Rigorous attention to learning and development has helped Accenture remain resilient in the face of a global economic downturn. Sarah O’Carroll reports
The economic slump has become so pronounced
that many outsourcing and consulting firms are
being scaled back. But not Accenture. In the fourth
quarter of 2008, the global management consulting com
pany booked $US2.24 billion ($3.3 billion) in new out
sourcing deals – a figure not that far off its year-earlier
quarter, when new outsourcing bookings came in at
It ended its financial year with $US23.3billion in net
revenues and it is planning to increase its headcount of
37,000 staff in India to 50,000 by the end of April 2009.
The global consulting firm is not only surviving the downturn, but thriving in the face of it – and not
Accenture has won a swag of awards globally in recog
nition of its employment practices, including The Full Circle Feedback Award for Employer of Choice
(more than 1000 employees) at the Australian HR
The international accolades of being a great place to
work and employer of choice are widespread. And it could
be said that it is this strength that is largely responsible
for their financial stability. The two factors are proving
to be inextricably linked. It is the people strategies that
have been in place since the company began that have
built a company resilient to these challenging times.
Accenture has key longstanding policies that have built
resilience within the company, arming it with the tools
to fight the economic challenges and remain competi
tive in a beleaguered consultancy market.
It operates in almost 200 countries with 187,000
employees and the strategies the company have adopted
are global. The work ethic and culture they have nur
tured has built a global brand, resulting in a service
which clients can lay confidence in.
First, Accenture’s learning and development strategy
has been paying off in spades and is a primary reason the
company has remained relatively immune to plummet
ing global growth trends. Often when money is tight for
companies, consultants and external advisers are the
first to be culled.
But, because of the level of commitment to training
within Accenture, customers are confident that no mat
ter where in the world they are dealing with Accenture,
they are going to meet the same level of professional
ism and competency. The average training of each
employee is 78 hours a year.
Managing director of Accenture Australia Jack Percy
firmly believes this is one of the core strengths that has
carried Accenture through competitive markets and car
ried the company to where it is today. The emphasis the
company places on rigorous training and development
has led to a global and brand reputation as the best in
“People are the most important part of business: in
terms of the product we provide, it’s all about people,”
says Percy. “The HR strategies and tactics we employ
on a long-term basis and on a day-to-day basis are crit
ical in terms of the success of our business.”
“There is very much a global culture which is kept
together by some consistent global concepts and the first
is the career model,” says Percy.
The global glue
Accenture has a globally consistent competency and
capabilities model of the different career levels that are
in the business. That simply means, that if a client has
someone at a certain level in the organisation come from
another part of the world to work on their project, they
can be confident that worker will be able to do what is
expected of them.
“If I get a consultant from Ireland coming to work on
a project in Canberra I know what I can expect of them,”
Percy says. “What cements the culture globally is our
approach to training.”
In 2008, Accenture Australia employees did about
100 hours of training, which the company spent almost
$10 million on. Workers from almost 200 countries join
together regularly to train at three locations – Chicago,
Kuala Lumpur and the Netherlands – to build a global
network of workers.
“I remember my first training course – it was 25 years
ago and some of the people that I met there are in sim
ilar positions to me around the world,” says Percy. “So
the relationships that get established through training
programs are a core part of the global cultural glue that
knits our organisation together.”
Percy says that although these global training and
development strategies play a key part in retention,
they’re not established as retention strategies. They exist, he says, so the company has a globally consistent service
to offer clients.
“A lot of our clients are multinational and they really
value the confidence that they can have with Accenture.
If they have a global system they know they will get the
same standard of service in New York, Brazil, Ireland or
Australia,” he says. “The strategy is there primarily for
very good client service reasons – but it has spin-off. It’s
actually really good for our people.”
Winning of a five-year outsourcing contract recently
with international stainless steel company Outokumpa is
an example of how this accent on rigorous global train
ing paid off. Outokumpa based its decision to renew its
contract with Accenture based on its global network of
professional resources which, it said, led it to extend the
scope and length of their relationship.
Getting strategies right
According to human resources director, Lynne Barry,
Accenture’s HR team is currently analysing the company’s
five-year business plan. She explains how HR strategies
and global learning must be directly aligned with the busi
ness because, if they’re not, they won’t be worth it.
“There is nothing we can and should do until we
understand where the business is headed,” says Barry.
“We have to look at the pace of growth that we have in
the organisation and look at where the business is look
ing to grow from an industry perspective.
“So that means asking questions such as ‘What areas
are we growing faster in?’ and ‘Where do we need the
depth of skill?’”
One thing Accenture excels at is attracting the best
people – and that is because they recognise that people
want to grow and develop. According to numerous sur
veys of generation Y, employees want the experience they
gain within a company to enhance their saleability. And
Accenture have got this right.
“We push people as hard and as fast as they can pos
sibly go to grow their careers. So the net result of that is
after three years, a person coming out of Accenture is
worth the same as someone who has worked for six years
in other places,” says Barry.
Another reason for Accenture’s sustainability is their
ability to keep their core values alive, according to Barry.
These are values such as Stewardship, Best People, Client
Value Creation, One Global Network, Respect for the
Individual and Integrity.
Accent on Parents is one program which Accenture
Australia put into place to deal with the issue of losing
valuable employees when they have children.
“We weren’t doing the best job we could at retaining
our parents, so we decided this was an area we could
introduce measures and do a lot better,” says Barry.
“The talent pool in Australia is changing and part time
workers are the biggest growing piece of that talent pie.”
What Accenture discovered was that people weren’t
feeling as connected to the organisation when they went
out on parental leave, so they introduced Accent on Par
ents which brought all the people who were planning
to go on leave together along with the CEO or senior
executive to discuss ways to meet the challenges ahead,
such as childcare options and staying in the loop.
“We wanted to get the extremely strong message
across that we want them back in Accenture,” says Barry.
“And it has been very successful.”
HR's challenge in 2009: Jack Percy, MD, Accenture
Some of the things that HR managers are going to have to think about and deal with over the next few months are things that we haven't as a country had to deal with probably since the beginning of this decade. So I think, as an industry over the last five years, it has been around recruitment and pay rises and getting those right - ie retention strategies. I think it's likely that the global economic situation is going to have an impact in Australia in 2009, and as that happens the focus is going to be less on that and more on getting the best out of what we've got - looking at ways of making the salary bill stretch a bit further. The organisations that are going to really be great in the long term are the organisations that are going to use this time to really get the best team that they possibly can and position themselves well for the turnaround when it comes. And talent management is going to absolutely critical in doing that.
Australian HR Awards 2008: judges' comments on Accenture
Accenture has a broad suite of strategies in place to create an attractive work environment. It was able to demonstrate a forward-looking approach to the environment which they would be facing in the development of their people plans, one that enabled them to proactively plan for that future. Its ability to plan ahead, coupled with the belief that this would pay dividends in the future, really did translate into positive results and enabled the firm to keep ahead of the pack. Its people strategy has a strong business focus, where people are clearly seen as "what sets us apart from our competitors". This is supported by strong leadership from a leadership community that, interestingly, included both current and former executives.
Background on Accenture
Accenture is the world's largest consulting firm and offers management consulting, information technology and systems integration, and business process outsourcing (BPO) services to customers around the globe. The company divides its practices into five main operating groups - communications and high technology, financial services, public service, products, and resources - that encompass more than 15 industries. Accenture, which is domiciled in Bermuda but headquartered in New York, operates from more than 200 locations in about 50 countries with more than 187,000 employees (including more than 5000 senior executives).The company generated net revenues of $US23.39 billion ($36.2 billion) for the fiscal year ended 31 August 2008.