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Client-facing and flexible – Accenture shows the way

“Clients wouldn’t accept it,” is one of the main fears employers have about part time or flexible staff. Fiona Gibson, a managing director at consultancy Accenture, has thrived in a top client-facing role while working part-time for the past 16 years. She explains how to approach client relationships and demonstrate that flexible working can benefit everyone – including the client.


Fiona Gibson 300x225I’ve worked part-time for 16 years since I had my daughter, sometimes three days a week, sometimes four, depending on the stage. But I’ve always been in client-facing roles and was the first person at Accenture to make partner while working part time. It was very unusual 16 years ago for a senior person to be part time. But things have changed hugely since then and if you look at how services are delivered today there are many fewer preconceived ideas about how to do it.

Build expectations together

Clients want to know how you will deliver. We are always very open. The scoping stage of a project is person independent, but when you get down to who’s on the team, we will say if someone is part time. Often it’s the more senior people because the reason they are part time is family related.

We focus on the outputs and work out an approach with the client that suits everyone. Part of that includes putting in place checkpoints and governance so there are channels to work through to give feedback or to say if something isn’t working.

If you build the expectations together that creates a good foundation of trust.

Promote the benefits

Clients want the best people on their job – and accepting flexible or part time working gives them better access to people. We worked on a two-year project in South Wales. That’s a difficult location to get people to over two years and a long time for them to be away from home. I sat down with the client and said, ‘to get the best people we are going to need to be flexible’. We agreed that there would be people on site all the time, but that some would work Monday to Thursday and others Tuesday to Friday or in between. We also said that when it came to ‘go live’ we’d be there all the time – but that was a short period only.

Use technology

Technology has made it so much easier to work flexibly. We find particularly in global companies and sectors such as financial services and life sciences, clients are very used to technology and have no problems with teleconferencing and other remote-working tools.

When you have a smaller company, which is used to having everyone in the office all the time, it’s an education process. Often we are implementing technology for them so you can feed flexible, technology-led working back into the process.

I’ve even taken part in a client pitch remotely. I wasn’t able to be physically present so beamed in on FaceTime to do my bit – and we won the work.

Be available

Particularly in a senior role, you can’t expect to be completely cut off. I was the project manager on the South Wales project and worked there Tuesday to Thursday. The CFO was my client contact and I told him that I was happy to take a call on Fridays – but I might be in Tesco’s or collecting my daughter and wouldn’t be able to follow up immediately with an email, say, and he was fine with that. Sometimes on a Friday, he would call me from the car. He had a bad back and when he travelled, his wife drove him. I’d hear her saying to him in the background, “It’s Friday, you shouldn’t be calling Fiona”. But I didn’t mind. We made it work really well, because of the relationship we had.

Any job can be shaped to work flexibly

I personally think that any job can be shaped to work flexibly or part time. Often we are sitting inside a box in our own heads if we think it can’t be done. It’s my experience that clients care about how you are going to deliver, not about what hours people are working.

I have a large female population on maternity leave at the moment. I don’t want them to come back and say, ‘can I have an internal role?’ I want to sit down with them and find ways to keep them out there with clients.

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