Finding a good quality HR service supplier who can deliver the results you need on time and within budget is hard. And getting it wrong could be a costly mistake.
How do you know, before you’ve worked with a HR consultant, whether they’re any good or not?
I’m interested in this because I’ve been training the future generation of business psychologists in business and consultancy skills at Manchester Business School.
Here are the key principles from my workshop for you to use the next time you engage an external consultant.
1. At your first meeting, does the consultant want to talk about the problem or the solution?
If the consultant starts off by asking about the details of what you need them to deliver, they’re too focused on the solution.
Instead, they should be trying to get to the heart of the problem from the outset. What’s led to this issue, what do you want to achieve, what have you tried before and so on. And having done so, they might challenge you about your desired solution and offer alternative ways of approaching the issue.
2. What are your project constraints in terms of budget and timescales?
Helping your supplier understand the scale of your budget and timescales helps them design the most appropriate solution and manage your expectations about what can be delivered.
A poor consultant will brush over these constraints. They might tell you this project can be turned round really quickly. This should be a potential red flag, suggesting a lack of experience – or that the solution is off-the-shelf.
3. Do you know what to expect and how it will run?
A successful project is built on a good relationship between consultant and client. A good relationship is built on having certain elements agreed and in place before the project starts.
Has your supplier prepared a project plan with key dates and responsibilities, points of contact, escalation points and a communication plan?
With a poor consultant, you might get an unexpected bill or one for an unexpected amount. You might find it difficult to get hold of them or be unclear where the project’s up to.
4. Do you feel guided in the right direction by your supplier?
It’s quite possible that you, as the client, have never experienced this type of project before.
Once they’ve had the go-ahead, a good consultant will proactively drive the project forward. They know what needs to happen when in order to get the job done.
A poor consultant will wait for you to take the lead, wait for your instructions as to what to do next. Again, this should be a red flag about their levels of experience.
5. Do you know how they will handle problems when they happen?
A good consultant understands that people projects can be problematic and plans accordingly. They’ll be aware of the inherent risks and challenges in the project and will be working to pre-empt those issues as well as alerting you to potential pitfalls.
A poor consultant might well disappear quietly from the scene, leaving you to clear up the mess.
6. How will you know the project has been successful?
So often, a project takes place but no one really knows afterwards whether it’s had any impact. Think of all those training workshops you’ve completed where the training notes have gone into a drawer, never to see the light of day again!
A good consultant will embed measurement into the project from the outset. They’ll ask ‘how will we know if this intervention has worked?’, they’ll push you to put in place measures to track success. They’ll help you to focus on what happens beyond the delivery of the project.
Apply these six principles, taken from my Business & Consulting Skills workshop, to help you work out if you’re engaging with a great supplier and a good consultant.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to discover how to get the best value from your recruitment agency. Or read about how I worked with a client to recruit a strategic, yet hands-on IT director.