Consultancies set to share and share alike

Consultancy bosses seem unperturbed by warnings from design-friendly accountant Willott Kingston Smith that they need to curb pay rises for staff now to avoid eroding profits in the longer term. But the observations set out in the WKS report published last week surely provide a focus for consultancy managements to discuss how to get the best out of their workforce, to retain valued staff at a time when the headhunters are very busy and to boost morale and with it the quality of the creative output.

The advice given by WKS is that bosses should be looking to benefits other than salaries to reward and encourage their staff. Job satisfaction and a sense of wellbeing are, after all, acknowledged as more important to many people than financial remuneration.

This is not a new idea for design groups, which for years have offered benefits for staff as part of the package. The ‘awaydays’ or weekends, the branded football teams, and the art classes are common examples.

Some groups take it further. Pentagram and Interbrand Newell and Sorrell are renowned for inviting in external speakers, for example, the latter also having brought in aromatherapists, jugglers and others to help alleviate stress among their team. Others, such as SAS which allows staff to carry out small private jobs in the office, look for business-related benefits. But few have introduced practices that shape the culture of their business and challenge convention.

But things are changing. We still cite ad agencies such as the legendary St Lukes as the trail-blazers of new working practices, but it won’t be long, hopefully, before we can look to design for better examples. Wolff Olins is already sending out staff to explore working methods within ground-breaking non-design companies, not with a project in mind, but to boost innovation within its own operation. Meanwhile, smaller groups might take a cue from Leeds-based branding specialist Elmwood, in the throes of restructuring to rethink roles and make all its staff, including the tea lady, shareholders in the business.

WKS might applaud such moves, which don’t necessarily add to the wage bill, but build collective ‘ownership’ of the business. More importantly, they define and communicate a consultancy’s point of difference, giving it an edge over competitors for staff and clients. These shifts are the best promotion for a consultancy, as long as they come from the heart. How much more memorable than a veneer of brochure promises, odd job titles or high-minded mission statements that are not borne out in reality.

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