How We Work: Accenture’s Southeast Lead Wants to Hire ‘Storytellers’

jimmy etheredge

Hype’s How We Work series focuses on how successful southeastern tech companies are developing authentic work cultures.

When you think about a global consulting company, certain employee attributes come to mind: high-performing, quick-thinking, and dedicated. But Jimmy Etheredge, senior managing director of Accenture’s U.S. Southeast region, says another trait he sees in his employees is a drive to give back.

“We see this very consistent theme where what we hear from our employees is that they come to an organization like Accenture because they want to do well — they see this as a great place to build skills and build a career — but they also want to do good,” says Etheredge about their community focus. “It’s very important for them to feel like we are having a big impact in the local community.”

Etheredge, who is based in Atlanta, is responsible for six offices in an area that stretches from Puerto Rico to New Orleans to Washington D.C. In his role, he has to figure out what will shape the makeup and culture of those offices — helping craft the recruiting and hiring process, determining the high-level goals of each office, and deciding on the community initiatives each will focus their giving back efforts towards.

The southeast is Accenture’s fastest-growing market, according to Etheredge, as well as one with tremendous opportunity due to the rapid rate of industry growth in the region. That means that every employee stands to be a contributor in growing Accenture’s presence further.

“When I’m selling it internally, I can tell people this is where we want to invest because we’ve got a fast-growing region and plenty of associated opportunity,” he says.

Etheredge details the unusual attributes he’s looking for in new hires (like the ability to tell stories), how the culture in their new 800-employee Atlanta innovation hub has yet to be determined, and how Accenture is designing their recruiting process intentionally to hire for diversity of perspective.

Describe your responsibilities as lead of Accenture’s southeast operations.

I’ve been with Accenture for 33 years. One of the nice things about that is I have a really good network within the company given that length of time and the different industries and geographies that I worked in, and I leverage that network in my role quite a bit. Today, I’m responsible for our Southeast region, so that’s D.C. down to Puerto Rico and over to New Orleans; we have six key offices within that space. I own responsibility for all the work that we do for clients and all the people that we have in those offices.

Typically my time is spent either out meeting with clients or on recruiting, hiring and focusing on the development of the people that work for us. And the third big area, which is really a big area for us, is how we engage with that community.

Can you talk about some of those community initiatives you mentioned, specifically in Atlanta? 

The majority of our employees are millennials. We see this very consistent theme where what we hear from our employees is that they come to an organization like Accenture because they want to do well — they see this as a great place to build skills and build a career — but they also want to do good. It’s very important for them to feel like we are having a big impact in the local community.

We have been very active specifically around the ‘skills to succeed’ banner. Some organizations like City of Refuge, Boys and Girls Club, these would be good examples of where we work with those organizations on that initiative. Part of it is just volunteer manpower; a lot of it, though, is how we can leverage technology to include and help with people that do not have access to technology. We are very mindful of the need for more diversity in technology and this is another way of giving us a chance to contribute.

How do you decide what organizations to work with?

One of the goals that I’m responsible for is making decisions around either cash grants or the pro bono work that we do. I work with my team and the sponsors for a variety of these organizations to look at how we can help them while being mindful of the multiplier effect — what we’d really like to do is to leverage our technology capabilities to help an organization help a larger group of people on a more continuous basis. That ultimate outcome is to create employment opportunities for those we help.

We work with organizations to bring on board high school students. We are also now doing more recruiting from two-year schools and technology colleges. It depends upon the kind of role that we’re trying to fill, but we are very focused on not only trying to leverage technology to help create opportunities for these people, but also hiring these people ourselves.

What are you looking for in the talent to fill your new Atlanta innovation center, beyond their technical skills?

I’m super excited about this innovation hub. Obviously technology is part of it — we’ll be doing things here with our Liquid Studio that will involve app development, prototyping on a rapid, agile basis, we’ll have a maker lab where we’ll be actually physically putting some products together.

A couple of other areas that are very important for us are a little less traditional — one is around creative design thinking and storytelling. That’s an interesting talent play since you ask, where do you find that? Do you go to technology schools, do you go to more liberal arts backgrounds, or even arts or design backgrounds? We have a need for a lot of that talent.

The other is around analytics. We’re hiring more data scientists to come in that are technical but they’re not really computer technology-oriented. It’s much more around the math, the algorithms. Where I can find people that have all of those attributes, that’s obviously a very good fit for  us — but that’s hard to find. So we often look at how do we take people that are a good fit for some of those roles, play to their strengths, and then over time give them exposure to some of the others.

How do you shape the hiring process to find those creative people, especially for a role that looks fairly technical? 

It’s an evolving process for us. When I first sat down with our recruiting team to talk about it, they were really confused with my desire for storytelling. Most people that you talk to think that they can tell stories, so they asked me to be a little more specific on how we qualify who’s a storyteller versus who’s not. Our recruiting team will look for combinations of experiences that includes all the things we talked about.

What does the hiring process actually look like?

We do a case study approach and that’s one of the things that we look for there. After going through the resume, as soon as someone comes to the office, it’s not just the case study but it’s also looking at the way they’re answering questions.

We also do scenario discussions; so let’s say something like, think of a time you dealt with a particular issue that was in a less structured environment, think of a time that you worked with a team that was not as focused or motivated as you were. Part of what we want to understand is the thought process around how the person deals with people dynamics, because everything we do is very team- and people-oriented. But part of it is also how do you describe a situation; how can you tell the story?

What kind of culture are you trying to cultivate in the innovation hub?

Honestly, it is kind of to be determined. We have a lot of interest internally from employees that are asking, how do I get a rotation through that innovation hub, because I want to be doing that. And I think that’s important for us — I see this as a way for our employees that we’re able to give them some skills and experiences faster than they might otherwise get.

At the same time I’m very committed to bring in diverse outside perspectives and experiences. Diversity is one of the core values of Accenture and I want to make sure we’re mixing in people that have not grown up within our organization.

What would a potential employee get out of working here that they wouldn’t get anywhere else?

What I think is different about Accenture versus any other company is that we have this unique set of end-to-end capabilities. That includes strategy, it includes consulting, it includes technology and digital, and it also includes operating and running things with clients. For our employees, that means you get the opportunity to be involved in cradle-to-grave programs for our clients. They see the fruits of their labor through stages of deploy, execute and then create value.

For someone that comes to work at Accenture, you’re going to get the opportunity to develop your craft, whatever that might be, to a world-class level. You’re going to get the opportunity to get exposed to other parts of the lifecycle from the very beginning of visioning a strategy all the way through learning and delivering the benefits. And, you’re going to have the opportunity to take your professional talent and not only help clients create value, but really have an impact in our community.

This interview has been condensed for clarity. Photos via Accenture