Jim Kolar gives people a loud voice at PwC, and it’s enabled the firm to transform the way it services clients

Listen to your customers

As important as it is to build a dialogue with your employees, it is just as important to build a dialogue with your customers. And sometimes you learn through those conversations that you need to change course.

“We were in a head-to-head competition around some strategy work,” Kolar says. “The client came back to us and said, ‘We’re going to go with Booz & Co. (now Strategy&), on the strategy piece. But we know we’re going to need you for the execution.’”

The client wasn’t excited about splitting up the two phases of work, but didn’t see an alternative.

“There were elements about what Booz brought with strategy, but it lacked the execution side and the ability to help the organization with execution,” Kolar says. “And they liked elements of our strategy, but the Booz consultants maybe had a little more experience in the industry. They had to make a choice.”

Actually, the client did not have to make a choice. PwC bought Strategy& and eliminated the need for anything to be split up.

You talk to your employees about change and you must do the same with your customers.

“It’s soliciting feedback from clients on how you’re doing and how you can adapt,” Kolar says. “Sitting down at the end of a project and talking about what you delivered and how that experience was. How do you interact? Do you understand the culture and the business environment? Our strategy gets to customization and adaptation. We need to know our clients well. We need to know their culture to help really deliver the solutions they are looking for that can be implemented and executed.”

Make an impact
in your community

Kolar looks at his job in the context of three areas representing three different groups that he needs to be thinking about as the leader of his firm.

“You have to watch the balance from time to time as sometimes, it requires more in one area than the other,” Kolar says.

There are your employees, your clients and then there is the community where you do business.

“You have to give that a high level of importance too,” Kolar says. “All of those areas, if you get out of kilter on any one of them, you find yourself reacting. So you have to continually make sure there is emphasis on all three. When you look at community, it’s not just about involvement. It’s about impact.”

It may not always seem like community should be a key part of your business strategy. It’s what you do outside of work when you need a break from the day-to-day grind. But Kolar says it’s actually much more than that.

At PwC, it’s about helping people, especially the younger ones, understand the value of financial literacy.

“It’s helping bring education around financial matters and getting the youth in our schools to really think about budgeting, college, finances — all the things that weren’t there five or seven years ago when we went through the downturn,” Kolar says.

“People made financial decisions that were disastrous in many respects. A CEO I knew when I was in Orange County had a philosophy. He said, ‘If you find the time for the community, everything else finds its way of filling in.’ I haven’t taken that 100 percent to heart, but I have found a lot of time for community in the communities I’ve lived in.”

Kolar believes leaders should feel a responsibility to create balance in the lives of their employees and make sure they have time to give back to causes outside of their day-to-day schedules that matter to them.

“It’s that balance that people are looking for,” Kolar says. “Are they valued by clients? Do they feel like they are making a great contribution to them? Are they valued within the organization? Are they developing? Are they valued by the community and are they giving back and making an impact? It’s that balance that is so important.”

Kolar says the landscape will continue to evolve and both leaders and businesses will need to continue to adapt to keep pace with the changes.

“It’s going to require expertise we have today and expertise we’ll need to have tomorrow,” Kolar says. “The foundation for all of that is making yourself accessible and being honest.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Be intentional about being approachable.
  • Find new ways to help customers.
  • Be responsible stewards in your community.