Consultancy, the millennial mindset and the role of CSR

In the brave new digital world of ‘disrupt or be disrupted’, the temptation for Consultancy firms is to face staunchly outwards, battling each other to best embody Silicon Valley’s famous ‘innovate or die’ attitude. And with good reason too: Uber and AirBnB are living proof of how quickly old hierarchies crumble when complacent industries forget to remain relentlessly focused on the needs of the customer. However, even when our customer’s demands appear in flux, the consultancies that will come out of this period as winners will be those that do not lose sight of the needs of their other crucial stakeholder group – their staff.

After all, a management consultancy firm fundamentally sells the skills of its people. It is a virtuous circle – consultancy’s ability to attract the very brightest and best global talent is a big part of what allows them to develop a reputation which gains them their client’s trust to deliver their most ambitious change projects which is the way consultancies attract that talent in the first place.

So who are the brightest and best talent? By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will belong to the generation born from the mid-1980s until the end of 1990s: they will be ‘millennials’. At some MCA firms, millennials already make up over 60% of their workforce. In the race to tailor their recruitment process to impress young professionals, many companies have begun on the journey to understand the ‘millennial mindset’. At first glance, they are dismissed as narcissistic, entitled, lazy and even “the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world”. But look a little deeper and firms will find the possibility for a deeper engagement with their workforce than ever before.

One aspect that unites most characterisations of millennials is a need for a sense of purpose and deeper meaning in their career. Future Workplace asked millennials and their parents’ generation to weigh the importance of ‘doing good’ versus making more money. While their parents said they were 67% more interested in making money than doing good, millennial respondents weighted those two motivations equally. A further study found that 84% Millennials view making a positive difference in the world as more important than professional recognition. As you wold expect, these motivations translate into a distinction between how the two generations conduct a job search. Sue Honoré, associate research consultant at Ashridge Executive Education said that ‘from our research, millennials look for organisations that not only meet their job criteria but also have green or corporate social responsibility credentials – it is part of the decision process in accepting a job’.

Paired with this desire for deeper professional meaning is that the great life-shaping event for many millennials is the 2007 Banking Crisis and the Great Recession that followed which squeezed disposable income right at the start of careers. This has led the Charities Aid Foundation to find that millennials have an apparent well-deserved reputation for stinginess; they are half as likely to give charity as their parents. However, if employers dismiss millennials’ desire to give back to the community but not wanting to give over money directly as indicative of narcissistic, self-serving motivations then they would be making a big mistake. In fact, it is another example of the need for purpose, only this time it is purpose with purpose!

This is the belief of BeyondMe, a movement of millennials that believe that ‘existing giving platforms fail to align with the ambition, needs and resources of today’s professionals’. They seek to enable professionals to increase their understanding of the impact of their donation and develop a close relationship with a charity. This deep philanthropic engagement satisfy that famous millennial purpose craving – a craving so strong that a recent study revealed the perceived presence or lack of purpose within a firm as the main driver of whether a millennial stays or leaves their job.

There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for consultancy with a dizzying pace of change and a ferociously competitive market but, as Lord Browne, ex-Chief Executive of BP argues ‘the best way of getting a competitive edge is still to get a disproportionate share of the most talented people in the world.’ This surely must be even truer for management consultancies than for oil and gas firms. In order to continue to get that disproportionate share, consultancies must engage with the millennial mindset, ensure that these young employees are given the chance to find purpose at work and there is surely no better way to do this than by offering deep and meaningful opportunities for philanthropy. 

Written by Tom Schneider, Consultant at EY, as part of the Young MCA Update.