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Opinion and Insight

What Does a ‘People Business’ Do When It Runs out of People?

Professional service organisations are waking up to a talent crisis

What Does a ‘People Business’ Do When It Runs out of People?

According to sector benchmarks, professional service organisations (PSOs) are typically predictable and slow. The TSIA reports that the concerns of PSO executives haven’t changed since they started measuring in 2013. The sector’s top ten concerns have two centres of gravity; the first around effective optimisation, and the second around how to measure performance as they evolve in line with client expectations.

Having said this, it seems that PSOs are waking up to a crisis in talent that has appeared over the past 24 months. In a recent survey of about 600 UK PSO executives, 65% said that they’d needed to turn work down in the previous 12 months because of a lack of resources and skills to deliver. This is up from 35% the year before; an unprecedented development for a traditionally stable sector.

So, what’s going on?

First off, there is increased demand as businesses figure out what to do, particularly in financial services and insurance. This new demand is driving competition, with 80% of executives noticing an increase in competition in 2018, compared to 62% the year before.

So, while demand and competition are up, PSOs are also coping with disruptive change. The rise of digitalisation and the acceleration of technology mean reducing administration and automating tasks traditionally completed by people, and so creating a shift in workforce skills.

PSOs are also faced with attracting young employees who have different expectations than their predecessors. PSOs have been slow to adopt the types of workforce policies that make them attractive. A recent Deloitte report showed that 77% of workers saw paid family leave as a significant influence on their choice of employer, and there is plenty of evidence that ‘softer’ benefits, like flexible working hours and off-site working are increasingly influential in employees’ choice of career. 

“This involves PSO’s rethinking both their workforce and workplace culture to attract and retain talent.”

These pressures have created a major roadblock to growth, calling for PSOs to seek a new perspective on their workforce and operational structures.

This involves PSOs rethinking both their workforce and workplace culture to attract and retain talent. Professional services are also becoming more diverse as new hires bleed into the system and gender diversity programmes make their mark on traditionally male-dominated industries. For example, Lloyds Banking Group recently announced that it aims to ensure 40 per cent of the businesses’ 5,000 senior staff are female within the next six years.

At the same time, the changing needs of their clients mean they need a broader set of skills in their workforce. However, these new skills are unlikely to be utilised consistently, calling for a development in scalable and flexible resources. This capability is best met through working with independents for individual projects. In an industry that does not typically use freelancers and subcontractors, this poses another big shift in workforce requirements. A 2018 survey saw 81% of PSO executives citing subcontractors as important or critical to their future success. And in the same survey, all the highest performing consultancies reported they were already working with external talent networks.

In this new talent environment, PSOs have found that it’s not enough for their marketing and communications teams to view potential customers as their only priority. They need to turn their attention to their employee and subcontractor brands to attract and retain talent, without which they will not be able to progress effectively.

As a specialist B2B agency, we see this emerging talent crisis as another reason for PSOs to rethink their marketing communications.

Brand and communications are a powerful tool to help tackle this. As a specialist B2B agency, we see this skills crisis as a reason for the professional services industry to rethink how they do their marketing communications.

At gyro, we believe it’s essential for businesses to build their brands from the inside out, which means engaging employees, sub-contractors, partners, business customers and their end customers. We also believe that employee engagement is a bellwether for the health of brands and, therefore, they should be looking at their employee NPS as a key brand metric.

It’s not surprising that we’ve seen a significant increase in clients seeking to refresh their brands to retain and attract talent for business growth.

Gyro is the world’s leading expert in helping B2B businesses succeed through our focus on building authentic business brands through transformational change.

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