Pros: 1) interesting work and clients. 2) smart, dedicated colleagues. 3) nice work spaces, and flexible telecommuting option.
Cons: 1) poor management and systems. 2) inconsistent treatment. 3) low compensation, compared to other firms. 4) far too many lay offs of excellent employees, while at the same time, hiring like mad.
I am a Fellow. When I joined the firm, I was taken by surprise at the unreasonable expectations managers placed on junior staff, and executives placed on managers. ICFI underpays employees with little hope advancement or pay increases for two years or more years. We pay junior to mid-level staff far less than my previous firms. My previous firms paid no one in the DC area in the low $40s, let alone consultants! Even ICFI mid-level staff with masters degrees and several years of field and management experience, are offered comparably low pay. They tell me that they accepted their positions, because they expected program/hiring managers to fulfill promises of advancement, higher salaries, and more interesting work, once they got their feet in the door. However, these promises are not realized for many years, if ever, for many disillusioned hires.
Unless we recruit a new hire for being a nationally recognized subject matter expert/published author/speaker, or someone with several years of narrow/niche functional expertise, a person can not expect to be well compensated (compared to other firms), or have much, if any job security.
I have junior staff and mid-level consultants and managers, who have performed very well, looking to me and program executives for billable hours, afraid that they will be laid off if they do not find enough work for themselves. And, we lay them off, in droves, routinely. At the same time, we hire people weekly, in droves, with similar skills to the good people we lay off, for two reasons -- 1) extreme competitive bidding and 2) big firm with no systems – more... or poor/small company systems.
First, let me address extreme competitive bidding. We won't bid an existing employee who matches, for example, 4 out of 6 qualifications, when we can hire someone new who matches PERFECTLY -- 6 out of 6 quals -- AND pay them less. So, it's worth it to us to lay someone off. We will fire a loyal, talented employee, and hire the PERFECT quals match for a lower salary. We might save a little on the cost proposal, and score an evaluation point on the technical proposal. Evidently, this is easier than working more creatively to keep the bid competitive.
Second, small company systems do not fit a big firm that has quickly outgrown them. We can not match employees who need hours with available project hours across the firm -- or even within a division or group. This inability also leads to far too many lay offs of great employees. So, even if there are available hours, or full-time or part-time positions somewhere in the company, ICFI has no internal advocate, policy, process, system, or tool to retain talent. We can not match underutilized employees with available hours and/or positions.
Astonishingly, open positions (full time or part time) are not any more accessible to existing employees than outside applicants. Our HR staff and program hiring managers have no tools to sort employee applicants from outside applicants. As a result, waves of employees are routinely laid off, while new people with similar skills and experience are hired. It's wildly frustrating, and scary for employees.
Whether an employee has to worry about this or not, however, is also painfully inconsistent, depending on who likes you, who you report to, which line of business, division, and group you are in, and whether you have an influential VP in your corner. Obviously, this can be true in any company, but at ICFI, self promoters seem to be more rewarded than at other firms I've worked for -- large and small.
I am also dismayed by the lack of systematic coaching for managers and consultants -- especially with respect to developing client relationships. We have the training courses, but staff has little time to take these courses. Additionally, even if they have the time, staff seems reluctant to lose billable hours for training. And, finally, these kinds of courses are not meant to REPLACE on the job coaching or mentoring by senior staff. It can't. Training does not help learners apply new knowledge. In terms of what employees learn on the job, mid-level staff are taught the mechanics of project management, but they are NOT routinely coached in the nuances of developing relationships with clients. According to many discussions with employees in lines of business across the firm, certain individuals do get this coaching attention from some senior leaders. But, these exceptions are not the same as having systems and structures in place to support all consultants and managers in developing their client relationship building skills, which all employees I've talked to in these roles say they want and need. These relationship skills are essential for project management and, of course business development.
Broadening relationship skill building from clients, these skills also can be applied to managing staff, working effectively with teams and across the firm in collaborations for bids and on projects, recruiting and managing partners, and so on. The systematic, comprehensive, and widespread coaching that is necessary for mid-levels is not taking place for everyone. We need this investment and expectation, not for the favored few, but as a policy, with with processes in place for all.
But, at ICFI, we talk, agree, mean well, and do not act. Not enough senior leaders have the competencies, beyond the subject matter expertise in their fields to follow through with systems and structures that would make this a more fair work place and an environment conducive to everyone's development. – less