The consulting and professional services field is full of experts who focus on productivity to help clients get the most out of their workers. So it’s no surprise that the best workplaces in consulting already have figured out how to create cultures where their own people thrive and are committed.
The 20 Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services in 2016, a list produced by our organization, Great Place to Work, and published today by Fortune, stand out from their peers for work environments that are particularly free of favoritism, well-managed, democratic and fair when it comes to profit sharing and pay. And these leading employers get a “return” for their great cultures. The list winners — who outperformed 68 industry peers in our ranking — enjoy higher levels of cooperation, loyalty and employee willingness to go the extra mile. The 20 Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services also are growing at a faster clip than peers.
It adds up to a win-win-win for employee, organization and client, says Paul Thallner, a partner at Great Place to Work. Consultants and other professionals who can count on a level playing field, competent leadership, a say over job decisions and fair compensation at their home company are free to pour their energies into the difficult work of helping clients maximize the talents of their people, Thallner says. And the best workplaces contrast sharply with some consulting firms that wear employees out with long hours on the road and little support —with unhealthy cultures that ultimately undermine the customer experience. “If your workplace is grinding you down, you’re not going to have the emotional and intellectual reserves to serve that client,” Thallner says.
The Modern, Human-Centric Professional Services Industry
For decades, the consulting and professional services industry centered on bringing to clients defined methods for tackling inefficiencies in systems and processes—in areas such as procurement, sales or technology systems. But in recent years, companies have found that what’s even more important to the success of their organizations is people. As a result, the consulting field is increasingly about the human side of businesses, says Anil Saxena, another partner at Great Place to Work.
To Saxena’s point, consider a testimonial on the Web site of engineering services firm Kimley-Horn & Associates, which ranked #1 on our list of the Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services. A traffic management official from the California Department of Transportation credits Kimley-Horn for triggering his imagination: “Kimley-Horn asked me to dream. No consultant had ever asked me to do that before. They said, ‘Think about how you could handle your job more easily and effectively.’ We talked about it for ten or fifteen minutes. It started something in my mind. It helped me see how I could broaden the project impact to expand the effectiveness of the whole incident response program”
The growing focus on clients’ talent puts the workplace of the consulting firm in the spotlight. As they work with clients on workplace culture, consultants tend to have multiple job options, Saxena says, and their own firm’s culture has to be strong enough to keep them there.
The factors associated with retention in the consulting field may come as a surprise, according to our research into the roughly 90 consulting and professional services companies we have Certified as Great Workplaces. When employees feel they receive a fair share of profits, they are about twice as likely to say they want to remain at their company “for a long time.” But a sense of purpose at work and positive relationships with colleagues and bosses act as much stronger magnets. Employees who agree that “people care about each other here” are more than 6 times more likely to want to stay at their firm a long time. And staffers who feel pride in what they accomplish are more than 12 times more likely to plan to stay put for the long term.
Saxena say this finding makes sense in light of the way consultants work toward intangible goals, so a strong sense of purpose fosters commitment. “Connecting what we do to something bigger is a very powerful thing,” he says.
The Best Workplace Reap Benefits
The Best Workplaces in Consulting and Professional Services have little trouble retaining and motivating their people. Our research found:
- Voluntary turnover at the 20 Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services is far lower than at non-winning peer companies in the study and roughly half the 31% for the professional services overall.
- 97% of employees at the Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services say their peers “are willing to give extra to get the job done,” compared to roughly 90% at peers companies in the study.
The Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services also expanded their employee headcount by about 12% in the past year, roughly four times faster than industry peers.
In addition, employees at the best workplaces report higher levels of collaboration—an increasingly important factor to innovation and productivity.
“The company’s core purpose is to ‘provide an environment for our people to flourish,’ which is clearly visible in the way the organization is structured,” says an employee at Kimley-Horn. “There is an attitude of sharing and caring that fosters teamwork and collaboration, as people and resources can be reallocated to help with needs.”
The 20 Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services also excel when it comes to preventing favoritism. And they get high marks from employees on equitable profit sharing and pay. This is important because professional services work often involves long hours and time away from family, Thallner says. “You want to feel fairly compensated for the sacrifices you’re making,” he says.
Balance at the Best
The best also do better on helping employees strike a healthy work-life balance. Nine of ten employees at list winners say “people are encouraged to balance their work life and their personal life,” compared to about 80% at peer firms.
That respect for life beyond work can be seen in this comment from an employee at The Boston Consulting Group: “When my mom recently was diagnosed with a very grave illness, within a week word spread a bit, and our CEO and a couple other members of our executive committee called me,” the employee told us. “The simple message was this: ‘We rely on you for a lot of things, and you will not feel good doing it, but please take the time you need and we will be okay. Be selfish—the time is precious.’ This has meant a great deal to me.”
The top workplaces in consulting and professional services are well-positioned to succeed given where consulting is headed, Saxena says. As the field increasingly involves helping companies with people management problems, there’s a premium on consulting firms that know how to create a great culture for each of their professionals. “If you’re not in a good place, and you’re going to a place that’s not in a good place, it’s going to be a disaster,” he says.
Ed Frauenheim and Kim Peters are director of research and content and executive vice president, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other Best Workplaces lists, including the 20 Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services. Find out more about the survey process at greatplacetowork.com/recognition, where you can also see the schedule of upcoming lists.