Inside PwC: A Tech-Enabled Talent Strategy

Connex Staff |

The immediate impact of the pandemic may be behind us, but we’re not getting the R&R we expected – instead the news is filled with talk of resignations and recessions. However, with the right Digital Employee Experience (DEX), companies like PwC are poised to overcome this challenging labor market. 

It’s primarily when times are tough that we, as an industry, reexamine the employee experience through a much more critical, cost-cutting lens. Unlike previous downturns, however, our current reality is defined by the mass embrace of remote and hybrid work models that substantially blur the lines between “nice to have” and “need to have” provisions. Especially given that our new ways of working have galvanized a shift in employee preferences that predated the pandemic.

Research conducted by Salesforce all the way back in 2017 indicated that 71% of employees expected their company to provide the same level of technology enablement they used in their personal lives, and it stands to reason that the number has only increased.

Further complicating the matter, it’s not just employee satisfaction that hinges on a strong Digital Employee Experience (DEX). Look no further than the recent airline industry meltdown over the holidays to see how a solid, effective DEX – or rather, the lack of one – can directly impact customers and business performance. While some budgetary reevaluations are no doubt necessary, DEX has become too critical an area to harshly pare back. We hear regularly from Connex Community Members just how difficult it is to recruit, retain, and reward top talent, and without the right digital tools, it becomes near impossible.

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This fact is well understood by Leah Houde, Chief Learning Officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC): “We’re a professional services firm looking to solve the world’s most challenging problems. PwC is answering that call through My+: the firm’s reimagined people strategy that provides unprecedented flexibility across the “moments that matter” within the employee lifecycle.

My+ is designed to drive individual and career fulfillment, align employees with the firm’s values while keeping their clients’ needs at the center, and achieve those goals by cementing DEX as the cornerstone of employee enablement. It is a significant undertaking, and one that they intend to expand upon year over year. During its first year, My+ introduced building blocks across four key employee experience pillars: learning and development (L&D), well-being, total rewards, and “life after PwC.”

The Future of L&D
Perhaps most impressively, My+ has revolutionized the way that employees navigate their learning journeys through a tech-enabled, personalized learning platform. Dubbed My Learning, the platform uses a proprietary digital assistant to create a customized learning plan for each employee that includes all required, recommended and elective courses. As Houde explained it, “The system says, ‘you’re a senior associate, in this sector, so here’s what you need to maintain licensing’ and based on how you answer targeted questions about your projects and career goals, it may say ‘here are suggestions about other learning activities you might need’” – from compliance curriculum, to coursework on the expected in-demand skills of tomorrow, to ESG fundamentals, and everything in between.

Not only does My Learning centralize development plans, but it also makes it significantly easier to plan learning activities and track progress. Using the digital assistant, employees can easily block time on their calendar to complete coursework, monitor deadlines, register for new courses, and more. “We started from the position of wanting to build a culture that enables infinite learning, delivering content to staff when they need it, how they need it, and in multiple formats,” continued Houde, “but we realized based on employee feedback that it could be overwhelming.”

Now PwC’s employees can confidently invest in their development in a matter of minutes, and it’s hard to overstate just how important that is. According to LinkedIn’s most recent Workplace Learning Report, workers aged 18 to 34 want vibrant learning and growth opportunities at work even more than they want a positive work-life balance. They want their learning to be self-directed, and they want to stay current with changes in the business. And those changes are only expected to increase in frequency and prominence – according to the same LinkedIn report, skill sets for jobs have changed by 25% since 2015, and that number is expected to double by 2027.

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Ironing Out the Details
Speaking of changes, there were plenty PwC had to make for their digital L&D strategy to be successful. As Houde recounted, they had to clearly align the language of learning throughout the organization: “There were all sorts of different words people were using for coursework, all of which were supposed to encourage participation. ‘Required, expected, mandatory, suggested, should or could’ – and it was unclear if you were expected to participate or not.” PwC has since streamlined their learning verbiage, as well as educated the business on what terms mean and how participation is tracked.

The other key clarification process took place when PwC trimmed their learning library and course catalog. “We had nearly 12,000 learning assets in our learning management system and did a zero-based review. Essentially, everything came out,” explained Houde, “and had to have a strong, justifiable reason for being added back in.” They retired nearly 8,000 different assets, most of which were either based on outdated information, or rendered redundant by newer coursework.

While it’s not yet finished, PwC is also extending their efforts with My Learning by creating an internal talent marketplace that will help connect dots between the needs of the business and their employees’ self-stated career goals.

PwC is introducing technology that not only transforms how employees learn, but also enhances how they work together, lead, and listen. Launched this year, My Feedback provides a simple, streamlined way of giving upward and peer feedback on the effectiveness of leadership skills. In addition, the newly introduced Team Polling allows leaders to get a quick pulse check on where and how the team’s experience can be enhanced in real-time.

Twin Pillars
Well-being and total rewards are also both being enhanced to improve PwC’s employee value proposition and their ability to recruit and retain top talent. PwC has long upheld a culture of flexibility and employee welfare, believing that “in order to succeed and thrive, [they] need to embrace practices that energize [them] and prioritize [their] ability to be their best selves at home, work, and in [their] communities.”

On the well-being side, this is manifesting first and foremost through a digitally enhanced approach to protected employee time. Using the same digital assistant that powers My Learning, employees can share their vacation plans and prompt automated reminders to team members in their absence. “And when you return,” Houde continued, “it automatically sends you a survey to ask if the time was really protected so we can gauge where and why teams aren’t honoring that request for space.” Additionally, PwC provides employees with two week-long firmwide shutdowns each year in the US (July and December), giving everyone time with family and loved ones free of the pressure to check in.

As PwC has introduced several changes that simultaneously improve the range of personalized benefits and support employees as their lives and needs shift over time, it’s become clear that well-being and total rewards work hand-in-hand. They’ve expanded mental health support for staff and their families by increasing the number of free visits they can take with a mental health professional from six to twelve, while also increasing the reimbursement for out-of-network mental health support from 70% to 90%. They’ve also expanded parental leave – note the more inclusive wording and approach – from eight to twelve weeks.


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Life After PwC
While the first three pillars are undoubtedly familiar territory for every organization, the fourth provides PwC with an unconventional edge in today’s challenging labor market. PwC is committed to digitally enriching the employee lifecycle even when an individual’s career journey moves away from the firm. “It’s a tech-enabled alumni portal where former employees can continue to tap into our learning and development resources,” said Houde. “It also doubles as a networking and professional connections hub, which can help alumni advance their careers.”

Sometimes, that advancement means returning to PwC with a host of new skills and experience, improving their value as a boomerang employee. Boomerang employment – when a former employee rejoins an organization – had a negative connotation prior to the pandemic’s labor upset, but according to Harvard Business Review, it’s now increasingly common. Nearly a quarter of all “new” hires today are boomerang employees, and PwC’s alumni engagement helps the firm stay well positioned to capitalize on that trend.

Other times, that advancement means having a PwC alumnus in a new organization, which can potentially (hopefully) become a client for one of the firm’s many different professional services. In either case, PwC’s care and attention to a digitally supported employee and alumni experience drives value for the business that would be difficult to realize otherwise.

Where Do We Go from Here?
While it’s true that HR needs to become more cost efficient in the wake of economic downturn, PwC’s success unveils an important lesson: to navigate today’s tough labor market, an improved balance sheet cannot come at the expense of delivering an industry-leading DEX. That’s doubly true given the fact that failing to retain and quickly attract top performers can cost you 10 times the salary of the position in turnover. So, what measures should enterprising HR leaders consider?

First and foremost, it’s critical that they embrace technology to improve processes and streamline roles– whether that’s through automation, chat bots, or responsible AI-enabled technologies. When that kind of implementation simply isn’t in the cards, it may be worth exploring outsourcing as a way to take nonessential work off the plates of employed teams.

Those looking to be particularly cutting edge can also explore gig and non-traditional labor models for specific projects. According to McKinsey, a significant portion of individuals leaving the traditional labor market are specifically targeting temporary, part-time, and gig opportunities, and capitalizing on that market demand can help plug gaps at a much lower cost versus an FTE. Internship programs could be particularly lucrative, given that they reduce the need for FTEs while simultaneously strengthening recruitment pipelines and giving businesses an opportunity to see how future candidates actually perform on-the-job.

Regardless of how HR leaders go about finding ways to create efficiencies, the employee experience should factor prominently into the decision making process. And in the words of Leah Houde, one of the most impactful methods for doing that is being willing to listen to what employees have to say: “I can’t tell you how many listening sessions we had along the way and continue to have. We were honest about wanting to evolve the way PwC worked in a mutually beneficial way for both employees and the business, and if we were going to create opportunities for them, we needed to have their wants, needs, and expectations at the heart of our design philosophy.”





Leah Houde
Dr. Leah D. Houde drives development strategies and shapes learning culture as PwC U.S. Chief Learning Officer. As a seasoned executive development professional, she is passionate about cultivating new ideas to manage digital disruption and lead in today’s complex environment.

Leah began her career as a founding member of Duke Corporate Education, a global custom executive development firm, consistently ranked number one in its field. Leah received her BS degree in Psychology and PhD in Organizational Behavior from Duke University. Her research focused on how individuals think about employment relationships. See Motivating Employees in the Gig Economy.
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