CEO Talent Champion:Julie Sweet, Accenture

An interview on building a results-driven talent management strategy

This video and the following Q&A do not depict the entire interview.

Hypercompetition for talent now requires executive leaders to attract key talent and design future of work strategies by using talent analytics and other insights. Accenture Chair and CEO Julie Sweet reveals how her organization drives its talent strategy with data, diversity, upskilling and positive results.

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Q&A With Julie Sweet

Julie Sweet became CEO of Accenture in 2019 and assumed the additional position of chair in 2021. Previously, she served as CEO of Accenture’s business in North America, the company’s largest geographic market. Prior to that, she was Accenture’s general counsel, secretary and chief compliance officer. Before joining Accenture, Sweet was a partner in the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.

We expanded our workforce over the past two years by more than 200,000 people in the tightest labor market in history, and we did so with a clear talent strategy. We believe that talent strategy also helped us navigate many of the challenges that we all faced, whether they were social or related to the pandemic. 

Our talent strategy has three prongs. The first is about accessing talent. We look for the widest pools of talent, which means focusing on diversity but also creating new pathways for talent. For example, 20% of our entry level hires in the U.S. are apprentices.


The second prong is being a talent creator, which enables us to reskill our own people as demands change. For example, in the first six months after the pandemic, we upskilled 100,000 people. Our reskilling program also attracts people because they know that we are investing a billion dollars a year in our people’s skills. 

And then, finally, it’s unlocking the potential of that talent. And we use a very simple concept: Our company should be one where employees believe they’re ‘net better off’ by being here and that they can succeed both professionally and personally.


When I think about scale, I think less about trade-offs and more about commitment. As I mentioned before, over the past two years we have expanded our workforce by more than 200,000 people. And what I am very proud of is that we did so by still meeting our diversity targets for gender, race and ethnicity. And in fact, it is because we tap into diverse pools of talent that we are able to actually hire at that scale.


It does require discipline because oftentimes people will say: ‘I need to hire quickly, otherwise we’re going to give up demand.’ And we moved beyond that years ago, because we know that long term, our growth is tied to having diverse pools of talent and that when you get it right, you actually have much larger pools of talent to tap into.

Because we have over 700,000 people, we have to be very intentional about how we can listen to our people. And so, while I absolutely have personal one-on-one interfaces, at our scale, and frankly, at almost any scale that’s not a particularly small company, we think you need to have very disciplined ways of listening. 


And we do so in a few different ways. One is we do certain surveys, not engagement surveys, which are very traditional, but surveys around change. We call it ‘Transformation GPS.’ We do social media listening here. What’s happening on social media? We look at our own internal sites as well. 

We also have networks. Whenever we’re implementing change, we use Change Champion Networks, which are another way of staying in touch. 

And then, I started doing something called Ask Me Anything, which allows our people to just come in, and it’s 45 minutes long and unscripted. They can ask questions, which is another way of me understanding what’s actually on people’s minds, and it gives me more impact than one-on-ones.

When I think about time management as CEO, people are an important component. I wouldn’t say that time toward talent has really changed because we are a people business and have always been a people business. I think what’s important, however, is that it’s very intentional. 

I set each year’s goals around: What are we going to do for communicating with managing directors? What do we do to communicate with our people? What time am I going to spend on recruiting? 

And we do so in a very disciplined fashion, with clear objectives of what am I trying to achieve in those moments. And then, of course, I also spend time one-on-one. I do so at different levels so that I can really remain in touch with both our current people and our new recruits.


One of the things I think is really important that I speak to a lot of CEOs about is the role of the CHRO, because the role of the CHRO is a business role. It’s important that we see the CHRO at the top table as a peer. 

And I also talk about how talent is not the province of the CHRO alone. It has to be viewed as something that’s critical and core to every person’s job. So, those are the two things that I think are really important if companies are going to harness talent as a force for change in a competitive differentiation.

Ellyn [Shook] brings a data-driven insight into our business and talent, which is absolutely critical. Second, she helps us create a very clear talent strategy which then can be executed and measured. And finally, she helps us create the conditions for kindness, compassion and empathy, which are really important in being a place where people not just like to be here but love to be here. 

And underneath it all, she is a very tech-savvy CHRO. You cannot actually accomplish these kinds of goals without the right technology. And she leads from the front, making sure that she and her team have the tools to enable us to achieve our talent outcomes.

My favorite question to ask Ellyn is: What’s on people’s minds? What I love is that what I’m going to get back are not anecdotes. Ellyn is going to bring me both her personal reflections from one-on-one conversations and also data-driven insights because we are constantly listening to our people. And when I ask that question, she knows that the answer I expect is not just a personal opinion but the data that can really help me shape: What do my messages need to be? Where might we need to course correct? Truly, what is on people’s minds?


First of all, we believe that transparency builds trust, and so, that’s a bedrock principle of how we really approach any issue. With respect to accessibility, we also think very, very intentionally around that. 


So, for example, we’ve been involved in a major transformation — really since I became CEO — and we would share with our managing directors the results of the survey that we do that’s data-driven to measure where we are on that change journey. So, not only are I and the leaders of Accenture looking at that data, but we’re sharing it with now almost 9,000 managing directors. And to your point around accessibility being important, this also is a way of building trust, empowering leaders and making them also feel accountable for the results of those close pulse checkpoints.


First of all, we have a great board, and because we are a people business, they really have our people and culture at the center of what they’re interested in. So much so that I think we’re one of the leading companies. We just formally changed our ‘compensation committee’ to be the ‘compensation, people and culture committee’ because we really felt that there should be something institutionalized with respect to those topics. And so, we regularly discuss, at the board, a range of talent and culture topics, and they’re very engaged.

We absolutely believe that when you care about your people professionally and personally, you have better business results. You’re going to be an employer that more people want to work at and that people want to stay at. You know, one of the greatest compliments we have at Accenture is when my colleagues want their children to work here. We even have at times three generations of Accenture families working at Accenture, and I’m super proud of that.

Improve Talent Strategy Outcomes With Guidance From CEO Talent Champions

Watch this on-demand webinar to understand how CEO Talent Champions make decisions differently and gain practical guidance on how CHROs can partner with their CEOs to improve their organization’s talent outcomes.