Mark Bowden is a Senior Manager at Deloitte and the 2013 MCA HR Consultant of the Year. He was recognised for his projects with HSBC and RWE npower. We spoke to him about the projects, his career in consulting and the challenges facing the industry.
How did you start off in management consultancy? What attracted you to the industry?
I joined Deloitte from the Department of Health where I was a Private Secretary to the Director General for Departmental Management and then Head of Chief Executive’s Office at the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. These roles had many similarities to being a consultant as I was managing a series of projects and working on behalf of my direct boss. Through these roles I worked with a number of management consultants; I admired their ways of working and thought the work looked very interesting, and challenging. Following a few conversations I decided that Deloitte was the consultancy that I wanted to work for and fortunately was given that opportunity.
Do you feel being an experienced hire has given you an advantage or disadvantage over consultants who came through industry graduate schemes?
There are definitely some advantages to having worked in industry before a career in management consulting. For example, I have a background as an HR practitioner which means I have a different perspective to career consultants when it comes to transforming HR functions and I think my background helps me engage with HR clients. Whether this is because of my industry background or otherwise, I always feel that we are privileged to do the job we do. Our clients trust us to help them work through critical issues to support the business deliver its objectives and that is something I don’t take for granted.
You were recognised as HR Consultant of the Year for you projects with HSBC and RWE npower. Why do you feel the projects were so well acknowledged?
I feel immensely proud that our projects were so well received, I have been extremely lucky to work with very talented colleagues who are always so committed to delivering value to our clients. I think particularly in the case of RWE npower we were recognised because we did those things that you typically do in an HR transformation but took things to the next level. For example when assessing the HR function’s current capabilities we developed a maturity matrix specifically for npower, assessing the marketplace so that when challenged by the CEO about our definition of best practice for HR Analytics we were able to give tangible examples of what is happening in the marketplace. I think particularly at the more senior levels we were willing to challenge and be challenged, it enabled us to really test the solution and build a strong trusting relationship with the HR Director and his senior team.
As a Senior Manager what leadership styles do you draw from when leading projects? What approaches have you found work best?
So far in my consulting career I have tended to work with relatively junior teams; I enjoy developing the solution and working with the team on the options and opportunities – I find this gives me greater credibility with the client and the feedback I have received from my teams is that it gives them an opportunity to develop.
Secondly, a mentor early in my consulting career advised me to never go to a meeting alone, there should always be an opportunity to engage a colleague to support the meeting or provide someone with a development opportunity .This can be an excellent opportunity to expose colleagues to new experiences and equally provide fresh perspectives in work situations.
Finally, I have used a concept from the Civil Service and meetings with Ministers. At the beginning of the week, Ministers with the senior Civil Service staff would meet to discuss the upcoming week and anything that had broken over the weekend, it was called prayers. I use this concept on my projects with Monday morning prayers meetings which are different from Project Management and Governance meetings, more informal and tactical in nature.
What projects do you have lined up for future? What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
I am at present engaged with RWE AG in Essen, Germany, working with our German colleagues to develop the HR function. Furthermore, we are getting towards Go Live at HSBC where we are optimising the HR Contact Centres and developing an enterprise portal for HR queries. I’m passionate about the future of HR and how it becomes an integral part of the business through developing its offering and minimising low value time spent doing HR tasks. I think the changing socioeconomic environment and its impact on HR is fascinating, whether it be the different demands of the next generation for what they require from their employer, or how technology will change how we deliver basic HR services. I am certain that HR has a key role to play in the future of successful businesses but it will need to continue to transform and market its offer to business leaders to stay relevant.
What challenges do you think the management consultancy industry is facing?
If I look at HR consulting, at the moment there is much made of social media and cloud computing; we talk about innovation and how to take HR forward. I think the challenge is making this innovation relevant; many organisations have embraced social media for recruitment but how can we use it further either internally or externally? In some organisations making HR more mobile from a technology perspective is important but how do we do this in a way that adds real value for the business as opposed to it being a gimmick. Organisations are still challenged by their budgets and therefore where we do innovate we must show the value for money in our solutions.
What advice would you give people climbing the consultancy career ladder?
I consider working in management consulting to be a privilege and therefore I would always encourage people climbing the consulting career ladder to maintain their integrity and never forget that we have been invited to provide professional advice. It is not always a popularity contest and we must recognise at times our advice will be challenged or not in line with our clients’ expectations. Provided we have evidence to support our views we should be confident to explain advice and stand by it, not stubbornly but to provide that professional challenge to our clients, in my experience this is how the best client / consultant relationships are built.