Human capital plays a key role at every level of an organization. As proposed in the resource-based approach, a firm’s valuable, rare, inimitable, and organizational resources and/or capabilities can lead to (sustained) competitive advantage (Barney, 1991). It is widely known and accepted that effective human capital management (e.g. acquisition of talent and continuous ability improvement of the workforce) can lead to the creation of such intangible resources or capabilities that lead to above average firm performance.
The role of people in a firm is unarguable strategic of nature, whether it is leadership who devise the strategy or employees that execute it. Therefore, it is no surprise that the world’s leading consulting firms often have advisory services dedicted to the human side of business, focussing on advising large firms in their quest to improve their human capital and gain that competitive edge. But from the perspective of a strategist it still remains rather unclear what exactly these consulting services provide, how they manage to incorporate a firm’s strategy into the HR strategy, what the latest trends and developments are in this field, and what is to come in the future.
In order to get some answers to those questions, we conducted a short interview with Charlotte van de Ven. Charlotte is currently working as management consultant at the People Advisory Services department at EY.
Q: Hi Charlotte, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. We are quite interested in your field of work and how that connects with our teachings in the master program. But first of all, we would like to know who you are and what your history is.
A: “Hi Jeroen, no problem at all. I am happy to answer your questions. I am Charlotte van de Ven, 24 years old and currently living in Breda. I got my Bachelor of Arts in Human Resource Management at Fontys Tilburg and after that my masters degree in International Human Resource Management at the Edinburgh Napier University. Regarding my employment history, I worked at the Rabobank (internship and HR assistent), Adecco Group (thesis internship), over one year at Capgemini Invent as a Management Consultant Digital HR Transformation and I started at EY this year as a Management Consultant in the People Advisory Services department.”
Q: That is quite an employment history already at 24, impressive. So currently working at the People Advisory Services at EY. Could you describe in more detail what the People Advisory Services is and which services you provide to clients?
A: “Well, our People Advisory Services team at EY helps clients to obtain competitive advantage, by advising on and helping to implement the people strategy, policies, and interventions that fit the overall organizational strategy and objectives. It’s all about making sure talented people are in the right place, doing the right things and are being rewarded in the right way. In the Netherlands, our PAS team consists of four pillars: Performance, Talent, Systems, and Reward. I’m part of the Systems pillar, which means I’m specializing in the field of HR technology.”
Q: Okay, very interesting to hear that technology also has a far reaching effect on the HR side of firms. Could you provide a general view of how an advisory project runs at EY?
A: “To be honest, that is quite a difficult question to answer. Each advisory project requires client-specific steps since each client faces a different and unique challenge. But, if we speak in general, most of the advisory project start with an invitation of a client for an RfP, a Request for Proposal. This is where we first get to know the challenge of the client and we can propose our approach to solving that challenge.”
Q: And in what way does a client’s strategy influence that process?
A: “It is always important to integrate the client’s strategy into the HR strategy, however, the direct influence it has depends on the advisory project itself. For example, we sometimes have projects of 6 weeks, where we, for instance, conduct an as-is state assessment of HR policies and processes in the HR IT landscape. You can imagine that in these short term advisory projects, the integration of a clients strategy is sometimes less relevant.. But we also engage in big implementation projects that could last longer than one year, in which the client’s strategy plays a critical role.
But to give a more general answer considering our approach, the client’s strategy is usually the “common thread” during the project, from the moment we answer an RfP up until the execution or implementation. Every project is tailored to the client, their operating model, their operating environment/sector and the bigger picture. We always try to look forward, we take bigger trends that relate to their challenge in consideration, to ensure sustainable competitive advantage.”
Q: And what is your personal opinion on human capital and strategic management?
A: ” If you really think about it, the one and only thing all organizations have in common are people. Today, you notice most organizations are starting to think about the strategy behind HR and people management, because of trends such as the war on talent and corporate responsibility. For instance, due to the war on talent it’s becoming harder to attract, engage, develop and keep talent within your organization, whereas employees are often the source of your key competitive advantage.”
Q: Indeed, to require and retain talent is always a challenge for a firm. And what about other current and ‘hot topics’ in the people advisory field?
A: “ Of course technology and everything that comes with it, this enables HR professionals and managers to focus on what really matters for their employees and the goals of their company. Also, organizations are starting to consider the employee experience, being the journey people undertake from the moment of knowing the organization exists up till the moment they leave the organization and beyond. They are putting more effort in onboarding, facilitating the development of their people and ensuring alumni remain ambassadors for the organization. Furthermore, HR analytics, employability and strategic personnel planning are important topics these days.”
Q: Okay, it is always good to know about important trends in closely related fields. And how about the future? Which important development do you think will take place in your field of practice?
A: “Well, of course as a HR technology consultant I wholeheartedly believe in how HR technology can make the entire employee experience unique to the organization and its strategy and culture. The possibilities are endless. For instance, there are recruitment solutions that use artificial intelligence to help conquer bias and promote diversity and inclusion, there are mobile onboarding applications with Virtual Reality features that enable candidates to have a virtual tour around the building and Learning Management Systems that have a Netflix-like experience. These are just some examples of how technology could – or maybe you can say should – support people strategy.”
Q: Thank you very much for the quick insight you have given us on the advisory side of human capital at large consulting firms. I am sure that a lot of students will appreciate it.
A: ” Not a problem at all. Always a pleasure! If students are interested in working for EY advisory or working in consulting in general, they can always contact me on LinkedIN.”
Barney, J. (1991). Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage. Journal of Management, 99-120
The views expressed by the interviewee are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or associated organizations.