Firms expect continued expansion in activity levels, new work flow and headcount. Many firms but few clients are on-track for Covid success. Finance, people and marketing may carry most weight in partner discussions, but the top priorities for leadership teams are technology usage, developing a clear purpose and operational efficiency. People-centric activities are contributing most to achieving goals, but employee turnover and lack of skills/talent are key constraints from achieving optimal performance. Most people are expected to be working around half the time at home.
69% assess the overall impact of lockdown on their firm as positive compared with just 14% a year ago. The general mood is far more positive with most relaxed about being in the office and much greater flexibility in working hours when in the office. Happiness levels have increased, but the significant growth in those with mental health issues has not reversed. Few offices have undergone significant changes to their pre-Covid configuration. Only 15% believe lockdown restrictions will be reimposed in the next year compared with 73% a year ago, but 30% view this as likely within a decade.
Few managers view formal learning as collaborative, or informal learning as a vital part of the learning eco-system. Few managers translate L&D into new behaviours or seek reasons for the gap between current and desired performance. Learning transfer is seen as a bolt-on to traditional training, and little data is collected beyond happy sheets. L&D strategy is not coupled with corporate strategy, few learners are connected contributors, and the L&D team is seen as the place to ask for training.
The gap between expansion and contraction for new work flow has narrowed dramatically from 88% last quarter to 35% - the lowest gap since December 2020; for activity levels from 89% to 50%; and for headcount from 76% to 50%. Other indicators show little change: finance, people and marketing carry most weight at partner discussions; people-based activities are seen as contributing most to achieving goals; key priorities are developing a clear strategy and operational efficiency; and key constraints are employee turnover, fee pressures and the poor economic outlook.
15%+ of new work comes from new clients at 50% of firms. The impact of hybrid working on winning new work is highest for new UK clients. Next comes non-UK clients, with existing UK clients least impacted. The main gaps for marketing & BD experts between current and ideal activities are: sourcing new clients; acting as a change agent; pricing strategies; and making direct approaches to clients. Marketing expenditure and headcount have increased at 80% and 50% of firms respectively since pre-pandemic. 2023 marketing budgets will be higher than 2022 at 60% of firms, with none reducing budgets.
Respondents felt that their firms had more underperformers than typical firms. 50% of firms fail to confront underperformers in a spirit of openness and candour. The most common trends are slimming down the partnership and partners finding it difficult to change gear at the same speed as the firm. Personal data counts more than team data in assessing performance. The most common causes are fear of failure and personal problems. The most popular remedies are training, voluntary departures and re-invigorating moderate performers.
The big change since February 2021 is time spent in the office. Currently 50% are commuting less than three days a week - this was expected to be just 30% post Covid in the 2021 survey. Key benefits remain a relaxed dress code, wellness programmes, mentoring, and health screening. More firms are providing these benefits compared with pre Covid. Key activities to sustain corporate culture are regular updates from management; social events; lunch & learns, and community volunteering. Leased offices are expected to remain the default property option.
External advocacy for their firm's pricing strategy remains surprisingly high despite 1) partner intuition remaining the key driver of pricing decisions; 2) training in pricing skills of at least eight hours for partners and five hours for associates not happening at 50% to 60% of firms; 3) very few partners having high levels of financial literacy and awareness; 4) pricing governance remaining patchy with very few firms having a clear policy and high levels of compliance; and 5) spreadsheets being seen as fine with few firms using pricing-specific technologies.
Few firms are very satisfied that people issues receive suitable attention, with none believing that their career site messages are distinctive and compelling. The most important elements in employment experience are colleagues/culture, pride in the firm's work and flexible arrangements, with reward/recognition having lower priority. Sickness and exit interviews are used to track performance, with anonymous feedback less common. Few have a suitable policy for managing their Employer Brand - the main barriers being inability to measure the benefits, and lack of expertise.
Operational efficiency and risk management have displaced marketing at partner discussions. People-based activities are contributing most to achieving goals. Employee turnover is top constraint, with revival of poor economic outlook and political uncertainty. Expected activity levels, new workflow and headcount growth remain very bullish. 18% are looking to increase their office space. People WFH are shifting from around half the time to around a quarter. Only 12% report productivity gains from remote working. Only 30% of key clients are on track for post-Covid success.
Few Boards are actively managing cyber risk, or nudging their people to do the right thing, while tolerating conduct by partners that facilitates attacks. There is considerable ignorance over the frequency and volume of non-trivial cyber attacks. Most firms are currently investing less than two per cent in cyber security, with modest growth expected. Some cyber threats are not being actively managed, for example eavesdropping. Key risk indicators are lack of expertise, unsuitable tech architecture and poor communications.
Respondents believe that their own firm is ahead of their sector in measuring and doing things differently, and that clients and people at the firm recognise the changes. 80% believe that sector firms do not look sufficiently to other sectors for ideas and insight. As regards leadership traits, giving others time and taking personal responsibility score highest, with courage to innovate and take risks for a leadership stance scores lowest.
Over the next three years, a shift is expected from the knowledge and abilities of human experts to content being delivered through proprietary online systems. The most extensive changes are in the technologies used to deliver and produce services, and the way services are delivered. The key drivers are the demands of existing clients, efficiency and taking advantage of technological possibilities. The barriers are lack of time, money and technical incorporation challenges. Most investment is in tools that substitute or enhance routine tasks, speed up tasks or reduce the costs.
The pendulum may be shifting but few firms prioritise strategy over operations. Strategy is owned by the Board and updated fairly often. More firms are conducting environmental scans rather than relying on informal monitoring. Briefings & alerts, books and conferences remain key routes to stay up-to-date. Identifying challenges and clarifying core markets are viewed as the most important activities in developing a coherent strategy. Areas of weakness are management systems, capabilities and KPIs. Less than half would speak highly of their firm's strategy.
Almost all firms are projecting expansion in activity levels, new work flow and headcount. Finance and marketing still carry most weight at partner discussions. People management is seen as contributing most to achieving business goals. Having a clear purpose and developing skills are seen as the key priorities. Lack of skills and employee turnover are seen as the key constraints. Only 25% of firms are now expecting to reduce their office space, with firms expecting people to spend more time in the office. More clients are seen as on-track for post-Covid success.
Leaders & managers may effective at setting objectives to those reporting to them, but only 30% of firms conduct regular performance reviews at the end of every management project, and at a further 30% feedback is provided less often than annually or never. Reviews are mostly the reponsibility of the managing partner or an evaluation committee. The key inputs are previously set objectives and personal behaviour, with self-assessment forms the main tool. The most important aspects are praise and focusing on strengths. The link from the review process to compensation is not strong.
Over 50% of key clients are seeking information on the ESG performance of their advisers. There has been a significant increase since September 2020 in the number of firms with plans for a dedicated ESG resource. While far more firms are treating renewables and conservation of resources as a priority, very few are measuring their carbon footprint. EDI is being measured by 80% of firms but less than half share this data with employees or externally. Optics associated with employee and partner compensation are mostly only shared with partners.
Innovation is seen as essential for enhanced productivity, important for growth and a key touchpoint with clients. Employee engagement is seen to be most impacted by innovation. Most leaders consider their firms to be reasonably mature around innovation, with suitably senior people driving innovation. Yet few firms have defined processes for innovation or a fully documented innovation strategy. Innovation is mostly left to specialists, with people encouraged to share ideas. Innovation teams are the most popular tool.
People-based activities (communication, motivation and getting the best from teams) are seen as the most effective management practices to achieve business goals. However, measuring employee sentiment is over-reliant on exit interviews (wrong people + too late), independent research (too impersonal) and issues being actively raised by people (too detached). Variety of experiences, working collaboratively and challenging assignments are seen as the best way to enhance management practices, with formal training, reading and social media receiving very low scores.
Firms remain bullish with 70% to 80% expecting expansion and few firms expecting contraction over the next year in activity levels, headcount or new work flow. Over 90% of people will be working from home for at least half the time. As regards topics carrying weight during partner/director discussions, client service is followed by finance and cash flow. People skills is the new top priority followed by commerciality. As regards constraints, employee turnover and skills gaps remain top of the list, with the financial health of clients and the economic climate far less important.
The poll was completed by leaders based in Europe and North America. Europeans view the lockdown in more positive terms, are less panicked by Covid and more relaxed over returning to the office. Providing greater fexibility in working hours is a common trend, with Europeans more likely to reconfigure office space. Happiness levels decreased less at European firms, but more mental health issues surfaced. There was a bigger increase in conflict at North American firms. Future lockdowns are seen as more likely in Europe.
41% view the impact of lockdown on their firm as negative with just 14% viewing it as positive (compared with 41% in July). Those who are relaxed over returning to the office now exceed those who are apprehensive. Happiness levels have increased since the end of lockdown, but mental health issues are still increasing. Conflict levels are about the same. Less than 5% of people are currently self-isolating. Physical changes to offices are mostly modest. Working hours when people are in the office are more flexible than expected in July. Over 70% are still expecting further lockdowns...
Some Boards seek to be kept informed; others discuss cyber risks at every meeting. Rewards for preventing an attack and sanctions for facilitating an attack are very uncommon, suggesting that cyber security is still seen as a technical issue rather than one that involves everyone. Some threats (phishing, malware, passwords and compromised software) are being actively managed, but eavesdropping is not on the radar. Lack of expertise, poor communications and cultural resistance are the most common risk indicators. Ransomware attack recovery plans need a lot of work!
The poll explored the extent that firms are using new technologies for different management practices: the area with the highest usage is financial management, followed by services delivered to clients, then marketing and new business generation, then influencing innovation, then knowledge management, then people management and finally strategy development. There were significant variances, with new technologies not on the radar at some firms and technologies in place at others. The poll also covered advocacy for and actions to enhance employee engagement.