong collective recognition that a clear vision of HOW our people could be enthused and equipped to drive our strategy would be crucial to our long-term success. The Human Capital Strategy program was born.
As Accenture’s Chairman Bill Green puts it, "Other companies talk about their future products, or their plans for infrastructure and new facilities, but at Accenture, we talk about our human capital, because that‘s what makes us go."
Among the business challenges that we most needed to address were:
- Client Centricity:
Our clients were demanding more relevance. Developing a deeper understanding of our clients’ challenges, embedding strategic partnerships and establishing stronger relationships was going to be crucial factor in ensuring we could continue to support our clients.
- Global Reach & Scale:
A need to embrace the challenge of scale and geographic dislocation was becoming increasingly important. Over the years we grew exponentially and expanded our footprint in the market; in the space of 10 years we grew from nearly 75,000 people to more than 200,000 today and are expected to continue to grow. We also had a substantially more diverse set of workforces and cultures, working across multiple geographies and in many languages. Our global delivery centers were fueling the high growth of our business in our mature markets; at the same time, we were also seeing alarming domestic growth in largely untapped emerging markets such as India, Brazil and China. Critical questions were arising around how do we manage an organization of this size? What leadership and capabilities do we need for the future? How could we collaborate across geographic locations? What talent and leadership capabilities do we need in emerging markets?
- Specialization & Integration:
Our businesses and therefore the skills of our people are evolving to be more different. Yet we differentiate against competition by our ability to integrate the various services we provide into holistic client solutions. We needed to achieve deeper levels of specialization and collaboration to better serve our clients, who were demanding more and more specialist skills and people to tackle increasingly complex business issues. We faced critical questions around what skills do we need? How do we develop the right career experiences for our people? How do we ensure the right skills are in the right place, at the right time and at the right cost?
- Adaptability & Agility:
Our culture has always been one of our greatest strength. We had to be sure that we had the right leadership and workforce cultural attributes to sustain this advantage into the future, as well as the change capability needed to be nimble in the market-place. We needed to be clear on how to evolve our culture in light of the future challenges we faced, and how our core values could expand to embrace the full spectrum of the multi-business organization we had become.
- Attracting & Retaining Top Talent:
Winning the race for top talent was going to be even more crucial. We had to compete to attract, retain, develop and motivate the brightest and best talent on a global scale to continue to fuel our growth in both mature and emerging markets. We had major questions around how to attract this talent. From which talent pools, and most importantly, how we could win”hearts and minds” to unleash the passion and latent potential of our workforces?
Figure 1: The relationship between business strategy, human capital strategy and HR strategy.
In shaping our Human Capital Strategy, Accenture developed a new and common language to enable business and HR leadership to work in unison in defining how our people will drive our business strategy. This common understanding has generated innovative ideas, cross-business forums, pioneering frameworks and new initiatives that have played a crucial role in transforming our leadership’s understanding of human capital and the impact it has on business success.
HR and business leadership can now be explicit about the people requirements of the business strategy –guiding long-term and immediate actions, and embedding remarkable levels of alignment at a corporate, business unit and geographic level. This transformation of management perspectives and mindsets has panned out over the last 2 years, and we are still moving at pace along this journey of discovery. The journey thus far has evolved through three distinct phases:
- Phase 1: Agreeing on a Human Capital Vision.
Figure 2: Bringing the future to life for the executive leadership team through video and media
- Phase 2: Defining the Blueprint and Envisioning the Journey
Over the next 9 to 12 months, the Human Capital Strategy team executed programs to realize the vision. The greatest effort of this phase was the detailed design of the human capital strategy, i.e. conceiving the building blocks for the vision and beginning to put them in place. This involved the ongoing development of recommendations around talent, leadership, culture and organization. As a direct result of this work, Accenture was able to piece together a variety of diagnostic outputs (e.g. strategic workforce planning, talent segmentation and profiling, culture diagnostic tools, career path assessments and high potential succession planning) into a harmonious and impactful process for defining human capital priorities. Those key innovations released the full potential of the available tools; helped to join the dots between talent, leadership and culture; and built a common and complete picture for the organization.
The critical objectives were met – the team developed a comprehensive plan and roadmap, both for what was common across the global company and for what was unique or localized to a region or industry. This resulted in immediate decisions to accelerate investment in crucial programs or launch new ones.
- Phase 3: Delivering New Programs and Monitoring Progress.
Especially important at this point in the initiative was, as Lajtha puts it, “not waiting for proof of the obvious” before getting started. “What we recognized early on,” he says, “was that there were some actions that were obviously needed; we didn’t feel the need to spend time and resources proving something we all knew to be true.” The HCS team conceived the human capital strategy as a program that would need to be regularly refreshed, rather than as something with a fixed end point. Certainly, we would complete phases of work and produce deliverables, but we knew that the “final” phase of work would actually complete a cycle which, over time, would be feed back into further visioning, diagnostics and initiatives. This will ensure that Accenture will maintain a constant focus on anticipating changes in the landscape and plotting a course through this. As an illustration, investment was channeled into programs to develop excellence in our client account leadership, evolve the career model for leadership and niche specialists, and develop specialist industry and functional skills in key talent across the workforces.
Overcoming Organizational Challenges.
Lajtha and the Human Capital Strategy team overcame a number of key implementation challenges in driving forward the process, primarily around collaborating and solving for the organization as a whole.
According to Lajtha, “Prior to this point, our team in charge of human capital strategy was a smaller group of leaders and others with talent management and analytic backgrounds. This new initiative was different, in that we needed to develop a more complete picture of our entire human capital environment: What talent would we need, in what numbers, where? What are the implications for leadership sourcing and development? How will both the durability and flexibility of our culture be affected? As we look at our organization, do we have structures in place that are conducive to finding, developing and retaining the best people and supporting them in their job performance?”
Bringing Together the Right Sponsors and Resources.
The human capital strategy work has given Accenture a comprehensive, robust picture of its talent, leadership, culture and organization needs over the next several years. This has resulted in a set of programs around recruiting, career paths, succession planning, skills development, culture programs and leadership programs looking at how we can inspire the hearts and minds of our people. The key differentiator has been the clear traceability of each of these programs back to the business strategy, unleashing new levels of alignment and impact.
Measuring the business value of the human capital strategy program brings us back to the five key business factors that were at the heart of the vision for the program team—client centricity, global scale, specialization/integration, adaptability/agility and attracting top talent. A brief illustration of what has changed as a result is listed below:
- Client Centricity: Accenture’s senior executives now spend more time with clients, and the company has developed more robust succession planning and new, targeted leadership development programs for the critical role of client account lead—executives with primary responsibility for nurturing a client relationship.
- Global Reach and Scale: Accenture is now better able to scale its work and workforces to support its strategic growth plans. The company has increased the proportion of its senior executives in emerging markets and, overall, has accelerated the growth of headcount in these markets to meet client needs. It has increased opportunities for global mobility and increased delegation of authority in strategic growth markets, helping executives to be more nimble in serving client needs.
- Specialization and Integration: Accenture’s global training organization has designed and rolled out new curricula to support the move toward more specialized knowledge and skills. The increased use of collaborative tools is helping people connect virtually, and modified office designs have enhanced the ability of teams to work more collaboratively. The career models for the different parts of our businesses have been clarified, the emphasis on building deep expert skills has been recognized through an expert career model track.
- Adaptability and Agility: The company has introduced several initiatives to reinforce the importance of innovation across its culture. For example, in emerging markets, programs ensure that all parts of the enterprise have a voice in leading the company toward new ideas and solutions. Accenture also has renewed its focus on processes that support a more agile and adaptive workforce. The new role of Chief Performance Officer has been created to ensure these processes are ingrained in the way people work.
- Attracting and Retaining Top Talent: Recruiting consideration survey results show that Accenture has improved its image as an employer of choice in key geographies. Internal engagement surveys indicate that employee engagement, drive and energy have remained high, even in the face of difficult economic and market conditions.
Key lessons to running a successful human capital strategy program
Accenture’s human capital strategy development team shares convictions about how to drive results more effectively from this kind of initiative. Key lessons include:
- Establishing Strong Governance and Executive Sponsorship. Involvement of senior leadership—both at the visioning stage and throughout the development process—is essential. According to Liz Hopkins, Director of Human Capital Strategy for Accenture, “Our leadership was with us not only in the initial charge, but then as we worked to create a human capital vision. We also had about half of our executive leadership team on our steering committee as we proceeded. These executives continue to work with us and monitor our progress. Without this visibility at the highest levels of a company, the chances of developing a human capital strategy that truly informs and shapes business strategy significantly diminish.”
- Spend Time Grooming the Lead HR Officer as One of the Key Sponsors for the Program. Experienced HR professionals are in high demand today, but their time is often allocated to the administrative needs of the company. Although this was not the case at Accenture, a Chief Human Resources Officer may need to be convinced that developing a human capital strategy is a top priority, and that it’s worth reallocating budget and people to develop one. A key convincing point is that a human capital strategy program will enable the HR lead to be proactive and to have a seat at the business strategy table.
- Look at the Ongoing Impacts of the Human Capital Strategy on Business Strategy. A company cannot look at its business strategy as unchanging and carved in stone as it formulates its human capital strategy. In fact, there is a reciprocal or symbiotic relationship between the two endeavors. The Accenture team found that the human capital strategy actually created ripple effects back toward the business strategy, and it helped the corporate strategy team modify the business strategy.
- Think of the Talent Workstream as First Among Equals. The four main human capital strategy elements of talent, leadership, culture and organization are integrated parts of a whole. Every step forward on any of them affects the other three, and it is critical to understand and manage those reverberations. At the same time, talent is the “core currency” of human capital strategy. As Lajtha puts it, “Talent drives everything else that happens with the human capital strategy. If you get the talent picture right it will then point rather clearly and logically toward the implications for the other dimensions of leadership, culture and organization. It will also drive the primary elements in the change journey you need to embark.”
- Use the Human Capital Strategy to “Connect the Dots” Across Different Business Entities. A human capital strategy program does not necessarily charge itself from the beginning with helping the different parts of the business understand each other better, but that is, in fact, what happens. So it is important to consider communications and knowledge outcomes in any discussion of the value proposition of a human capital strategy. These include specific plans and outcomes for the organization and operating model, as well as unexpected side effects as different parts of the company begin understanding each other better.
Adrian Lajtha (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the London-based Chief Leadership Officer for Accenture, responsible for the company’s strategies and programs around leadership development, succession planning, inclusion and diversity, corporate citizenship and human capital strategy. He is also a member of the company’s executive leadership team.
Liz Hopkins (email@example.com) is the London-based Director of Human Capital Strategy for Accenture, reporting to Adrian Lajtha, the Chief Leadership Officer. She has been with Accenture for nearly 26 years and played a pivotal role in driving and steering the Human Capital Strategy work at Accenture since 2008.
Jill Smart (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chicago-based Chief Human Resources Officer of Accenture. After spending 20 years serving clients, primarily in the government and financial services industries, Jill moved into the Human Resources organization and has served as our Chief Human Resources Officer since 2004. Jill joined Accenture in 1981. She is also a member of the company’s executive leadership team.