“A Consultant is a Problem Solver or nothing.” -McKinsey Consulting
In all my years of experience, I’m yet to encounter an organisation that is absolutely problem-free. Most have deep-seated business issues that need to be identified and resolved to enable them move on to “the next big thing.” Thus, business leaders are always in need of the services of a good consultant.
This is an area where you can set yourself apart.
To add significant value to your organisation as an HR Professional, you need to gain competency as an internal consultant. To do this, you’ll be required to become adept at problem diagnosing and solution implementation.
To cut to the chase, your success as a budding Internal HR consultant lies in your ability to:
- Establish credibility as an internal consultant
- Use an effective consultation process
- Develop the competencies (knowledge, skills, and abilities) needed to function effectively.
This article addresses these three success factors.
Establish Credibility as an Internal HR Consultant
When I first started out as an internal HR consultant, I encountered some resistance from line managers and leaders with whom I had previously enjoyed a good working relationship. Although their resistance was covert, their attitude screamed, “How do you suddenly have all the answers, and why do you think you can tell us what to do?”
As you set out as an internal HR consultant, it is prudent to expect this challenge at the entry point of your consulting engagement with other colleagues. And the key to overcoming it is to act as an external consultant would act – regard your colleagues as prospects and partners, and push beyond the barrier of the resistance by proactively building relationships and establishing your credibility. This has to happen before your colleagues will trust you to assist in making critical business decisions.
The following tips will help you in your attempt to build such alliances and establish your credibility:
- Hold regular formal and informal meetings with key managers so as to stay up-to-date with their businesses.
- Keep abreast of important business initiatives and help managers see how HR can contribute to their success.
- Study your clients’ strategies and business issues. Understand critical things like the key metrics by which they determine success or failure.
- Be deliberate and proactive in your attempt to understand the trends of your client’s business. One way to do this is to read more of what your clients are reading: The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.
- Be sure to broadcast all HR successes as an internal consultant. When people see the value you have delivered, they will be more willing to work with you.
By demonstrating an understanding of your client’s business (and the connections between HR practices and business performance), you will go a long way in breaking down stereotypes and false perceptions of your capabilities and you will win their confidence in your abilities.
Use an Effective Consultation Process
Every consultant needs one vital tool to succeed in the business of consultation: they need a tested and trusted consulting process.
Although there are several existing processes available for adaptation, I recommend the Action Research consulting process. It is easy to understand and comprehensive.
The steps in the Action Research model for consultation are as follows:
Step 1: Entry into Consulting Engagement
- Making first contact with the client
- Establishing a relationship with the client
- Exploring early potential for work with the client
Step 2. Presentation of Problem
- Get the client’s view of the present situation/problem
- Get the historic context of the problem
- Ascertain the client’s readiness for change
Step 3. Create a Preliminary Hypothesis
- Based on your initial thoughts, intuitions, and impressions
- Initial thoughts are to be held as tentative & inconclusive
- They may be incorrect; and so they are not to be shared at this point
Step 4. Data Collection
- Deploy methodical efforts to secure more information and get greater detail and depth of the problem.
- Your primary data sources include others in the client’s organization.
- They will provide greater objectivity that can only be gotten from an outside party’s viewpoint.
Step5. Data Analysis and Diagnosis
- Let the data lead the way
- Develop an expanded/informed definition of the problem
- Identify contributing facts, causes
Step 6. Action Planning
- Generate/assess alternative solutions
- Identify risks and opportunities, helping and hindering forces
- Generate specific plans: change management process
Step 7. Implementation
- Carry out plans
- Ensure feedback mechanism is included
Step 8. Follow-up
- Make necessary changes and modifications
- Identify relevant learning
- Provide feedback and always communicate with the client to follow-up on their progress
Critical Point: During the consulting process (and at every point in the 8 stages), it is important to have frequent briefings with the client to ensure that at every point in time, you both are on the same page.
Develop the Competencies needed to be an Effective Internal Consultant
The role of a consultant is akin to a ‘mothering role’. Like a mother, consultants perform not one role, but a variety of roles that come into play under different circumstances. The more competent a consultant is within each role, the more likely the consultant is to succeed over time.
Below are the roles you must be comfortable functioning in to succeed as a consultant:
- The role of a Grounded Expert. In this capacity, the consultant will be required to combine business-specific and HR expertise to solve the client’s issues. You must possess an in-depth knowledge of the technical and general business landscape to help clients prepare for the opportunities and obstacles they may face.
- The role of a Trusted Advisor. This role will require the consultant to provide reliable advice around the client’s issues. To attain the credibility that is required to be considered as a Trusted Advisor, you will need to present a track record of consistently keeping to commitments and providing valuable guidance.
- The role of a Business Driver. A Business Driver understands how the business works – from creating value for the customer to deploying workable strategies. The consultant as a Business Driver must help clients remain organised and focused on achieving bottom-line results.
- The role of an Insight Observer. The consultant as an Insightful Observer is required to demonstrate dexterity in identifying and communicating the recurring patterns and problems found within the client’s organisation. The client depends on the consultant to use hard data to illuminate the big picture.
- The role of a Committed Partner. Taking responsibility and a willingness to share in accountability for initiatives are key marks of a professional consultant. In your capacity as an internal HR consultant, you must always be your client’s
- The role of a Change Leader. Championing change management initiatives and building the client’s capability to succeed within an altered context are critical functions of the consultant. To be successful in the role of a Change Leader, the consultant must be willing to contest the status quo and inspire others to take action towards a new
In conclusion: The business environment will never stop evolving. From the continuous incursion of globalisation and technology, the unending changes in customers’ expectations, to the lasting impressions of economic recession, change is here to stay. To stay competitive, organisations must evolve at the same rate or risk extinction.
Consequently, business leaders are always in need of objective minds to help them adapt to these changes by identifying problems and executing lasting solutions. Of all the functions in an organisation, HR has the highest potential to lend leaders this support by expanding its competency into the area of problem solving.
Regardless of your current role or life stage, this section has provided you with new insights, but it is up to you to translate these insights into practice in your organization.