Accenture’s CHRO Reveals One of the Company’s Most Successful Strategies for Retaining Talent

December 8, 2016

Accenture doesn’t sell products, it’s a talent-led business, relying on its employees to grow.

Recruiting coachable and adaptable (or “liquid”, as Accenture describes it) employees is a great a way to invest in company growth, but retaining this top talent has become key to sustaining that growth and an important mission for the company’s CHRO Ellyn Shook:

“The most significant role of our leaders [is] to grow our people, because when we grow our people, we grow our business.”

According to Shook, ensuring growth and employee retention centers around creating an environment where leaders coach for performance, and not manage for performance. While it's very easy to confuse the two concepts, the key difference is that management is all about telling people what to do, while coaching is about tapping into the employee's motivation and inspiration to unlock their true potential (most often through asking questions and brainstorming together instead of directing to a solution).

How Accenture thinks about coaching for performance

Unlocking potential is not a simple “one size fits all” solution - it is as unique as the people giving and receiving the coaching. To do this, Shook mentions Accenture is taking cues from consumer companies. “We are living in a hyper-personalized world,” Shook explains. “The lines are blurring between people’s personal and professional lives - they want the same experiences at work as they have outside of work.”

But creating a hyper-personalized experience for each employee doesn’t seem scalable in an organization of over 380K people, does it? This is where managers and teams play a key role in the talent development across Accenture’s organization. For managers, Shook says it’s about “really investing in building the coaching capability.” Often, coaching is not something that comes naturally - there are specific techniques and language to create the optimal outcome for both the coach and the person on the other end of the line.

To help visualize the role of a coach, Shook shares the story of her sister and how she trained for athletic competitions.

“She was a state champion diver and she had a coach. But he never, ever was on the diving board. When I use that analogy with our leaders, I tell them you don’t have to have done what [your employees] are doing, and you can’t tell them what to do or how to do it. You really have to tap into their motivations, their inspiration, and their talent.”

In short, Shook reinforces that coaching does not mean replicating yourself in your employees. After all, if people are your product, it would be difficult to create a successful organization of individuals who all had the same thoughts, ideas, and solutions.

Even more interestingly, Shook goes on to explain that the responsibility of coaching does not have to fall squarely on the shoulders of managers. In fact, Shook’s organization has begun to take a different approach to finding support and development opportunities through what they call “counselling families”. Because 74% of Accenture’s workforce is comprised of millennials, the leadership allows employees to “co-create their experiences” with their peers. “They really want to have an experience where the team that they are working with are coaching and counselling each other,” says Shook. “Together, they achieve optimal performance.”

Creating personalized experiences, coaching, and counselling families do not have to be ideas only meant for the world of consulting and selling intellectual property as a service. These practices can be used to attract and retain top talent in almost any environment, as long as the focus and priority remains on the people. What innovative approaches to people management is your organization taking?

Talent on Tap is a weekly series where Pat Wadors and Brendan Browne break down some of the hottest topics, biggest challenges, and most enticing opportunities in the world of talent. Talent on Tap will also give you an opportunity to hear from other organizational leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders in the space. Stay tuned each week for the latest.

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* image by Star Wars

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