Driven by the employment motto, From campus to partner,
employee learning and development at Grant Thornton is guided by a
stair-step framework that includes all online and in-person
The senior managers, all CPAs, who work at Chicago-based Grant
Thornton LLP, a public accounting firm, provide professional
services to clients in one of the firms areas of specialization,
including tax, audit, advisory, and industry services. Since the
economic downturn, however, theyve been tasked with an additional
responsibility: revenue growth. Economic pressures and the end of
most of the Sarbanes-Oxley work led the firm to create financial
targets for senior managers a couple of years ago.
Ive been in the industry for 15 years, comments Don Beeman,
national director of leadership development. Although the concept
of selling was not always widely accepted for a professional
services firm, we have realized that we must focus on building a
sales culture in order to be successful.
What the firms Strategic Learning Group (SLG) soon realized,
however, was that many newly promoted senior managers lacked
business development skillsand the firm lacked formalized training
to teach those skills. SLG members revamped Grant Thorntons annual
senior manager development program to achieve two goals: mark the
milestone promotion and equip participants with the skills to
develop their business. They built a sales training curriculum into
the annual three-day conference for newly promoted senior managers,
focusing on a simulation approach to replicate realistically the
business and competitive conditions participants would face.
The curriculum combines formal learning with team work sessions and
simulated client interaction. Teams compete for business by meeting
clients, played by experienced Grant Thornton personnel, and
presenting to a board, played by firm executives. The teams that
are best aligned to client needs and firm values get the business;
all receive executive feedback.
We wanted to demystify the process and make it less scary, says
Beeman. The curriculum emphasizes understanding clients businesses
and experiences through conversation, and encourages these new
managers to be curious, ask questions, and identify opportunities.
Win rates for program participants are nearly double those of
nonparticipants, while win size and total wins are triple those of
nonparticipants. Beeman estimates that the program has directly
driven almost $30 million in new business over the first three
years, and that return-on-investment tops 1,000 percent.
Other less tangible benefits also have been felt. Tenured employees
who have participated as mock clients and board members have
reported to Beeman that sitting on the other side of the table has
helped them identify areas in which they, too, could improve their
business development skills.
The success of the program has been so great that it drove the
creation of a new initiative, an innovative four-part Business
Development Foundation Series that is offered to all client-facing
professionals. Its parts focus on preparation, engagement,
proposals, and presentations. Each part includes online prework,
gaming-style scored simulations, and libraries of short
instructional videos, and all are capped off with a face-to-face
We keep the simulations realistic by including unexpected twists
and turns, such as a sudden change in client decision makers or
having clients cut meetings short due to an emergency, says Beeman.
Learners have turned in rave reviews, giving the programs an
average score of 6.2 out of 7. Business development executives have
completed the program and have been trained to coach the behaviors,
and the series is being adapted for use by international member
Strategic alignment is the key to our success, says Anne Lang,
chief human resources officer for the firm. Each activity that our
team engages in aligns with our firms strategic drivers, so our
efforts focus on what is most important to the business and help
drive the desired results. Our business leaders recognize this and
give strong and consistent support to investing in the development
of our people.
Revenue growth is but one of the strategic drivers supported by the
SLG. A second is talentthe firm strives to attract, develop,
engage, and retain skilled professionals.
This can be a tough job at first, and its not always a great fit.
Our hiring model is to recruit heavily among recent college
graduates, says Lang.
The firm hires about 1,000 new associates each year. To help
prospective employees make informed decisions, Grant Thornton
offers 350 nationwide college internships annually, plus job
shadowing and student employment programs. Simultaneously, hiring
managers have been trained to make better hiring decisions through
behavioral interviewing, which helps them to identify the core
behavioral traits common to high-performing employees.
Many of the initiatives designed to acquaint young people with the
firm and the profession have had a positive effect on our retention
of entry-level employees, Lang adds.
Grant Thorntons approach to integrated talent management is evident
in its employment motto, From campus to partner. Employee learning
and development is guided by a stair-step framework known as LEADS,
the umbrella for all online and in-person offerings.
All employees have individual development plans, documented
competencies, tracked learning histories, and annual performance
reviews. Grant Thorntons Professional Competency Framework was
developed in 2008 to create a clearer link between individual
contribution and organizational success. It outlines the skills and
behaviors expected at each professional level, and how they align
with organizational strategy. About a year ago, the firm added a
Career Aspirations piece to the annual review: Managers ask
employees where they want to go, and help create a development plan
to help them get there.
The firm also is piloting a new sponsor program with 15 female
high-potential senior managers who aspire to be partners. In the
accounting industry, women make up 50 percent of new hires but only
12 to 18 percent of partners. To combat that talent loss, Grant
Thornton has partnered with McKinsey & Company to create a
customized leadership program, and launched a womens mentoring
network in 2008. The sponsorship program is designed to take things
a step further: Partner-track women are matched with senior
sponsors to pursue a goal of 20 percent female partners by 2015.
About 30 percent of employees are eligible for high-potential
development programs, and about 30 percent of executive positions
have succession plans. Although Grant Thornton employs 5,000 people
in the United States, it also operates in 100 countries around the
world. Executives are keenly aware of the need to build a global
Chicago-based SLG members partnered with their colleagues around
the world to create a bold new advanced manager program for
high-potential employees, a yearlong curriculum led by firm
executives and renowned business thinkers in occasional onsite
sessions at various locations. The inaugural session brought
together managers from 20 member firms, representing 24 countries
and 26 languages, for sessions in Chicago, Brussels, and Hong Kong.
Several graduates have already made partner, Beeman says.