Staffing Management

Upon Further Review …

By Michelle V. Rafter

Jan. 10, 2017

Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer, Accenture.

CEO Pierre Nanterme broke the news when Accenture switched up performance reviews in 2015, but the heavy lifting fell to Ellyn Shook, the management consultancy’s chief leadership and human resources officer.

Accenture isn’t the first U.S. multinational to move away from once-a-year ratings-based reviews. But with 375,000 employees worldwide, it is among the biggest.

The reasons were simple. Accenture was reshaping its business units to meet changing customer needs, and the firm’s existing performance management system and talent pipeline weren’t producing employees with skills that fit.

Accenture’s workforce spans five generations, but 72 percent are millennials, and annual reviews didn’t give younger employees the regular feedback they desired. Then there was the amount of time spent on reviews: 2 million hours a year, 75 percent of it on paperwork and only a quarter on people actually talking to each other.

wf0117_womenofhr_200pxwide“The amount of energy and time that went into this distribution curve was not time adding value to our people or helping them be better,” Shook said.

She crowdsourced — a millennial favorite — to find out how employees wanted Accenture’s people practices to change. They said they wanted real-time feedback on how they were doing, personalized career training, opportunities to provide input on how business got done, and for the firm to be more transparent about diversity and other company practices.

Shook used the input and Accenture’s objectives to transform the existing performance management process into what she refers to as a performance achievement culture. Instead of rating employees along a distribution curve, Accenture switched to using Gallup’s StrengthFinder to identify and build on what people are good at.

In-house software developers built an app called Accenture People that employees use to set priorities and share them with work teams. The app works on iOS and Android phones and has voice recognition. That makes it fast and easy for an employee to ask a coworker for feedback, “and they can speak it into the app so it’s captured, and they’ll see it immediately so they can improve their skills,” Shook said.

Shook, 53, tested the new feedback system on 20,000 employees in multiple business units and countries for four months before introducing it to the entire company in January 2016 along with other changes, including a new on-demand online learning program. Early results have been positive. Employee mood improved along the way and remains high, Shook said. Accenture recruiters mention it in job interviews as a selling point of working there.

Change of such magnitude takes time and resources. Shook estimates she spent a third of the past year restructuring reviews, which she calls “probably the most significant talent transformation we’ve ever undergone in our history.” She got help from a cross-functional team of 2,500, and an outside communications firm. An Accenture spokeswoman declined to say how much the firm spent on the retooling.

As part of the new performance achievement culture, Accenture is spending thousands of hours training managers to coach employees to reach performance goals, because “looking ahead is different than providing backward-looking feedback,” Shook said. Time will tell if the investment pays off.

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Michelle V. Rafter is a contributing editor. Comment below or email

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Oregon, business reporter and Workforce contributing writer.

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