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Dave Foxall The Quick-Start Guide to HRMS Consultant Selection

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 By Dave Foxall

How to Select an HR Software Consultant

Recently, a 2011 report from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) entitled "Transforming HR Through Technology" has noted a development in the HR skillset: "Organizations will need HR staff members who can work effectively with external vendors and consultants to implement and upgrade software and evaluate implications of new software initiatives." Indeed, when it comes to high-impact software such as HR Management Systems (HRMS), the hiring of consultants for all aspects of the software selection and implementation process is becoming increasingly common; in large part due to consultants' abilities to accelerate and drive HR software return-on-investment (ROI), while at the same time reducing risk. But to succeed and make the most of your consultant investment, it's imperative to apply rigor and process in order to select the consultant with the right skills, software expertise and cultural fit, among other things. After all, if, according to the SHRM—dealing with consultants is now a core HR skill, then that includes the hiring process.

The Essential Steps in HRMS Consultant Selection

Having taken the decision to hire a consultant, the process is essentially similar to any other recruitment exercise or even the process by which the HRMS software itself will be selected:

  1. From the HR software business case, identify the various project tasks. Also categorize tasks into the type of core skill set required—be it project management, change management, software technology, etc.
  2. Make an honest assessment of what tasks can be managed in-house. This assessment is a question of both skills/experience and availability.
  3. Devise a gap analysis that itemizes the variations between items #1 and #2. This gap analysis can then dovetail into a detailed RFP (request for proposal).
  4. SHRM's advice is that proposals based on the RFP should at least contain structural and financial information about the consultancy, references from previous clients, the proposed services and deliverables, costing, and a timeline.
  5. Invite a short list of HR software consultant candidates to pitch their proposals. Again, SHRM's guidance suggests the following questions be vetted: "Does the consultant fully understand our project needs and potential obstacles to completion? Does the consultant have the experience and expertise to be able to effectively address our needs? Will the consultant's work style be appropriate for our organization? Are the individuals who will be working with the consultant comfortable with him or her?"
  6. Following evaluation of the options, communicate the decision and commence preparatory briefing with the chosen consultant. It's often a good ideal to discuss tasks allocation in advance of the project kick-off.

Of course the above elements only represent one facet of the HR software consultant selection process, and as such, during the selection process certain additional issues must also be kept in mind.

HRMS Consultant Selection Issue #1: The Right Price

Although engaging an HR software consultant is an extra expense in what is often primarily a cost-cutting exercise, Phenix Management International points out that, "The cost of the expert guidance provided by a consultant may well be offset by minimizing the risk of project failure and by realizing the savings to be derived from the system at an earlier date." Inexpertly-managed HRMS implementations can see their costs spiral out of control as insufficient planning leads to project delays, inadequate training, push-backs of the go-live date and procrastinated user adoption after the go-live event. However, the mere presence of an expert consultant is not enough to control the budget. The organization and the consultant must agree on the project scope, project management discipline and remediation factors for non-compliance before the project ever begins. Further, the consultant along with company representatives must team to relentlessly manage the project plan down to an activity level for status, real-time progress, or immediate alert to scope, cost, quality or time deviations. Only when such rigor is applied to a sophisticated HR software implementation project will the company achieve forecasted results. And only when this rigor is planned in advance, with the consultant participation, can the consultant provide an accurate price for his or her services. Whether billed as a fixed project price or on a time and materials basis, clarity on project scope is essential to getting clarity on consultant investment.

HRMS Consultant Selection Issue #2: The Right Company

Although the organization will mostly be dealing with an individual consultant, consideration must also be given to the consultancy firm itself – projects are unpredictable and success may not depend on a sole individual.

  • Is HRMS implementation the consultants speciality or an add-on service?
  • Who are the consulting company's clients (SMB's, enterprise companies, global companies)?
  • Does the consultant have deep product expertise with the HR software product to be implemented?
  • What are the contingency plans within the firm should the appointed consultant become unavailable?
  • Does the consulting firm have adequate bench strength if my primary consultant becomes unavailable?

As for consulting company size, the pros and cons are finely balanced. Large firms may offer stability and broader technical expertise; whereas smaller firms may place more senior professionals on the project and offer a more flexible approach and a greater degree of personal attention. As such, be sure to carefully assess the exact needs your organization has in order to maximize what the benefit of each of these approaches may be for your company.

HRMS Consultant Selection Issue #3: The Right Individual

From an HRMS consultant best practices perspective, HR software consultants must, of course, possess the requisite skills and knowledge (and in particular a solid understanding of the HRMS market landscape) and be credible with the client organization's C-level executives. However, he or she must also be able to demonstrate a degree of rapport with the broader organization – especially with regard to culture and future strategic directions. A prime example of this comes from a client company response in the HR Outsourcing Association's 2011 survey, "Are You Ready for RPO?—and is as relevant to HRMS consultants as it is to recruitment process outsourcing. Specifically, the study highlighted that "We were happy to hear how a provider could improve how we work but not change it… the provider needed to mirror our culture. Providers who came in and tried to change our approach failed." HR software consultants that work against long-standing corporate cultures inevitably frustrate all involved. This isn't to suggest that companies don't need to change, but change implemented within the recognized culture will occur more timely and with less anxiety.

HRMS Consultant Selection Issue #4: References

Client references are an essential part of the HR consultant selection process and the dialogue with former consultant clients should be in-depth, exploring the scope of past projects, budget performance, to what degree the anticipated business benefits of the HRMS were achieved, what problems arose and how the consultant and the consultancy addressed them, etc. This stage is vital to forming a fuller picture of both the company and the individual before entrusting them with a large, business-transforming project. Additionally, as Phenix point out, "Most companies do not advertise their failures so you may have to take advantage of networking opportunities to ask the tough questions."

HR Software Consultant Selection – The Bottom Line

As in any selection – of services, products or talent – a structured process reduces risk and leads to a predicted outcome. Time invested to find the right project partner can result in selecting a better HR software product and achieving a smoother implementation, which ultimately results in accelerated time to value, achievement of slated objectives and payback on your HR software investment. End

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As in any selection – of services, products or talent – a structured process reduces risk and leads to a predictable outcome.


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