“Management is nothing more than motivating other people.”


…So said Lee Iacocoa, American businessman.

Easy to say yet often desperately difficult to do, motivating other people is possibly the one challenge that senior managers, no matter what function, sector or geography they work in, have in common. So it’s not surprising that most consulting firms, not just the HR specialists, are publishing thought leadership on managing people. Of the 600 HR reports, articles and videos added to our database so far this year, 30% emanate from Towers Watson and another 14% from Mercer. However, the other names at the top of the line-up may surprise: PwC and Strategy& (15%), EY (8%), KPMG (7%) and Accenture (5%).

And much of the material by these ‘new’ entrants is really rather good. Take, for example, Accenture’s Building a game-changing talent strategy which appeared in Harvard Business Review at the beginning of the year. Based on a detailed analysis of asset management firm BlackRock, this well-written piece draws out key messages for all businesses, and the association with professors at MIT and Harvard reflects well on Accenture. Or KPMG’s Time for a more holistic approach to talent risk which, based on 1,200 interviews across 54 markets, reveals which risks talent managers are most worried about and offers advice from KPMG experts on how to manage these challenges.

There’s is still plenty of white space, particularly around specific functions, sectors or geographies. Only a third of those 600 pieces of thought leadership have a geographical focus and a paltry 16% take a sector perspective. And all of our research suggests that senior HR executives are particularly keen consumers of thought leadership: anxious to improve on their often marginal role in strategic decision making, they’re autodidacts par excellence.

All of which takes us full circle. Why is so much of the material produced by so many traditional players in the HR space so poor? Why, in contradiction of every other trend we’re seeing in consulting, are the specialists losing out to the generalists? Low growth in the cash cows of HR consulting has deprived these firms of money to invest in innovation and research, but we don’t think that’s the whole story. Underestimating the thirst for new thinking among senior HR executives and resting on past laurels also play a role here. Like their clients, HR consultancies need to raise their game if they’re not to be irrevocably pushed aside in the thought leadership stakes.

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