3 Things Great Consulting & Professional Services Firms Are Doing to Stand Out

3 Things Great Consulting & Professional Services Firms Are Doing to Stand Out

Posted by Sarah Lewis-Kulin on April 21 2015

Lawyers, accountants, consultants and others in the wide-ranging field of professional services know that certain challenges are inherent to their industry regardless of where they choose to work. Key among them is nature of working in a project-based environment where client or regulatory deadlines make for uneven and intense periods of work, projects may require employees to spend more time in airports than at home, and the overall degree of change and personal responsibility creates a demanding professional environment.

But have hope.

We recently surveyed more than 27,000 employees in the consulting and professional services sector to find out which companies offer the best workplaces in the industry. And although these companies are not immune to fast-paced deadlines and demanding clients, they do have a number of tricks up their sleeves that result in 93 percent of their employees saying they actually look forward to coming to work each day.

Here are the top three areas award-winning companies are focusing on. (You can also see a full list of all winners and read detailed reviews for each one.)

1. PRACTICAL WORK-LIFE BALANCE

The nature of the consulting and professional services industry includes periods of intense workload – so great companies go out of their way to create cultures that don’t reward unnecessary face-time, provide a high degree of flexibility and trust in when and where people get their work done, and offer needed time away from work as well as many time-saving benefits for when long days are required.

Employees at Plante Moran

Plante Moran is a certified public accounting and business advisory firm that provides audit, tax, wealth management, and a variety of business consulting services. The company offers paid sabbaticals, compressed work weeks and the option to telecommute – all in an effort to help work fit more easily into employees’ lives. The firm doesn’t just offer these programs: The reason they are one of the best is that they actually allow people to use them. Ninety-three percent of their employees say their managers encourage them to balance their work life and their personal life and 96 percent of staff avail themselves of the flexible scheduling program.

If work-life balance is important to you, make sure you do as much research into the culture of the workplace you are considering as you do into the technical terms of the benefits package. You want to choose a company where the culture reinforces that is is okay – even encouraged – to use whatever time off, alternative work schedules or sabbatical programs it offers.

This dedication to work-life balance can certainly exist even in high-stakes environments. At Visionist, an engineering defense contractor, one employee describes the organization’s ingrained commitment to balance by saying, “People's enthusiasm for contributing above and beyond the norm is infectious and yet we still maintain excellent work-life balance. For example, while positive achievements like professional development efforts or R&D efforts are well incented, there is absolutely no pressure to engage in some of the negative aspects of workplace overachievement such as regular overtime, 'crunch' time, [or] risky product schedules.”

2. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL

Professional services firms often attract highly-motivated employees who are committed to life-long learning and gaining competitive experience to build their resumes. The best firms provide development support to employees regardless of their role. They support people’s growth as professionals and as individuals. They go well beyond annual performance reviews to offer generous combinations of formal education, mentorship programs and challenging on-the-job experiences.

Employees at Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), specializing in business strategy and general management, is a great example of a firm that offers well-rounded educational opportunities to its staff. Ninety-seven percent of its staff feel they receive the training and development support they need to advance professionally. One of the ways they do this is by not limiting who can benefit from development. One assistant recalls being offered the chance to work in a number of international offices for up to a year. “There aren't very many companies that would offer this type of opportunity to a member of their business service team,” she says. “I couldn't have asked for a better experience.”

BCG offers an extensive range of training and mentorship support that starts from the moment a new employee step into her role and extends beyond the day he might leave and join the ranks of BCG’s alumni. These programs are customized to support employees’ unique needs based on their levels of experience, roles, goals and personal backgrounds across a range of diversity characteristics. The programs are meant to align with employees’ personal goals: For example, BCG offers graduate school application support to all employees who wish to further their education, providing written recommendations, tuition reimbursement and formal support through the entire admission process. 

"I've never been at a job more intellectually stimulating than this one,” reports one BCGer. “The problems we get to work on with clients are often very interesting and challenging, and thinking through the cases often yields significant impact for clients. One of the most exciting days I've had on this job was reading the New York Times and seeing a client articulate the strategy we developed together to the press - I can't think of another job where the impact of one's work is so immediately seen."

3. GREAT TEAMMATES

In many professional services firms, employees must come together to form project-based teams as the need arises – and then disband to form a new team. The ability to do this smoothly and enjoyably for everyone involved depends in large part upon hiring great people, creating a shared culture with common goals, and giving people time to form authentic personal connections across the organization. With a strong foundation in place, rapid changes and project- or client-based stress can readily be overcome.

employees at Cooley

Across the 20 firms employees say are the best in the industry, 95 percent of employees describe their organizations as feeling like family. Nearly as many (94 percent) agree that everyone in the organization is “in it together.”

A law firm might not spring to mind first as the place to seek a warm-hearted, collaborative environment, but Cooley employees would disagree. Well more than 90 percent of its staff describe the firm as a cooperative, friendly and caring environment in which people are comfortable being themselves. “There is high-quality work being done in a totally team-like, fun and supportive environment,” explains one team member. Adding, “Our community and our clients trump individual egos and interests.”

When you take the time to find the right fit, you will have great people at your side to deal with any stress that comes your way. “There is never one person taking all of the heat for a difficult situation,” says an employee at TekSystems, an IT consultancy. “We are always in it together and working as a team towards one greater goal. Everyone in this office genuinely cares about each other and is willing to go out of their way to help improve each other. … We are a team and that shines through in everything that we do."

Check out the complete list of 20 Great Workplaces in Consulting and Professional Services to find the firm for you!