Organizations face challenges when it comes to both the capacity and capabilities of their internal HR team. Many organizations hire HR consultants or firms to complement the skills and resourcing of their HR team. Hiring an HR consultant is a significant decision and investment for your organization and not just in terms of money. A great consultant will provide your organization with greater effectiveness and efficiencies ……and let’s face it, they will make you look good with making the decision to hire them. Unfortunately in today’s market, there are more poor HR consultants than great ones. Organizations need to do the proper due diligence when hiring an HR consultant or firm.
So what are the top things you should look for in hiring an HR consultant or HR consulting firm to help your organization? Here are my top 10 recommendations:
1 – A strong track record of success as an HR consultant – They know what they are doing and have been successful with other similar projects for previous clients.
Be careful you don’t choose an HR consultant whose preference isn’t to be a consultant. I know many consultants who would rather be in a permanent opportunity back in the corporate world and are simply doing consulting until the right opportunity comes along. With these cases, they will start the project but as soon as a better opportunity comes along they will leave you and the project short-handed. Always go with the consultant who chose to be a consultant and has a passion for this choice of work style.
Key Question to Ask – Tell me about the similar projects you have worked on previously? Why did you become an HR consultant? Tell me about a project you weren’t successful in delivering?
2 – A strong track record of success as a corporate HR leader – What was their experience prior to becoming a consultant. Do they understand the corporate and organizational dynamics you and your team live with every day and the pressures you face in terms of the project deliverables versus the realities of the capacity and capabilities of their team. Have they “walked a mile in their client’s shoes”?
Key Question to Ask – Tell me about your experience before you become a consultant?
3 – Ensure they provide previous client project references with whom you are encouraged to contact…..and you should contact their references – The proof is always in the pudding! Ensure you do your due diligence on the HR consultant and/or firm on their track record. This should be a deal breaker if they aren’t able to provide at least 3 project references with contact information for the actual stakeholders in the project. Invest the time to connect with their references and that they provide you with the complete picture of the consultant’s work and their project outcome and results.
Key Question to Ask – Will you provide me with a list of your client references from your past projects for me to contact?
4 – Expertise in a specific core area of HR – I’ve never met an HR consultant who is an expert in all aspects of Human Resources. Every consultant has their core areas of focus and that is their sweet spot. Hiring a Labour Relations expert to develop an organizational Total Rewards strategy doesn’t make a lot of sense…..definitely would make sense to hire a Total Rewards expert. I am a big believer in surrounding myself with experts from the critical functional areas I need – hence the range of expertise of the consultants at my firm….we are all experts within a specific area of HR and our clients benefit from the best of the best (sorry for the shameless plug J) Bottom line, ensure the consultant you are looking to hire is not a “jack of all, master of none” when it comes to their core area of expertise.
Key Question to Ask – What area of HR is your core expertise in? What makes you an expert in this area? What do you recommend I do if I need expertise in another area of HR for this project?
5 – Connected in the market on the latest trends and best practices – You want a consultant who understands the latest in trends, practices and developments within their area of expertise. You want a consultant who knows what works and doesn’t work for organizations similar in nature to yours. A great consultant will use multiple platforms (such as their networks, publications, etc.) to keep themselves educated on what’s hot in the market. Watch out for consultants have been consulting for so long without keeping up-to-date on the current practices in the market…..they are selling you a solution that is already outdated and won’t be successful with your organization.
Key Question to Ask – How do you keep on top of the latest trends and developments within your area of expertise? What are the latest trends and developments that will be considered as you deliver this solution for my organization?
6 – Integrity & Trust – These are the foundational values of the person and their firm that you need to be certain of when hiring a consultant. You are hiring a consultant to tell you the truth about a specific aspect of organization and function. If you don’t feel you can trust the consultant, don’t work with them. Ensure you ask their project references about their level of trust with the consultant.
Key Question to Ask – Give me an example of a time that tells me about your level of integrity when working on a project for a client?
7 – Someone you and your colleagues want to work with – You want to work with a consultant you will enjoy working with. You enjoy them as a person when you meet with them. They are professional and have a pleasant personality…..and they don’t come across as a “used car sales person” type when you meet them. They act as a trusted advisor to you…….and you never hesitate to pick up the phone to ask them a question or get advice. You want a consultant who will work well with your colleagues – both in HR and in the business. Remember, if part of their mandate on the project is to work with the business, they are representing you and you shouldn’t have to worry about how they will interact with your colleagues in the business.
Key Question to Ask –What is your approach to building successful relationships with the stakeholders on a project?
8 – Commitment to the project – Successful consultants will always be in demand with organizations. You need to ensure your consultant won’t be spread too thin with too many other projects at the same time as your project or that they will delegate your project to a junior member of their team who will do all the work on the project. You need to ensure you set expectations up front with the consultant in terms of their time commitments with your project and ensuring the project will be successfully completed within the agreed upon timelines.
Key Question to Ask – Who will be doing the work on my project from your organization? How many other projects and clients are you currently working with? How will you ensure my project is completed within the agreed upon timelines?
9 – Provides a project plan – A project plan is the foundation to any successful project. A project plan not only defines the scope and steps to deliver the project, but also provides a breakdown to the stakeholders on the key project milestones, how to minimize the risk with the project while recognizing the importance of delivering on time, communication touch points and project updates. The project plan is the true agreement between the consultant and your organization on the scope of their role, the deliverables and the cost. The project plan also protects the consultant from project “scope creep” and being asked to deliver services and solutions that aren’t part of the agreed on scope. Beware of any consultant who doesn’t develop a project plan with their client.
Key Question to Ask – As part of your proposal, will you provide an example of your project plan? Tell me about what typically goes into your project plan for this type of assignment?
10 – Provides practical customized solutions for your organization – Many consultants try to simply re-purpose their past work for new clients providing an “off-the-shelf” solution for your organization that likely won’t work. You want a consultant who invests the time to understand your workplace, culture and environment and will provide real solutions with a step-by-step blueprint on the “how to”……..not simply presenting a high level model and leaving it up to you to figure out how to execute and implement. Look for consultant who are realists and aren’t trying to sell you a “pie in the sky” solution they say will solve all of your problems.
Key Question to Ask – Tell me about your approach to this project? We are a unique organization, how will you ensure your solution is practical for us?
Simon Parkin is the Practice Leader for Recruitment, Talent and HR Solutions at The Talent Company – http://www.thetalent.co Simon is recognized as a global consulting leader in the acquisition and management of talent and has successfully transformed the Recruitment function for organizations of all sizes across the globe. Simon works closely with clients to build, develop and innovate their Recruitment, Talent and HR functions. He is a former global leader of Recruitment and Talent for a Fortune 100 company. Simon is a featured speaker at a number of Business, Leadership and Human Resource conferences across North America and an author of many acclaimed articles on innovative Recruitment, Talent and HR trends and best practices. Simon’s full profile can be found athttp://ca.linkedin.com/in/simonparkin1