I don't want to end 2008 on a sour note, but at the same time, it seems misleading to sugarcoat it and slap on a smiley face. So to close out what has been an extremely confusing year for all, I will focus on Accenture, which has dished out some ups and downs over the past couple weeks.
Two weeks ago, Accenture released its Q1 2009 report, which offered some not-so-negative results, as might have been expected. The firm posted solid first-quarter results for 2009, with net revenue of $6.02 billion, an increase of 6 percent over the same period last year. Operating income was up 12 percent, and new bookings for the quarter were $5.8 billion. The company noted that it will modestly adjust its outlook for net revenue in 2009, "given continued market uncertainty." All in all, not too bad, right?
Don't get too cozy. Last week Accenture announced a voluntary layoff program for its US-based consultants, offering standard severance plus a little something extra to those who choose to leave. Accenture consultants weigh in on the subject on our message boards, and their comments give a sense of the confusion at the firm right now (especially coming on the heels of a positive earnings statement). The problem seems to be heaviest at the analyst/consultant level, where the attrition rate has been low and the bench is full. Reportedly, Accenture has been offering this option to employees in select areas of the company across the globe since fall 2007, but is now opening it up to more people.
Certainly the voluntary layoffs aren't all bad (although the timing isn't the most considerate); those who are unhappy in their jobs, or who suspect that they will be laid off anyway, will have a little extra money in their pocket. And there is a chance that if enough people jump on the voluntary bandwagon, Accenture won't have to resort to broad cuts. That said, with attrition down and diminished hiring across the board, who's to say how many people will feel justified in walking out the door without a solid game plan? And what's to follow if this corporate nudging doesn't have its desired effect?
We don't know what's to come in 2009. Most likely, more mixed messages, hopefully more upsides. So as you're making your resolutions for the new year, know that what will be critical in 2009 is for you to stand out from the crowd, whether in terms of performance or in specialization. Utilization rates will be important (though there's not much you can do to influence that), but performance will be the real factor as companies are forced to make difficult choices.
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