There is a shift coming, and it’s one that most likely won’t be welcomed by most employers. It has been brewing for the last 18+ months, and for many employees, it won’t come as a surprise to learn it has a name. I’m referring to what has been coined ‘the great resignation’ – a phenomenon that occurred across the US in 2021, and is predicted to reach Australia and New Zealand in the first quarter of next year.
If this new global trend is realised, what will it mean to your firm and your BD & Marketing efforts? Many professional services firms have experienced an upsurge in work and revenue during the pandemic. However, if this is followed by a scarcity of qualified professionals able to deliver the work, it will make finding time to invest in BD and marketing even harder for practitioners. Allied to this, those firms who have BD and marketing resources may find a scarcity of talent affects them here too. All of which means those firms that stay ahead, will need to develop a robust plan to continue that all-important BD and marketing focus while of course still delivering work to meet their clients’ expectations.
How the great resignation will impact professional services firms
As with any shift or period of intense change, it will likely be met with disdain and some confusion, but as it becomes more commonplace, it will get easier. If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that big shifts can and do happen, and that eventually, we come to accept our new ways of being. I doubt most of us could have predicted what was about to happen to our working (and home) lives in our pre-Covid world. With the whole world working from home and entire cities and countries locked down, we were forced to adapt our working lives whilst attempting to keep all the cogs turning.
If the situation in the US is anything to go by, we can expect this shift to affect not just employees, but their bosses too. CEOs, MDs and Managing Partners won’t be exempt from the shift, as they potentially eye new opportunities, or simply look for a break or sabbatical on the back of the pandemic. Typically, many people will ‘stick it out’ until the end of the year, take a break over the holidays and ‘think about their options’ as they enjoy the seasonal break. This all-too-common practice, combined with the last two years of upheavals and uncertainty will ultimately help people make informed decisions about their vocational future – but from a slightly different mindset from previous years.
The professional services empowerment
The great resignation is said to be fuelled by people’s realisation that they can potentially enjoy a different life by working more on their own terms and allowing for more of a work/life balance. It is something many dreamed of pre-Covid, but never thought they would actually be able to do it. People are looking for meaning and purpose in their work, and upon personal reflection whilst locked down at home, thoughts may have turned to: ‘Why can’t work fit in with my life rather than the other way around?’, or analysed what exactly they are doing on a daily basis and why, and if it in fact makes them happy. After an extended hiatus from the office, many workers may now feel much less of a connection with their workplaces – and the daily life that goes with it.
So, what can firms do about it?
Looking after the well-being of existing employees is one of the fundamental things that leaders can do. And it’s not just about free fruit and a ping-pong table. Now more than ever, people need to feel valued, appreciated, and that what they contribute really matters. They have proved they can adapt by readjusting their lives to home school their children, run a household and juggle numerous other tasks, all while working full-time to the best of their abilities.
Leaders need to listen more and put people foremost in their decision-making if they are to retain valued employees. We all want organisations to survive (and succeed), but without their trusted teams in place and those teams happy, they could face hardship.
Employers who insist on leading as they have always done, and do not adapt enough through these times may not even make it through this transition themselves. These traditional leaders believe that those working remotely couldn’t possibly be as productive as those working in-house, or that simply updating their policies will adequately address any employee concerns. Should they expect everyone to return to the office and hope life returns to the way it was pre-Covid, they could face resistance and ultimately a mass exodus.
Modern leaders should now lead with empathy and appreciate that for their employees, working is only one part of their lives (often not even the most important part), and that adapting and keeping up with new ways of working is critical. Many organisations and leaders have adopted in-depth employee wellbeing programmes and fully embraced the changes that have and continue to come their way.
How can you develop a robust BD & marketing plan to cope with the great resignation?
The first vital aspect of BD that firms of all sizes should focus on is their existing client base. Many firms will already have a focus on client care and delivering a great client experience or CX, and this focus must continue. However, the fly in the ointment of these plans is the great resignation. To continue to deliver exceptional work to your clients in professional services you need the right team of experts across multiple levels of experience. This means you now need to work across the business and build in plans to cope with a potential lack of resources throughout the next 12-18 months.
What this means in a practical sense, is along with creating the optimum working environment as described above, it will pay to plan to get to the top of the recruitment queue. If you haven’t already, reach out to the leading recruiters in your field. As the world opens up, you’ll want to have relationships with those recruiters who can access the global talent pool.
A second aspect of the great resignation may well be the rise of the boutique or the small business/professional services firms. As individuals look to have the work and lifestyle balance that is ideal for them, they will likely set up their own businesses. There is currently a raft of good small to medium-sized professional services firms in the market. This means those firms that form alliances with other non-competing firms can create a mutually beneficial arrangement that will allow them to still deliver the existing client work.
Finally, there comes the aspect of delivering marketing and BD initiatives.
For those firms with BD & marketing teams, they may also be affected by the great resignation. This means plans will either need to be reduced to match the new delivery capacity of a smaller team, or a plan to use contractors and highly skilled consultants needs to be put in place. Again, it will be best practice to line up this additional resource as early as possible to ensure that you can access it when needed.
For those firms without a BD & marketing team, I would recommend reviewing your marketing, client acquisition and BD processes. The aim is to make this more efficient and easier to deliver by your practitioners. As above, it may also be the time to look at getting a consultant or BD & marketing resource in on a retainer basis to develop your plans and execute them, particularly if your business is in a growth phase.
The great resignation is likely to happen here whether we like it or not. With lives upheaved and more time spent away from other people and physical workplaces, big changes were always going to be imminent. As people readdress their vocational choices, and ultimately decide what their next moves are, we need to support them, and each other.
Instead of thinking about what could be lost, we can focus on the longer-term positives. Look after your people, provide them with everything they need, and they will in turn provide more in return. Staff will be more engaged, happy in their work and happy to be there, while working cohesively in these times of extreme change.
Ensure you also plan for a scarcity of resource and have options in place to allow you to still deliver an efficient and excellent service to your clients whilst not losing any of your important marketing initiatives.