When I grow up I want to be a right little consultant … and I want you to show me how.

Despite the conservative forecasts for this year, consultancies arend, once they have been landed, no expense is spared to develop and nurture their talents through training and mentoring. Ian Taylor and Sarah Perrin report on how consultancies are getting the best out of their people. embarking upon aggressive recruitment policies. MBAs and ex-industry-folk are being snapped up as soon as they become available. Once employed, considerable sums are invested in training and mentoring the star consultants of tomorrow. It is no longer enough to trust to annual appraisals. The consultancy profession realises that nurturing new talent is an ongoing task. More experienced consultants are often linked to the newcomers in order to show them the ropes and help develop their skills.

In this article, we examine the latest attitudes to creating consultants who are not only an asset to clients but a credit to their firms.

Training must be an integral component of a continuous professional development programme, encompassing career development, knowledge exchange, competency development, coaching, centres of excellence & practice groups for thought leadership, appraisals and recognition. All of this must, of course, support delivery of the organisation’s businessgoals or it will become unsustainable. It is also vital to continuously monitor the effectiveness of training against those business goals, or again you run the risk of wasting your investment.

Such an approach creates a virtuous circle: you attract good people because they see they can grow and be invested in within your organisation; they will be kept in the forefront of technology and processes and be able to add more value; they will therefore be more loyal (a key reason for attrition is that people see no future) and hence your investment in them is retained. As a result, the organisation becomes more successful and profitable – enabling you to invest more in your people; which then attracts more good people in turn.

This then raises the issue of whether the organisation’s culture supports this framework. Personal development succeeds when internal co-operation overrides competition. People learn from people, and knowledge doesn’t get shared if the organisation is divided into silos.

Another key point is that realising someone’s full potential is an individual issue and one size definitely does not fit all. CMG’s experience is that rigid training programmes hinder successful development. We therefore returned to one of the basic principles of our ethos, which is to treat people equally and as individuals because we don’t want to constrain their development. Recognising that training needs arise on an individual basis led to the creation of a training framework composed of core courses and specialist training. This allows individuals to form their own development plans in line with personal and business objectives.

The process begins with our graduate training and development programme, which bridges the gap for new joiners between university and the world of work. Together with training partners, we have put together the Masterclass programme of specialist, intensive courses, such as one for Microsoft Certified Solution Developers (MCSDs). Although those courses are aimed at graduates in the first instance, they are also available to consultants who wish to cross-train and learn new skills.

Above all, we aim to ensure that we always have the best people by looking for the right aptitude and attitude at the point of recruitment. We believe that, while new skills can always be learned, attitude and aptitude are the solid foundations on which to build to create superior value for our customers’ business.

We also rely on an internal communications network that has been built up from more than 30 years’ experience of successful employee participation.

A series of formal and informal gatherings ensure that everyone has the opportunity to put forward their views on our approach to career development and to understand what it means to them.

Approaching training and development in any other way can be an expensive mistake. If you put an employee through an intensive training course but don’t then provide the opportunity for them to use their new skills in a challenging environment, you might find that you have just given them the incentive – and the marketability – to walk out the door and join the competition.

As the business environment becomes more challenging, so do the demands on people. Which means they must have an environment in which they can flourish, the tools to do the job and the incentive to do it well. Relevant training is a key component of this, but it has to fit in with the bigger picture to create value to the individual and the company as a whole.

Ian Taylor is the UK chairman of European IT services group CMG

John Everett, managing partner of Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group

“Our recruitment falls broadly into two categories: those coming out of university with a first degree or an MBA, and those from industry with more experience. With industry people we use some head-hunting, as well as agencies and advertisements. When selecting people we use assessment centres where people work through case studies and complete psychometric tests to see whether they will fit culturally and have the technical skills.

Stars need both. If you take technical skills and competencies as given, then being a star really comes down to the personal skills – empathy with the client, the ability to lead teams. The stars are those people by whom the teams are willing to be led. Stars tend to be people who are supportive of the people around them and not prima donnas.”

How are stars identified?

“Each year people agree objectives for the next three years, what they aim to achieve in terms of building their competencies. We have 360 degree feedback and people get an overall score. If you are on-track you are, at a minimum, meeting our expectations at that grade. With star performers, their three-year rolling programme will accelerate to reflect that. They will be promoted more rapidly. Stars don’t always develop consistently.

Some can be slow to start and blossom later.”

What mentoring system does the firm have?

“When people join they have buddies to help them settle in. Then they can choose, if they wish, to have a mentor and/or a coach. Mentors give advice. Coaches help people work out a problem themselves. Coaching tends to be appropriate when there are particular issues people want to work through. Mentoring tends to involve a longer-term relationship.

Mentors are drawn from across the organisation and are typically senior consultants and above. We don’t allocate mentors – we ask people to choose someone, and then get it agreed.”

How was Everett’s own experience of mentoring?

“For me mentoring was invaluable. A mentor clears the mind very effectively – sometimes you are too close to an issue. A mentor is like a wise old sage who gives you useful advice.”

Nicholas Mabin, director of recruitment for MCS at Ernst & Young

“I would distinguish three recruitment groups: raw, recent graduates from university; people with about five years post-graduate experience, but not in consulting; and people with experience from other consultancies.

When it comes to MBAs, we don’t recruit people simply because they have an MBA, but because they have experience as well as the MBA. Graduates are put through an assessment centre, which brings together a mix of interviews, case studies and presentations. We don’t use assessment centres yet for experienced hires, although we are planning to introduce it for industry people coming into consultancy for the first time.”

What are the characteristics sought?

“You start with the technical skills, and then move into the personal.

You look at people’s values – do they match the values of the firm? You look at how they will form relationships (with clients and colleagues) and their potential – do they have the potential for growing beyond the position you are recruiting them into?”

How do you measure performance?

“There are four grades below partner and within the grade structure there is a wide diversity of roles. As soon as someone joins they need to sit down with their counselling partner and define their objectives for demonstrating their competency within their grade. They have a 12 month review when the counselling partner brings in information on their performance from their manager, peers and clients. Provided you are exceeding your objectives in your grade and role you are promoted.”

Do you have mentors for all consultants?

“We make no distinction between a counselling partner and a mentor.

You may ask somebody who is not your counselling partner or line manager to perform as a mentor for you, but it’s not a formal process. We do not want to construct a rigid system which employees feel uncomfortable with. However, those candidates who are on the promotion track to partner will be assigned a mentor in addition to their counselling partner. This is someone from another part of the business with whom they can talk through how to improve their performance and make sure they get to partner level.

While counselling implies some seniority and may not allow for the free exchange of worries, mentoring is free from the infrastructure of formal appraisals. It is important that they are separate”

Paul Bingham, managing director of EDS

“We have a very effective recruitment service which offers everyone a unique combination of job variety and training. Candidates go through an intensive selection process. But the real test comes after you join EDS, when personal skills and attributes become evident. Our other great strength is networking. Many of our senior staff are recruited through our own people’s personal contacts in the industry.”

How do MBA and more mature candidates from industry compare?

“Candidates from both avenues have important attributes but neither has a monopoly of the industry’s ‘stars’. Probably the most important factor in performance is the ability of the candidate to apply their skills and knowledge in the working environment, rather than any particular qualification, but we do sponsor some MBAs.”

How are real stars earmarked?

“Outstanding people are identified both formally and informally. Formally, all our staff above a certain level are assessed against a set of benchmark criteria. Less formally, existing managers are encouraged to ‘talent spot’, not just for people currently doing well but for those with future potential which can be nurtured.”

What mentoring schemes are in place?

“EDS runs a number of formal and informal mentoring schemes. Currently most are within the same work group but we are now building cross unit/industry mentoring relationships which will, we believe, bring even greater benefits to both our organisation and employees.”

What are your own experiences of being mentored?

“Mine was a very positive experience and I recommend it highly. Mentoring needs to be managed in order to deliver real benefits. The individual needs to identify what he or she is looking for in the relationship.

You also need to make sure that expectations are managed regarding availability and subject boundaries, that the two parties can meet regularly without difficulty and, finally, that they get on.”

Trevor Salomon, marketing director at JD Edwards

“We are not recruiting a lot of people at graduate level. We don’t have the capacity to bring in people at graduate level in the same way as very large employers do. Also, the pace of growth in the ERP market means that we generally attract more experienced people. We are looking for people who carry a few scars. The people who buy from us are running businesses and they want to talk to people who are credible. There is some correlation between age and experience. We are looking for people who are good in front of other people and who can handle projects and be assertive and diplomatic, all rolled into one.”

What kind of assessment and support systems do you have?

“We have a formal process of assessment, which goes on the file, as well as informal assessments. For example, I sit down with my team regularly and go through their career requirements and challenges. I’m not sure we have formal mentoring. But it’s a very important part of our culture here that asking for help is seen as a sign of strength.”

Who are the stars?

“A lot of it involves softer skills – you need commitment and dedication.

But our culture recognises that everybody has a role to play. We have a programme here called the Extra Milers. We get the staff to vote across the company for people, not managers and not people in their team, who always go beyond what they have to do. For example, we have a receptionist who is an Extra Miler every year. Everyone thinks she is an asset to the company.”

David Clutterbuck, senior partner of Clutterbuck Associates, co-founder of the European Mentoring Centre, has just written a book on mentoring.

Published by the Institute of Personnel and Development, it is called Learning Alliances.

“The European model of mentoring is different from the American model, in which you had a high level guru in the firm – someone highly powerful and influential, who demands loyalty and who will do things for your career.

In European mentoring we are looking at something radically different.

What’s more important is the experience gap, rather than the hierarchy gap. Some companies still put very senior people with people in their early 20s. That’s a total waste of time because the type of thinking you have to do at these levels is completely different. The young person will end up being given a lecture. You want to be sufficiently far ahead to give them a broader perspective, but close enough to understand what it’s like at that level.”

How do you match mentor and mentee?

“When young graduates join you assign them someone, but after six months you can give people choice, although you have to control that a bit.

If you give them a free choice they will either go for someone as senior as possible whose coat-tails they can cling to, or someone they can just go down the pub with and learn nothing.”

So what does the mentor do and what are the benefits?

“The mentor has a number of roles, drawing from a number of behaviours: coaching, counselling, networking and advising. You are looking to grow the person’s capability.

The mentee gets support and some challenges when needed, and the opportunity to talk to someone with a better understanding of the business. The mentor gets job satisfaction from seeing someone else grow.

The organisation needs to define its objectives. Employee retention is a big one. If a company wants to encourage its high fliers, it’s more likely to keep them if it has a mentoring scheme. With not-so-high fliers, it can help them to understand their abilities.

Other objectives could include dealing with stress, raising people’s confidence and getting people to take more responsibility for their own development. Until about five years ago 90 per cent of schemes were for young graduates and high fliers, but we have seen an explosion in the use of mentoring in any situation where people are going through some transition, for example, when one company takes over another.”

Sarah Perrin is a freelance journalist

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