Accenture Consultants Are Taught How to Talk to CEOs

Some auditors say it can be tough to get the ear of their client’s chief financial officer (CFO). Yet their counterparts in consulting are able to get the ear of the chief executive officer (CEO). How do consultants do it? At Accenture, the answer is training.

According to an article in the Financial Times, British consultants attend courses at Oxford University from such maverick professors as Dr. Theodore Zeldin, whose "human audits" and thoughts about the value of conversations have been featured in Fast Company magazine.

Dr. Zeldin believes the narrow language of specialized jobs interferes with communications, and most people are unwilling to take the risk of moving on to personal issues with someone in a senior job. As a result, the course teaches consultants how to drop the "consultancy gobbledygook" and converse with CEOs about issues of corporate governance or how difficult it is to run a business over the long term.

To master the art of conversation, Accenture consultants attend a three-day management training program at Oxford. During the day, they study simulated company case studies, look at the strategic issues, and consider how the issues might be viewed by shareholders and board members. Then, over dinner, they confront the real views of senior people from the companies studied.

Interestingly, some of the topics are ones that accountants might well be discussing with their clients over dinner. For example, one group of Accenture consultants was asked to discuss whether an initial public offering makes a company think too "short-term" in order to please the stock market. Another debated the consequences of mistrust in the capitalist world. Each dinner table had a guest from a client company and a facilitator who nudged the debate along and kept the conversations on track. After-dinner feedback sessions analyzed how individual communication styles might have helped or hindered the dialogue. ("Ways to Make You Talk," Financial Times, September 11, 2002.)

-Rosemary Schlank

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