Expanding horizons to be the most admired and agile consulting company – A.T. Kearney and London Business School

– SILVER WINNER OF THE 2018 EXCELLENCE IN PRACTICE AWARDS –

Imagine a successful management consultant gaining new perspectives about influencing clients as a result of an interaction with a horse. Or consider how an acting and voice coach can help another such accomplished consultant learn how to better connect with an audience. These transformations were key to the success of “Expanding Horizons”, an experiential programme designed for global strategy consultancy A.T. Kearney.

The programme, created in partnership with London Business School, has positioned A.T. Kearney as the most admired for the firm’s impact on its clients and its ability to attract and retain the best people. This transformation entailed:

Making unsurpassed personal growth a reality by overhauling the whole approach to learning and development. Many of the firm’s top consultants (partners) went years without any formal leadership development. A.T. Kearney needed this to change and take its learning and development (L&D) activities to the next level.

Demonstrating reputation. Leadership development of partners would support employee retention and serve as a draw in the recruitment of new partners. Reputation also related to an increase in engagement with clients’ CEOs, external recognition and working with higher-calibre organisations.

Delivering better results for clients. Partners needed to better connect with clients and guide them through the required changes that are necessary to compete in the future. These partners needed to rely on more than just their strong business skills.

Instilling a sense of collective and global purpose. A.T. Kearney needed to strengthen bonds and cohesion to forge a true partnership in which the partners realised they not only worked at the firm but also maintained ownership of it.

Success in these areas was critical to recovering a strong culture. This seemed to have dissipated after a tumultuous period in which the firm was acquired by a technology consulting firm (1995) and then once again became independent (2005). A.T. Kearney enjoyed several successful years after this transition, but there was a realisation that what worked in the past would not drive future growth. The firm had survived, rising like a phoenix from the ashes, now it needed to take the next step to thrive.

“Growing a business in consulting means growing people,” explained Johan Aurik, A.T. Kearney’s former Global Managing Partner. “It is easy to say. The challenge is how you do this, particularly for senior level partners.”

“In consulting, confidence and interpersonal capabilities are a key part of the mix to being effective,” added Phil Morgan, Partner and Chief Human Resource Officer. “We needed to improve partners’ soft skills to become more successful.”

London Business School was selected to be the partner to help make the vision a reality in part because “it was the only executive education provider that truly sought a real collaboration, was willing to create the programme with us and were actually excited about the prospects of a 50/50 partnership”

Partnering to create a unique learning journey

A.T. Kearney’s L&D team and London Business School’s client delivery team worked intensely on a programme design focusing on partners’ core interpersonal behaviours that would enable success. Creating this type of organisational transformation meant stepping outside the norm of what had previously been done.

There are 16 different experiential activities incorporated into the modules in London and India. In London, the focus is on disrupting what may have become narrow and taken-for-granted ways of operating so that new and expanded possibilities for thought, feeling and action can emerge. In India, partners start in the bustling city of Mumbai and then transition to a retreat destination in northwest India. They explore how to create alignment between strengths, values and passions in an unfamiliar environment. Two core London Business School professors guide the entire journey.

A “just in time” 24/7 coaching component supports the overall experience. This entails coaches who are available for one-to-one conversations to help the partners make sense of their experiences.

Impact

“A renewed spirit has been established among partners,” said Stephen Parker, A.T. Kearney’s first Chief Learning Officer (appointed in 2013) and Head of Talent Management. “There is a shared language now for development and a common passion for how connection and relationship prowess can benefit and grow the firm.” “Expanding Horizons is the best thing I’ve ever seen at A.T. Kearney,” added Jerome Souied, Partner, EMEA Head of Private Equity/M&A. “It made me realise how I wanted to live out my values through the way I work.” These reflections encapsulate how A.T. Kearney has been able to achieve its objectives and create a transformation among the 233 participants from 10 different cohorts.

Enhanced focus on learning and development

“The L&D function is now embedded and well respected throughout the firm, thanks in large part to Expanding Horizons and the ensuing change in learning philosophy that it heralded,” said Parker. Demonstrating this, Parker noted that major pieces of A.T. Kearney’s performance management processes are designed around the “best self-approach”, a concept based on Professor Dan Cable’s research that was introduced to partners during Expanding Horizons. Additionally, HR has integrated elements of the programme into its recruitment and retention strategies.

Improved reputation

A.T. Kearney has seen shifts across the board in terms of its media and online visibility, key metrics related to improved reputation. For example, the number of top-tier media mentions in the Americas has increased by 58 % since 2015. There has also been an uptick in digital engagement across multiple digital platforms between 2016 and 2017, highlighted by a 128% increase on Facebook. Signalling A.T. Kearney’s rising reputation, the firm became a strategic partner of the World Economic Forum in 2015. Among many benefits, this partnership enabled its partners to secure 94 CEO meetings at the Forum alone. In addition, some 200 leaders attended the intimate CEO roundtables that A.T. Kearney organised.

Better results delivered for clients

Concrete data demonstrates how Expanding Horizons has contributed to partners’ improved productivity, leading to better results. There has been a 33% increase in the number of large client projects and a 19% increase in overall client project size from 2013-2017. “The desired impact was around improving partner effectiveness and we have certainly achieved that,” said Phil Morgan.

An instilled sense of purpose

In a recent employee engagement survey, 99% of partners noted that their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment and 92% said A.T. Kearney is a motivating employer. These numbers are both higher than in the previous survey conducted in 2014.

Demonstrating the buy-in around L&D at A.T. Kearney, there was a 24.2% increase around partners’ willingness to take part in L&D activities (87% in 2016; 70% in 2014). Demonstrating the perceived value and sense of shared partnership, Parker highlighted how partners who took part in the programme were asked after each cohort if they would continue to invest what is ostensibly their own money for their colleagues to go through Expanding Horizons. This has always resulted in a resounding and almost universal yes. “The language we use has changed and the culture of the firm has been transformed,” concluded Aurik. “If you could see how much Expanding Horizons has changed individuals it would put a smile on your face!”

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