Ac­cen­ture’s CEO on how to stay rel­e­vant: “Change ev­ery day.”

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY LIL­LIAN CUN­NING­HAM lil­lian.cun­ning­ham@wash­post.com

Pierre Nan­terme has spent 32 years work­ing for Ac­cen­ture, cul­mi­nat­ing in his cur­rent role as CEO of the global pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm. And yet, that longevity has done lit­tle to make him fixed in his ways. Main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo, he says, drives him “nuts,” and he de­scribes his own gen­er­a­tion as “quite bor­ing and sim­ple” com­pared with to­day’s new hires.

Proof of his ap­petite for change is Ac­cen­ture’s de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate rank­ings and an­nual per­for­mance re­views for its more than 300,000 em­ploy­ees start­ing in the fall, which Nan­terme dis­closed in this in­ter­view.

This con­ver­sa­tion has been edited for length and clar­ity.

What are the big­gest chal­lenges of lead­ing a firm in the con­sult­ing in­dus­try to­day?

The in­dus­try of pro­fes­sional ser­vices is in the midst of a mas­sive revo­lu­tion. Mas­sive. When you think about con­sult­ing, you typ­i­cally think about ad­vi­sory ser­vices. You think about de­liv­er­ing pa­pers, Power Points, ideas. I think the revo­lu­tion is that con­sult­ing is shift­ing from ideas to out­comes. More and more, our clients ex­pect not only rel­e­vant ad­vice, not only set­ting a road map or help­ing them plan, but be­ing com­mit­ted to busi­ness re­sults.

Is that your big­gest lead­er­ship chal­lenge as CEO?

One would, in­deed, be how you are stay­ing rel­e­vant to your clients. The sec­ond chal­lenge re­lates to the size of the com­pany. We are 330,000 peo­ple op­er­at­ing in 120 coun­tries and cov­er­ing 19 in­dus­tries. So man­ag­ing the size is an is­sue. I am per­son­ally work­ing a lot on build­ing more or­ga­ni­za­tional agility into the gi­ant. That’s prob­a­bly the No. 1 chal­lenge.

How do you make an or­ga­ni­za­tion that size more ag­ile?

This is the big ques­tion, and it’s an ev­ery­day chal­lenge. You need to avoid, if you will, the big D-Day when you’re go­ing to drive the “Big Trans­for­ma­tion.” That’s very hard given the size. It is very risky, and it might be very dis­rup­tive and quite dan­ger­ous for the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Rather than wait­ing for the big day, let’s change ev­ery day. Del­e­gate au­thor­ity to the peo­ple on the ground. It’s not go­ing to come from me or from the top.

You served as Ac­cen­ture’s chief lead­er­ship of­fi­cer at one point. What’s your phi­los­o­phy on the best­way to train em­ploy­ees to be bet­ter lead­ers?

For many of our clients, what­ever the in­dus­try, they all are com­ing to me say­ing their No. 1 chal­lenge is get­ting the right tal­ent. So first I fig­ured out that lead­er­ship and tal­ent is the name of the game. Sec­ond, it’s all about how you mo­ti­vate peo­ple, how you’re mak­ing sure they’re go­ing to stretch their own bound­aries.

It’s about se­lect­ing, hir­ing the best peo­ple, but that’s not enough. Per­for­mance man­age­ment is ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­por­tant. Do you feel good in your role? If yes, that’s the per­fect time for you to experiment with some­thing new, to get out of your com­fort zone. This will­ing­ness to learn is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant thing for lead­ers of to­day and to­mor­row.

When you looked across your lead­er­ship train­ing pro­grams or other such in­vest­ments, was there any­thing you cut be­cause you weren’t see­ing re­sults?

Oh, yes. Many. Like many com­pa­nies, we wanted to set the right ob­jec­tives for our peo­ple, but very rapidly we got to a list of five, 10, 15, 20 ob­jec­tives, which started to be ex­traor­di­nar­ily con­flict­ing, con­fus­ing and dif­fi­cult to eval­u­ate. They cre­ated a max­i­mum bu­reau­cracy and, at the end of the day, blocked peo­ple. In­stead of mo­ti­vat­ing or eval­u­at­ing peo­ple, it just be­came piling tons of met­rics and ob­jec­tives on them.

What I learned is that lead­er­ship is about let­ting it go. Trust peo­ple. The art of lead­er­ship is not to spend your time mea­sur­ing, eval­u­at­ing. It’s all about se­lect­ing the per­son. And if you be­lieve you se­lected the right per­son, then you give that per­son the free­dom, the au­thor­ity, the del­e­ga­tion to in­no­vate and to lead

with some very sim­ple mea­sure. So has that trans­lated into sim­pli­fy­ing the per­for­mance-eval­u­a­tion process?

Yes, so if you are to scoop from me: We’re go­ing to get rid of it. Not 100 per­cent, but we’re go­ing to get rid of prob­a­bly 90 per­cent of what we did in the past. It’s not what we need. We are not sure that spend­ing all that time on per­for­mance man­age­ment has been yield­ing a great out­come.

And for the mil­len­nium gen­er­a­tion, it’s not the way they want to be rec­og­nized, the way they want to be mea­sured. If you put this new gen­er­a­tion in the box of the per­for­mance man­age­ment we’ve used the last 30 years, you lose them. We’re done with the fa­mous an­nual per­for­mance re­view, where once a year I’m go­ing to share with you what I think about you. That doesn’t make any sense.

Per­for­mance is an on­go­ing ac­tiv­ity. It’s ev­ery day, af­ter any client in­ter­ac­tion or busi­ness in­ter­ac­tion or cor­po­rate in­ter­ac­tion. It’s much more fluid. Peo­ple want to know on an on­go­ing ba­sis, am I do­ing right? Am I mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion? Do you think I’m pro­gress­ing? No­body’s go­ing to wait for an an­nual cy­cle to get that feed­back. Nowit’s all about in­stant per­for­mance man­age­ment.

When will you change to the new sys­tem?

Our fis­cal cy­cle is Septem­ber to Septem­ber. So we’re go­ing to put in place this new per­for­mance man­age­ment process for fis­cal year ’16, which for us is go­ing to start at the end of ’15.

It’s a mas­sive revo­lu­tion. Imag­ine, for a com­pany of 330,000 peo­ple, chang­ing the per­for­man­ce­pro­cess — it’s huge. All the credit goes to Ellyn Shook, our HR of­fi­cer.

So will there still be rat­ings or will there just be feed­back?

At the end of the day, you need to give some eval­u­a­tion. You need to give a com­pen­sa­tion in­crease. But all this ter­mi­nol­ogy of rank­ings — forc­ing rank­ings along some dis­tri­bu­tion curve or what­ever — we’re done with that. We’ve to­tally done too much ef­fort for a lim­ited out­come.

We’re go­ing to eval­u­ate you in your role, not vis-a-vis some­one else who might work in Washington, who might work in Ban­ga­lore. It’s ir­rel­e­vant. It should be about you. How are you per­form­ing now, and do we be­lieve you are pre­pared to move to another role? We are get­ting rid of all this com­par­i­son with other peo­ple.

Deloitte is likely also get­ting rid of such rank­ings. Do you ex­pect these moves will have a rip­ple ef­fect among other global com­pa­nies, given that many of them take cues from con­sult­ing firms?

Yes, I hope so. The process is too heavy, too costly for the out­come. And the out­come is not great. My phi­los­o­phy has al­ways been very sim­ple: You need to be rel­e­vant to your clients, not the other way around. It’s the same thing with your peo­ple. You need to be rel­e­vant to them. I’m not go­ing to im­pose on the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion some­thing that is not the en­vi­ron­ment in which they want to de­velop and grow.

It doesn’t mean that we’re go­ing to be easy — that we’re not go­ing to mea­sure, to eval­u­ate. We’re go­ing to do all of this, but we’re go­ing to do it in a very dif­fer­ent way.

Speak­ing of younger gen­er­a­tions, what are some of the stand­out traits that Ac­cen­ture is most in­ter­ested in these days when hir­ing? Is the pro­file chang­ing?

Yes. The gen­er­a­tion we’re talk­ing about is just great, is just fas­ci­nat­ing. I mean, my gen­er­a­tion — when I was ap­ply­ing 32 years ago — was quite bor­ing and sim­ple. You wanted to have a good job. You did your best. You were rec­og­nized. You worked hard. You moved up. You were pleased.

That’s gone. The gen­er­a­tion we’re talk­ing about, they are pre­pared to work hard, but at the same time, they want the au­thor­ity and abil­ity to or­ga­nize their work. They are more for­ward­look­ing. They are in­no­va­tive. They are more dig­i­tally na­tive. And to an­swer your ques­tion: I like them. I like them much more than I like me. I wouldn’t love to find another Pierre with 32 years’ back­ground. Thank you, Pierre. Go!

What’s the best piece of ad­vice some­one ever gave you?

The best ad­vice would be one I re­ceived from my mother: Do your best ev­ery day and don’t have any re­gret. Never come back home and say, “I should have done this or that in­stead.”

“You need to avoid, if you will, the big D-Day when you’re go­ing to drive the ‘Big Trans­for­ma­tion,’ ” says Pierre Nan­terme, CEO of Ac­cen­ture, the global pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm.

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