PracticeConsultingCOVER STORY: TRAINING – Ways to a fitter firm.

COVER STORY: TRAINING - Ways to a fitter firm.

Internal training is an increasingly key element of a consultancy's game plan. Sarah Perrin finds out how the Big Five keep their consultants up to speed, and how they make sure that the schemes they set up deliver client satisfaction.

Firms have high expectations of the contribution that training can make to business success – it isn’t just about improving the skills base of consultants, but can also provide the glue that binds a global firm together. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, in the aftermath of its merger, has created an internal training framework that emphasises the firm’s global aspirations. “In PwC we look upon learning and professional development as one of the most powerful global integrating mechanisms that we have available to us,” says Petter Kleppe, PwC’s partner in charge of learning and professional development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “What we want to do is instil service and industry capabilities in our people worldwide in a consistent manner. We want to present one face worldwide for our clients, through one global curriculum, through consistent training planning, registration and records,” he says. To achieve that global consistency in training, firms have created structures that capture the range of required consulting competencies for all sectors and all service lines. These can then be used to identify the current competencies of employees and hence the training they need to progress. One example is PwC’s Global Capabilities Framework, which defines the full range of consulting capabilities from the most junior to the most senior ranks. Central training locations, such as the Andersen Worldwide Center for Professional Education in St Charles, near Chicago, also reinforce the global nature of courses. “The location is impressive, like a business school campus, and can house and train about 2,000 people at the same time,” says Tristan Robbie, head of professional development at Andersen Consulting in the UK. “It’s a huge area with social and sports facilities and it provides an opportunity to have up-to-date technologies all in the same place. Having said that, the physical location is less important than the concept, because it could be recreated anywhere. Because we have been growing so rapidly, some of the courses that used to take place at St Charles now take place elsewhere, but the concept behind them is exactly the same,” Robbie adds. PwC also has a significant training facility in Philadelphia, where more than 10,000 consultants a year are given enterprise resource planning and SAP training. The firm also has a new state-of-the-art facility in Tampa, Florida. Meanwhile, Ernst & Young has a Connected Learning Centre for Europe near Gatwick. “We are bringing together consultants from across Europe for an increasing range of programmes,” says Pam Evans, director of human resources at E&Y MCS. “We are increasingly connecting those programmes globally to make sure the curricula and training we offer are consistent on a global basis.” As for the content of the training, consultancies have always needed staff highly skilled in technical specialisms in order to deliver value to clients. But now firms are placing increased value on consultants with high quality ‘soft skills’, such as leadership, team building and negotiation. “An important aspect of the way we do business is that we work with clients and with mixed teams of clients and consultants,” says John Greening, director of education for Europe at Deloitte Consulting. “In that environment you need more skills around facilitation and leadership than you did before. Compared with five years ago, we place more emphasis on those skills.” Ernst & Young MCS has also increased its efforts in training staff in these areas. “In the past we have tended to focus on methodology and technical training,” says Mark Jenner, learning and development manager for MCS. “What we have tried to do over the last couple of years is to focus more on personal skills.” Jenner sees this shift as one result of the increasingly dynamic nature of the consulting marketplace. “Now things move more quickly and people need to be a lot more resourceful than before,” he says, adding that clients want creative thinkers and good communicators, as well as technical experts. As a result, all the Big Five offer training in soft skills, such as report writing, presentations and leadership, and some have introduced highly innovative courses, such as E&Y’s Peak Performance programme (see box, right). “Another shift has been towards the development of intellectual capital in our business,” says Jenner. “So we have been focusing on the depth of our consultants, as well as their methodology, process and technical skills.” One manifestation of this focus is the Virtual Business School, which was launched by E&Y last autumn in partnership with Henley Management College. Henley and E&Y have teamed up to address four key areas: post graduate education, research and innovation, leadership development and ‘connected learning’, which considers how technology can support the learning and development of individuals working in remote locations. The Virtual Business School has a variety of aims, but the over-riding driver is the desire to increase the intellectual capital that the firm, and its staff and partners, can access. Jenner explains that the approach also reflects the need to develop learning and development structures that are far more flexible and responsive to change than are the traditional classroom programmes. “In the past, learning and development has been about delivering classroom programmes over a year, scheduling them in, but that was very inflexible and rooted us where we were,” Jenner says. “We needed to respond more quickly to client pressures and the marketplace, but in the past, learning and development specialists like me haven’t been good at that. Now we need to create architectures which allow the business to learn when it needs to learn.” The manner in which training is delivered to consulting staff and partners is a key issue for all the Big Five firms. As a result, computer-based training (CBT) has come into its own for teaching technical skills. This allows staff to learn at their own pace and at times that suit them. PwC’s goal is to deliver half its curriculum self-paced by 2002. Classroom training is still preferred for personal and professional subject matter. “The majority of the skills courses are delivered in a training environment where individuals work together as groups, interacting and being facilitated by experts in the field,” says Steve Preston, head of development, training and induction at KPMG Consulting UK. “You could work through a CD Rom package on appraisal skills and you could understand the process behind it. But the real learning doesn’t take place until you actually sit down and have a go at an appraisal, probably while being videoed, and then get feedback.” Preston stresses that this approach can also be relevant for courses focused primarily on technical skills. “Some of the technical courses try to interweave other skills into them in order to make them more lively and to show that all these skills do not exist in isolation and all have a part to play in consulting,” he says. Deloitte Consulting also sees value in classroom courses in the way they maximise the potential to learn from experienced practitioners. “We lead the majority of our training courses using partners and senior managers in the firm,” says Greening. “They can transfer their knowledge, expertise, experience to the people they are training. You lose that with CBT or other non instructor-led approaches.” Andersen Consulting has a similar approach. “We use people right up to senior partners to act as faculty on training courses,” says Robbie. “By having real practitioners, real users of the skills we are trying to develop, you get the anecdotes, the context, the real world brought in.” Courses often involve a mix of Andersen Consulting faculty, external experts and executives from client firms, a mix which ensures a real life relevance backed up with specialist training expertise (see box, page12). Greening predicts that CBT and other technological advances will enhance, rather than replace, traditional classroom training. “We have been looking at using a product where you have instructor-led training across the Internet,” he says. “Say we have a new initiative that we want to roll out across the world. Rather than bringing people together you use this facility to deliver the training quickly and consistently. You can also record sessions so someone unable to take the course live can play it through later. We have not yet delivered any training in this way, but just-in-time training is important. One of the most important problems we have to solve is getting the right training to people at the right time. If people attend classes, but don’t use the material within a short period of time, they lose a significant amount of the benefit.” Aside from group classroom courses, some employees receive personal coaching. “We are making more use of one-to-one coaching for senior people because some have a reluctance to go on a training course and expose the fact that they have a need for development in a particular area,” says Preston. This might happen after a senior manager has attended a development centre, an event designed to observe performance during a series of exercises that provide extensive feedback about current capabilities and weaknesses. “If you are not very good at giving instructions or explaining things, then you could go for one-to-one coaching on that area because it is much more focused,” says Preston. “One-to-one coaching is very powerful. It’s very hard work for the individual receiving it because you have the coach’s complete attention on you.” Firms don’t provide such intensive training without expecting results in terms of client satisfaction and so the evaluation of courses is a key issue. “Our investment in training is enormous,” says PwC’s Kleppe. “In MCS, excluding e-business training, we are spending between £250m and £300m globally. So we are very keen on measuring the effect of our training.” Post-course questionnaires are the standard means of assessing the immediate impact of training, but firms are looking for additional methods. “In the design of training courses we are now identifying the business objectives that are linked to the stated learning objectives,” says Kleppe. “Then we actually measure the impact of the training programme through things like the internal rate of return or the payback period.” For example, training in some IT areas has been found to have a payback period of a single year. Kleppe believes that soft skills training can be measured in similar ways. “We are doing a lot of client satisfaction surveys and through them you can measure the effect of soft skills training,” he says. “We have 32,000 consultants in motion every day, every month, every year, so over time you get very clear feedback through these client satisfaction scores.” KPMG is also experimenting with its evaluation methods. “We are doing a pilot in one of our consulting areas using pre-course questionnaires,” says Preston. “We are asking individuals to state their objectives and to be quite clear about what they want to get from that course before they go on it. Then three months afterwards they do a post-course questionnaire, looking at how far the course went to meet their objectives and how they applied the course back in the workplace. This is in its early stages, but it’s trying to get people to think more clearly about what they want from a course.” Firms are not particularly keen to put figures on the actual amount of time their staff spend training, and this reluctance is understandable given that there are huge fluctuations year on year, depending partly on whether promotion has triggered the need for enhanced skills development. Andersen Consulting offers a rough estimate that training will take up 6-8 percent of an individual’s time, but Robbie stresses that isn’t what counts. “What’s really important is the output,” he says. “You measure that in terms of satisfied clients.” Sarah Perrin is a freelance journalist. MIND GAMES AT E&Y Joy Shaw, an executive consultant in E&Y’s finance and performance management group, is part way through one of the consulting arm’s hottest new courses – the Peak Performance programme. The programme, which was first introduced around18 months ago, involves six two-day sessions spread over six months, and is designed to help consultants tap their full potential. It takes some of the principles of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and considers, for example, how the beliefs people form and the way they interpret events can limit their ability to perform at their peak. “There is a specific module that focuses on the power of self belief,” explains Shaw. “There are some fairly introspective sessions where we understand what beliefs we have formed throughout our lives and how they affect our feelings and therefore our behaviour and performance in our professional and personal lives. Then there are very practical sessions looking at how we interrelate with other people in a one-to-one or a team environment. It looks at how you view the world and how another person can view the same situation differently.” Shaw is full of praise for the course. “It’s absolutely invaluable,” she says. “We generally tend to focus a lot on content, on technical skills. This course is really saying that technical skills account for only 20 percent of what makes you effective; the 80 percent is your attitude.” TRAINING PROVISION AND RECRUITMENT The quality of training provided by firms can play a role in attracting the best talent when recruiting. Ben Warner, a consultant in KPMG Consulting’s Y2K group, joined the firm in April from Reed Personnel, where he was also working on the millennium bug. He says training provision was definitely an issue for him when attending interviews and considering whether to join the firm. “Y2K work has a definitive end which isn’t too far away, so I was interested in the possibilities for moving through the firm’s groups and changing my career direction,” Warner says. “At KPMG there is a certain amount of freedom to move between groups, so you can follow your own career path. If you move to a different area you can go on a course and back up your knowledge.” Warner also believes the firm is open to requests for training. “As long as you can give a business argument for what you are trying to achieve, they will send you on a course,” he says. ANDERSEN CONSULTING FLAGSHIP COURSES At three points during an Andersen Consulting career an individual could be flown off to Chicago to attend a week long business integration course – a training event designed to pull together individuals from each of the four consulting competencies and encourage them to work together to provide client solutions. Courses are timed to coincide with key promotion points, for example, when moving up from analyst to consultant after around two years with the firm, three years later when becoming a manager, and finally after another three years when a senior manager. “The idea is that you put people into mixed teams across competencies and give them a challenge, which is a goal-based scenario where they have to work together in order to develop solutions,” explains Tristan Robbie, head of professional development at Andersen Consulting in the UK. The middle course, for example, is called Delivering Client Value. “The managers are given the scenario that a new senior member of the client has taken over responsibility for the Andersen project they are working on and that person is not absolutely convinced of the value the project is delivering,” says Robbie. “The client wants the business case re-examined in order to understand the benefits. The group of managers then have to use their various consulting skills to recalculate the business case and re-present it to show there is value being added by the project. There are various twists along the way.” Executives from client companies are invited to take roles in the scenario, interviewing the managers and giving feedback on their performance. “These are all flagship courses,” says Robbie of the business integration set. “At the same time as honing competency skills, you are giving people the need to work in teams, to budget, to negotiate, to present and to use all their other core professional skills as well.”

Related Articles

5 tips for SMEs to protect cash flow

Accounting Software 5 tips for SMEs to protect cash flow

10m Alia Shoaib, Reporter
Tyrie on Finance Bill 2017: ‘Making Tax Policy Better’

Consulting Tyrie on Finance Bill 2017: ‘Making Tax Policy Better’

1y Stephanie Wix, Writer
Managing partner Q&A - the year ahead: Richard Toone, CVR Global

Accounting Firms Managing partner Q&A - the year ahead: Richard Toone, CVR Global

1y Kevin Reed, Writer
Deloitte 'self-imposes exile' on government contracts to defuse PM row

Accounting Firms Deloitte 'self-imposes exile' on government contracts to defuse PM row

1y Kevin Reed, Writer
Managing partner Q&A - the year ahead: Julie Adams, Menzies

Accounting Firms Managing partner Q&A - the year ahead: Julie Adams, Menzies

1y Kevin Reed, Writer
Friday Afternoon Live: Deloitte's tech thing; PAC wants HMRC 'contingencies'; and Sports Direct

Business Regulation Friday Afternoon Live: Deloitte's tech thing; PAC wants HMRC 'contingencies'; and Sports Direct

1y Kevin Reed, Writer
Friday Afternoon Live: HMRC complaints rise; Deloitte scoops big audits; and corporate reporting woes

Audit Friday Afternoon Live: HMRC complaints rise; Deloitte scoops big audits; and corporate reporting woes

2y Kevin Reed, Writer
New head of equity capital markets for KPMG

Accounting Firms New head of equity capital markets for KPMG

2y Stephanie Wix, Writer