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How Your Firm Can Compete In The “War For Talent”


Professional services firms invest a great deal of time and resources in recruiting, developing, and retaining their talent. This is especially true since talent is professional services firms’ most important asset they have. The fierce competition for talent in recent years has become more difficult for professional services, largely due to the rise of the world of tech and startups. In fact, a study claimed that only 14% of U.S. graduates want to work at a large firm; 44% want to work in a startup or other small enterprise. Professional services firms are no longer able to retain employees by simply leveraging their brand names and paying hefty bonuses. Professional services firms have to do more. 

How can professional services develop, and retain talent in the war for talent 

1) Feedback, feedback, feedback

Feedback is the performance data of employees in professional services firms. Professional services firms are full of ambitious, hungry, (sometimes insecure) overachievers. These employees want and NEED real-time, 360 feedback constantly, not just once or twice a year. 

The project-based operating model of professional services firms also necessitates that employees receive 360 feedback. Employees work in different roles, with different managers and teams, across different clients all the time. Depending on the type of projects/deals, employees could be changing teams as often as every two weeks. It becomes impossible for project managers to remember what happened last week, let alone last quarter. Giving 360 feedback and recognition in real-time and subsequently documenting that 360 feedback can help develop, motivate, and retain employees. In fact, 66% of employees say they would “likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated”. 

One note about feedback: it has to be effective. ‘Good job’ doesn’t cut it. Effective feedback has to be constructive, objective, continuous, relevant, and direct and kind. 

2) Career/ professional development opportunities 

Developmental opportunities are important to all employees, but particularly the younger generations that are dominating the workforce. 59% of Millennials say career growth and learning opportunities are extremely important to them when applying for a job. Another study found that 41% of employees said they would need to leave their current employer to advance their careers. Employees want to improve and grow.

To that end, performance managers should be aware of their team members’ strengths and weaknesses. If feedback data is being collected in real-time, performance managers can get a more accurate understanding of their team members and proactively provide support through training, mentorship, and other learning opportunities. Performance managers should also routinely discuss employees’ career development strategies and plans. This allows managers to suggest further training that aligns with employee motivations. Workshops and webinars are a simple and effective way to provide training for employees to continuously develop their skills. Another great way to promote skill development is to staff employees on one-off projects. This can help broaden employees’ skills and keep them engaged, but it also gives them a break from performing the same projects and tasks day-in and day-out, which can quickly become tedious and draining. 

3) Work-life balance

Let us be honest – this is a hard one for professional services firms. Healthy work-life balance and mental health have become priorities for many employees. In fact, companies that offer a good work-life balance have 25% less employee turnover. Some professional services firms are notoriously known for their employees’ lack of work-life balance. In fact, while some professional service firms do have flexible benefits offered, Harvard Business Review claims that the employees tend to have “flexibility stigma” and fear that taking advantage of the flexibility will lead to them being seen as less committed to their work.  Encouraging a healthy work-life balance begins at the top. Firms should be encouraging managers to take advantage of their vacation days and to completely unplug when appropriate. This will not only help prevent burnout, but it will set an example to employees that they should not fear taking time for their personal lives. Because professional services firms often work on projects, a suggestion to improve work-life balance can be to implement extra days off after completing a big project. This is not only a reward for employees to stay motivated to work towards completing a project, but it ensures that employees are able to have a ‘reset’ before starting the next important initiative.

A big part of a healthy work-life balance includes flexible work options. While most professional services firms have adapted to a remote and hybrid work place, the ones that do not offer flexible work options may have a harder time acquiring and retaining employees. A common misperception in the workplace is that the number of hours worked translates to success. When really, the mindset should be focused on productivity/ meeting objectives, not the amount of time spent in a desk. Professional services firms, and performance managers in particular, should begin to shift away from tracking employees time spent on a project, to whether or not they are meeting the clear expectations that were communicated to them from the beginning. While the actions taken to complete a project/objective are important so they can be replicated, the final result is what truly encapsulates success or not

4) Transparency

An organization is often expected to display transparency, trust, and honesty, but these qualities can be easily overlooked. A survey completed by Glassdoor stated that 6 out of 10 employees’ realities for their job are different from what was expected. When organizations don’t give employees a clear sense of their culture, processes, and expectations, employees quickly lose trust and can inevitably leave.

A transparent organization is one that can openly share feedback, recognize employees, and hold each other accountable for their actions. Transparency starts from the top and at the very beginning of the employee lifecycle (employer branding/marketing and recruiting stages). Managers should be comfortable being open and honest with employees, if they expect their direct reports to do the same.


The “war for talent” is likely going to stay. Professional services firms need to have the right strategies and systems in place to be able to compete as their brand names and money are not the only things at play. A performance management software that was specifically designed for professional services firms can help professional services firms attract, develop and retain talent. Check out Pavestep today!

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