What to expect from your human resources consultant - Skills

What to expect from your human resources consultant - Skills

In our first installment, we discussed expertise as a quality to look for in a human resources consultant. In this installment we’ll look at the skill sets you might be calling upon. Before you begin your search for a consultant, identify the skill set you need. Here are some examples:

•    Sleuth. Very often the employer is very good at identifying symptoms of the underlying problem - high turnover, declining productivity and faltering compliance are examples. Often these symptoms are assumed to be the problem. Sometimes they are, but usually not. A critical skill set to look for in your human resource consultant is the ability to surface and identify the underlying problems in the operation affecting the people. This relatively unique skill requires objectivity, compassion, an innate ability to listen and a facility for understanding the situation in the context of the company’s culture. It is not a checklist skill. Often the problems are layered and complex - they do involve human beings after all - and the skill required to identify and isolate the cause is a characteristic of a truly gifted consultant.

•     Teach. Sometimes, the skill you need most is the ability to teach. Training is the obvious example. Management training, safety training, performance management training are all typical services requiring the ability to teach. But effective delivery of the training message or required change requires special skills and techniques. An example here is remedial training for owners and officers. It is not uncommon for an owner or officer to need remedial training on sensitive subjects like sexual harassment. While this is a teaching skill, it requires deft skills to achieve sincere participation by the person being trained. Another situation requiring unique training skills is when a business decides for the first time to appoint a director of human resources or build a human resources department for the first time. In this case the subjects being taught are broader. The consultant must teach not only the administration of policies and procedures but also the appropriate role of human resources in the company and the politics of achieving influence and accountability within the organization.

•     Team Player. An effective consultant must have the ability to be a team player. If you will be relying on a consultant as an outsourced human resources department or if the consultant is there to supplement the skills of your in-house human resources staff, the consultant must be able to communicate effectively with everyone from the executive suite to the shop floor. And, they must be able to integrate their performance into the ebb and flow of the workplace. 

•     Leader. Some tasks will require that the consultant be an effective leader. In many cases, the consultant will be expected to lead because the company is undergoing change. Closing a location, acquiring another company, opening a new location or expanding to a new country are all events of change where the human resources function can and should play a pivotal role. Other, less dramatic, change where your human resources consultant should be expected to be a leader include the adoption of a broad policy change or managing change within the company.

•     Creative. Creativity is a skill that is growing in importance. In staffing and recruiting for example, success is rarely going to be achieved by just posting and superficially reviewing resumes. The valuable consultant will be the one that is creative in using contemporary tools to fulfill the company human resource needs. Today, more than ever, doing things the way they’ve always been done or doing them the way everyone else does will rarely serve the company’s best interest.

Obviously, if you need a human resources consultant to complete forms or process applications, you won’t need these skills. But if you want the human resource function to contribute to the growth and welfare of the company, a combination of some or all of these skills is not only important but also necessary.