Warding Off the Great Resignation

West Monroe has taken a proactive approach to career autonomy to keep employees in control of their professional paths.
Written by Eva Roethler
August 31, 2021Updated: August 31, 2021

Stories about the Great Resignation are everywhere. It is the topic du jour as employers and workers seek to regain footing in a world that will likely never be the same. 

The pandemic has fundamentally changed employee attitudes toward work, and many sources indicate that a significant proportion of employees are leaving their jobs for greener pastures. In addition to compensation and work-life balance, there are a few key factors driving this migration. According to data from Prudential, 34 percent of workers cite a lack of growth opportunities, 24 percent are tired of continually working on the same things and 23 percent cite a dearth of learning opportunities as reasons for wanting to leave their jobs. In a nutshell, most employees feel trapped and stagnant. 

For an individual worker, career planning can feel like attempting to complete a jigsaw puzzle without referencing the image on the box: inefficient and frustrating. That’s why consulting firm West Monroe created a robust framework for employees to chart their own course. For nearly a decade, autonomy has been built into the foundation with a formal career equity framework, putting employees in charge of defining their own professional roadmaps. As part of the framework, employees work with career advisors, separate from their managers, who guide workers through ongoing career development and annual review processes.

 

West Monroe’s career equity framework tools include:

  • Career equity assessment
  • Career advisor
  • Career board of directors
  • Three-year letter

 

Employees are actively engaged in ongoing conversations about their careers and encouraged to explore new areas. But leaders aren’t “throwing that person into a new project like it’s the deep end of a pool. We’re looking for a project for this person to try out or build new skills in a safe environment,” according to Senior Principal Software Engineer Lorenzo De Leon. 

Built In Chicago spoke with De Leon and other team members who have utilized this framework for insights into how the company supports career exploration, professional development and a culture of curiosity.

 

Describe what the West Monroe career equity framework looks like in action.

Technology Director Chris Miller: At West Monroe, people are empowered to own their careers. There are a lot of resources that you’re given, such as a career advisor who acts as a sponsor who helps open doors. A big piece of the career equity framework is the three-year letter. 

It’s obviously a professional tool, but there are personal aspects. In my most recent letter, I listed my professional goals but also that I wanted to start a family and prioritize work-life balance. It’s a way to give a vision of where you see yourself in three years; it guides your goal planning, projects and opportunities so you know you are marching in the right direction. Since I’ve been here for ten years, I’ve done three three-year letters. I believe those have helped me achieve the big jumps I’ve made in my career. 

Senior Cybersecurity Consultant Alexa Monn: One thing that is interesting about the three-year letter is that when I look back at the one I wrote six months into working at West Monroe, I realize how much has changed. The technical aspects are not necessarily the same, but the leadership and growth aspects stayed remarkably true. I felt like I had my own personal brand and had become ingrained in the practice. So even though half of the letter was outdated, half of it was exactly where I hoped I would be in three years. 

De Leon: The three-year letter is very similar to an exercise I did at another company, and that was life changing. But the three-year letter is an improvement on that, because it is a short-term exercise. You don’t have to look all the way out to the end of your career. 

I’m involved on the mentor side, so I have formal and informal mentees. The main thing I try to get across is that it’s not just about your technical improvement, but your growth as a human being. If somebody says that their goal in three years is to start their own company, then we ask, “How can we help get you there?” So it is not just about your career at West Monroe, it’s much broader than that. It is about the kind of human being you want to be in three years. If you look at it that way, it’s a much more powerful framework. 

West Monroe is one of the most collaborative teams I’ve worked on in my career. I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’m still learning new things every day. The other day I learned how to perform a technical due diligence in Spanish, which is my first language. I don’t have technical conversations in Spanish, so I had to learn the vocabulary to prepare. It turned out successful! 

I’ve done three three-year letters. I believe those have helped me achieve the big jumps I’ve made in my career.” 

 

What is it like to write the letter, and who holds you accountable to it?

Monn: To be perfectly honest, I thought it was a very odd exercise at first. It’s almost like a time capsule, but in a very, very short timeframe. I am very lucky to have a career advisor who is absolutely fantastic, Christina Powers. She helped me open a lot of doors. She’s really a go-getter. So it was very helpful to have somebody who had been down that path. We’re obviously not the same person, but it helped me feel like I can write this because I know she has already done it.

De Leon: We give our clients roadmaps. We show them the steps it will take to get from point A to point B. This is the exact same thing but for our employees. It’s comforting to know the steps to get to the next point in my career. From the perspective of someone who didn’t have this luxury before, sometimes you are stumbling in the dark. You don’t know what your next step is, or how to measure your progress. It can be very frustrating. Without the three-year letter, the roadmap, how are you going to be able to achieve your goal?

Miller: I’m holding myself accountable to the letter, but there are resources that help me get there. I meet with my career advisor every few weeks not only to discuss my progress towards annual goals, but also my project goals, which then filters down into individual conversations with the folks I am working with day-to-day. So the accountability is shared between myself, my career advisors and the people I work with. 

We invest a lot in growing our next generation of leaders to get technical training and certifications for things that they want to do. We want to make sure people are developing skills. My three-year letters have had technical goals, incorporating new technologies. For example, I’ve gotten a handful of Microsoft certifications and Apache Cassandra certified. I’ve also attended several conferences, such as a solar energy conference, to get new perspectives. 

Sometimes you are stumbling in the dark... Without the three-year letter, the roadmap, how are you going to be able to achieve your goal?

 

What other tools are in the career equity framework?

Miller: Another aspect is what we call our career board of directors. You add folks you have relationships with to help advise you. Typically the career advisor you’ve been assigned is on that board, but others are too. It’s a group of your mentors whom you can get advice from, or show your letter to and get feedback. 

De Leon: The board of directors is there to keep us honest and make sure that what we’re trying to do is valid and makes sense. Say I want to be the CEO of West Monroe. That’s not likely to happen, but let’s pick something else that makes sense. It’s a powerful tool.

 

Tell me how you see career autonomy play out in daily life at West Monroe.

Miller: A lot of the solutions we build for clients are at the nexus of disciplines like software and data engineering, cybersecurity and cloud infrastructure, so we merged our technology practices a few years ago. If folks within our converged technology practice have an interest in aligning and building skill sets in other disciplines, we support them through that. Anybody who wants to learn a new technology or explore a new space in the tech stack can do so. They can also engage with like-minded technologists who want to develop similar skill sets through our competency model, a formal structure for helping our team develop the capabilities we need to serve our clients. Also, they can always talk to their career advisor about getting a diverse mix of project experiences to develop a different skill. I’ve been in software engineering for a decade, and have seen folks develop many new skills across the wide breadth of our technology disciplines at West Monroe. 

De Leon: I was on the delivery side of that, and we also actively support people moving around. Recently, I was contacted because a younger consultant wanted to switch into the software engineering practice and asked me to be their mentor. We don’t push back, and we give people resources in order to explore and make those kinds of changes.

Monn: In my personal experience, I started on the strategy side but as the need grew, I’ve moved into a more technical role. I never would have guessed that I’d have architecture experience at this point in my career. The product I’m working on incorporated threat hunting, and I happened to have some threat hunting background when the cybersecurity team started on it. It was really kismet that I was the right person for the role. Moving from the softer skills into technical skills was something I didn’t think I had the background for, but I was encouraged to do so, and I’ve been able to do it well. 

 

A lot of people are re-evaluating careers right now. Given the circumstances, do you think that having a career equity framework is important?

Miller: I can put myself in people’s shoes right now because 10 years ago, when I was just out of college, I wanted to make an impact but didn’t know what industry or technology to use; I just knew I wanted to write code. Right now people want to try new things and solve new problems and use new technologies. West Monroe is a place where you can do that. Not only can you do it, but you have a career equity structure to get clarity into the future. People have autonomy to explore new skills, and people are excited about making meaningful change within our core industries. I work with utilities in renewable energy, and everybody on my team loves it because we feel like we are helping save the world. 

Monn: For me personally, there is stability and variety. This is a place where I have opportunities to grow and develop technical skills. I have the opportunities to try things I didn’t even know existed and are brand new. When I think about it at the micro level, it seems like I’m just implementing a tool. But when I think about it at the macro, I realize I’m implementing a tool that catches anomalies for people trying to get on the electrical grid. That’s a big deal. It’s fun to take a step back and realize that your work has an actual impact on the world, beyond just the business. 

De Leon: That’s a wonderful way to look at it. We have the ability to try new things in a safe structure. Without a framework you are stumbling in the dark and it’s not just about career goals, but your life goals. A lot of this movement is coming from people reevaluating what kind of person they want to be. For someone who is trying to figure things out, a three-year letter is a powerful way to help them achieve their goals or identify potential goals. 

 

What would you like to achieve next, and how does the organization give you confidence and support to get you there?

Miller: There are a lot of cool, complex problems in the energy and utilities industry to solve around digital asset management and advanced distribution technologies that I want to work on. I also want to make sure people on our teams are challenged in the right ways, working on the tech they want to work on. 

Monn: I am interested in doing a deep dive into industrial control systems, such as utilities and energy architecture, and how to keep the bad guys out. It’s somewhat new to me, and I’m learning more every day. In the immediate term, I am a career advisor for the first time. I started with my advisee this week. I’m really excited to be able to help shape somebody’s career and give them the same welcome that I was given. 

De Leon: Mentoring and helping teams is part of what I want to continue working on, too, but in a broader way. There is a different role here at West Monroe for people who don’t want to follow the typical consultant, partner, director route. It’s called the innovation fellow. That’s what I want to focus on. I look forward to using new skills to build and create innovative products and services because, at the end of the day, we want to change the world. 

You may not know exactly what you want to do. You need to have openness to talk it through.”

 

What would you want to say to someone starting a career at West Monroe?

Miller: West Monroe has a diversity of growth opportunities. There is so much available in terms of technologies to work with, industries to work on and problems to solve. That is very attractive, so now is a great time to get on the rocket ship with us. Working with the best and brightest all of the time, I love our internal discussions because I am learning all the time. For example, Lorenzo is a true polyglot, and he has worked with nearly every technology. There are so many people to learn from, and relationships to build. I’m still here after a decade. That is a testament!

Monn: West Monroe is a flat organization in the sense that I can message anybody and get a message back. I had a lot of great exposure to leadership by my second year here; within the first six months I worked with Doug Armstrong, the COO. It has always been the case that if I have an interest in something, there is somebody to talk to about it. I know classmates outside of West Monroe who graduated at the same time I did, or are in similar points in their careers, who don’t necessarily have that. I think it’s important for somebody switching careers, or just starting out, because you may not know exactly what you want to do. You need to have openness to talk it through. 

 

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