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What do you look for when hiring an HR consulting firm?
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November 8, 2019

At some point all organizations may benefit from the expertise of an HR consulting firm. A start up may need someone on-call to lend a helping hand when needed. An HR department of one may need help with a compensation study. AND even a large organization with a team of HR professionals could benefit from an extra set of hands and deep expertise for a technology deployment or succession planning effort. With 43,000* HR consulting firms in the US, how do you know where to begin. When looking for an HR consulting firm, consider these areas.

Small vs. Large

HR consulting firms come in a variety of sizes with some being smaller and local and others being larger with a global presence. As the owner of a small firm, I recommend you consider a smaller local firm if you’re looking for deep expertise in a particular HR challenge or industry. Smaller firms also tend to be more flexible and because of deep expertise, may solve your complex problems more creatively. While large consulting firms have a significant number of consultants, they also have multiple layers which drives up operating costs. The boutique firm will have much lower operating costs translating to more competitive pricing.

Questions to ask:

  • What are your service offerings?
  • What can you tell me about your consultants’ level of expertise?
  • Who will I be working with on this engagement?

Understanding Business and Talent Strategy

In today’s growing knowledge economy, people power your business and HR consultants must have a firm understanding of how business and talent intersect. In a recent study, 69% of CEOs surveyed said they need some help or extensive help on talent strategy and 64% on business strategy.* If your business strategy includes operating more efficiently by eliminating duplicative processes, your HR consulting partner needs to have experience in organizational analysis, design and development systems. AND understand labor costs as they craft solutions.

Questions to ask:

  • What can you tell me about other organizations you have worked with who have had a similar challenge?
  • How much experience does your team have with business strategy?
  • How do your consultants balance business needs with talent needs?

Ability to Handle all Aspects

Talent strategy encompasses everything from setting up the right organizational design to culture and executive team alignment. When looking for consultants, you’ll want to ensure that they can handle a variety of interventions. CEOs are looking for help with leadership development, employee performance and pre-hire selection.* If you’re looking for help with a retention initiative – culture, managers and employee development all come together to create an engaged workforce. You’ll want to choose a consultant with expertise in all three areas for maximum benefit.

Questions to ask:

  • What type of expertise does your firm have with talent strategy?
  • Tell me about the talent strategies that you’ve developed that have had successful outcomes. Why were they successful?
  • Tell me about talent strategies that you’ve developed that were unsuccessful. Why didn’t they work?

Proven Systems and Customized Approaches

Today’s CEOs and business owners are looking for results – yesterday. In some cases, proven systems may be a better approach than taking the time to develop a customized intervention. Look for a consultant that provides both custom and systematic options. From the basic blocking and tackling of a handbook to a complex leadership development program, best practices and systems are available. For example, SHRM offers a variety of templates for handbooks, policies and procedures. DISC, MBTI, John Maxwell’s leadership program and Vistage’s coaching framework certify consultants to deliver their proven programs and methodologies.

Questions to ask:

  • In which programs are your consultants certified?
  • Tell me about a time when you suggested a customized solution rather than a established program.
  • How will I know that the intervention you’re suggesting will work for my organization?

Support After the Engagement

Have you ever had a new appliance installed and after the technician leaves, you can’t remember a step and the owner’s manual is confusing? You could try to find a YouTube video to help, call the person who sold you the appliance or track down the technician. If your organization is moving to a new technology platform, you’ll want to understand what support will be available after the “go live”. Look for consultants that include this as a part of their agreement and understand the particulars. Also, you don’t want to be in a situation where the consulting firm has all of the knowledge. You need internal people trained to carry on.

Questions to ask:

  • What type of support will I receive once the implementation is complete?
  • What is the strategy for transferring knowledge to someone in the organization?
  • If we have challenges once the engagement is complete, who will we contact and what are the fees?

Choosing the right HR consulting firm should mirror choosing the right employees for your organization including a cultural fit. If the consulting team will be interacting with your employees, you want them to share similar cultural attributes. AND don’t forget to on-board consultants just as you would a new employee.

* IBIS World: HR Consulting Industry in the US – Market Research Report

Leesa Schipani

Leesa Schipani

Author

With 20+ years HR experience, her focus includes HR strategy, talent management, and customer & employee experience. Leesa has advanced HR certifications: SPHR, SHRM-SCP.

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KardasLarson is a human resources and business consulting firm that maximizes employee performance so people and organizations prosper.

 

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