Companies in the professional services industry are all in the people business. They are hiring and managing lawyers, accountants, consulting engineers, and architects at a time when talent is in short supply.
Talented people are, literally, their product.
Finding those people is becoming increasingly difficult, especially when your small or medium-sized firm is competing with much larger companies that can capitalize on their size.
But what distinguishes many of the "winners" in the battle for talent, in the experience of Paychex HR consultant Elizabeth Watson, is their collaborative attitude.
According to Watson, "The new trend is for companies to build organizations that are more “flat,” collaborative, and team-based. She notes that today’s employees have a preference for collaborative working structures and flexible hours.
“There is less hierarchy and more transparency, which helps managers to understand what their employees’ everyday challenges and struggles are. It helps them to have more open and honest conversations with their employees and be more invested in their day-to-day work.”
What are the advantages of an organization with a collaborative attitude? And is it a trend or lasting organizational shift in the workplace?
Meeting Employee Needs in the Workplace
Paychex interviewed hundreds of HR professionals across a broad range of firms in the professional services industry and found that the top-performing companies (expecting revenue growth of 10 percent or more in 2018 over 2017) are, in fact, trying to meet the desire for a more collaborative workplace.
These companies say they use regular pulse surveys, conduct employee reviews more than once a year, and focus on a culture of feedback and communication. This suggests they are also more willing to accept implied changes — to put feedback into action.
Survey results also show they are outpacing other companies in allowing employees to work remotely, and they offer telecommuting options at almost three-times the rate of businesses in other industries.
It should come as no surprise that many firms are becoming more willing to invest in collaboration technologies like Slack or Asana that enable colleagues down the hall -- and around the globe -- to work together. The top-performing firms were more likely than their peers to rely on the latest technology to get more done in less time with fewer resources.
Human Capital Management and Collaboration
A growing number of professional services firms are trying to build on their success in talent management by adopting a company-wide human capital management (HCM) strategy that optimizes processes and maximizes productivity.
The deployment of HCM, which uses accurate, real-time HR data to make critical business decisions, is more likely to have a strong focus on communication and teamwork in addition to individual achievement.
An HCM strategy, which assigns a critical role to HR technology throughout the organization, allows you to use HR employee data to analyze all sorts of key metrics — and to reward positive results not measured by a single metric like billable hours.
Whether its HCM strategy is focused on maximizing billable hours or some other positive metric(s), any forward-thinking professional services firm will also strive to offer the best possible work experience to avoid employee burnout and turnover.
Profitable firms winning the war on talent are much more likely to report that they have engaged employees according to their HR staff.
The importance of employee engagement in the United States, where only a third of employees feel engaged, can hardly be exaggerated. A 2017 Gallup poll shows that companies in the top quartile for employee engagement dramatically outperform their competitors in the lowest quartile with higher productivity (17%), much higher (21%) profitability and far less turnover (24-59% lower).
Elizabeth Watson isn’t surprised by the importance of employee engagement to business success.
“Once you are an employer of choice and your employees have really bought into your messaging, purpose and vision,” she explains, "it’s a lot easier to work on things of strategic importance like human capital.”