From the outside, Accenture’s offices on London’s Fenchurch Street are as corporate as you would expect from a professional services organisation. Situated next to the Walkie Talkie—a building as notorious for its distinctive shape as the unfortunate wind tunnel effect it creates at street level—Plantation Place, home to several businesses, is one of the largest office developments in the City of London.
Yet behind the sea of glass and wide-open atrium, Accenture is moving away from the traditional big-business way of working to focus on the individual, embracing an approach that chief leadership and human resources officer Ellyn Shook refers to as “hyper-personalisation.”
In the past, says Sam Clark, MD for UK and Ireland HR, recruiting and retaining staff was a vanilla, uncustomised affair. But with a multi-generational workforce, many of whom are millennials, the company felt it was vital to connect on a more personal level with the global workforce.
“The world has shifted enormously and one of the biggest challenges is to make the experience of work a human one,” Clark says. “More and more it’s about how do you [as an individual] feel about work, how do you feel about the processes that support your talent or your career.”
Over the past year or so a growing band of organisations—notably GE, which originally popularised the concept of forced ranking—have announced significant changes to their performance management processes. Accenture’s new approach reflects that trend. By December, when this year’s salary changes come in to effect for the 12,470 employees in the UK and Ireland, the company will have fully migrated to a new system, known as Performance Achievement. This will see an end to a backwards-looking focus on annual performance and ratings linked to pay in favour of a more future-orientated "coaching culture", with a focus on individual and team strengths, skills and career development.
Managers will be encouraged to give ongoing feedback to their direct reports and have more "courageous conversations" to help them manage their careers and identify their development areas. Accenture’s career counsellors—assigned to new starters—will also be expected to have more regular conversations with staff.
“Performance management felt like a process that was being done to people in the past,” says Clark. “We have been less than satisfied that it is motivating our staff for some time and it’s been taking up a significant amount of man hours that would be better spent talking about people’s careers and potential.”
Last year the company ran several successful pilots with 16,000 employees across various areas globally, including HR, who have now fully transitioned to the new system. The first stages of the system were brought in more widely in January. Over the course of the year, staff will be introduced to different aspects of the new arrangement culminating with salary changes – a more iterative process than is traditionally associated with change management.
“In the past in HR we have always wanted to have everything signed off [at the outset]. What we’re doing now is sharing the vision but introducing tools and approaches during the course of the performance year. It’s a fairly sizeable change but we are doing it in an agile way,” Clark explains.
She says one of the most useful aspects of the new HR strategy is that, by removing performance ratings, the conversation about staff has changed from a peer group comparison to a more productive discussion about talent: “It’s a bit more like what you would do in succession planning when you are thinking about the person, their skills and competencies, and their next role.”
What won’t change is the pot of money that’s available for pay rises but, says Clark, this is not forced ranking by another name: “The difference now is as leaders we have to settle on individual reward decisions that we can justify. It means you end up having much more honest conversations with employees about their future and why you have made a particular decision about their reward. It makes people more accountable and, as a management team, we feel more invested in the outcome.”