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Dave Foxall Key Principles for Managing the HR Software Consultant Relationship

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 By Dave Foxall

Managing the HR Software Consultant Relationship for Maximum Results

Dr. Philip Kotler, regarded by many as one of the world's top business thinkers, has this to say on the topic of consultants: "The most important skill is client relationship management." While this is undoubtedly the case for the consultant, it should be understood that the reverse is equally true for the client organization. In fact, those employees working in partnership with an HR software consultant (such as the project manager) are in incredibly close and influential contact, and as such need to consider how exactly best to practice management of the HR technology consultant relationship.

Indeed, the organization may have hired a HR technology consultant because in-house employees lack particular skills, time, or both. However, having externally acquired this expertise, it should be noted that these professional services (like any other resource) must be leveraged fully. Following a number of key principles allows a mutually beneficial consultancy relationship, resulting in maximum value for the organization.

HR Software Consultant Relationship Principle #1: Be hands on

An organization whose project manager adopts a laissez-faire role is handing over too much responsibility to the HCM consultant. Mike Myatt of N2growth offers his clear opinion: "You need to manage the [consultant] and the process to the best possible outcome and this cannot be accomplished with a passive management style". Myatt goes on to highlight that, "You can either manage the engagement process or let it manage you. Make sure the HR software project deliverables are clearly understood, and that a plan with benchmarks, milestones and deadlines is put forth outlining how to reach said deliverables." However, hands on does not imply holding the consultant back – a good project manager uses his or her organizational knowledge to be a steering wheel and not a brake.

HR Software Consultant Relationship Principle #2: Monitoring and review

Conducting regular meetings with the consultant, project manager, and other relevant stakeholders allows for process review, priority-focused briefing, scope/remit checking, budget review, off-the-record discussions and resource monitoring of progress. While meeting frequency depends on the scope and timetables of the HR application project, weekly meetings tend to limit the degree of any slippage. This approach leads to genuine agility within the project management process, and allows for quick, course-corrective responses as needed.

HR Software Consultant Relationship Principle #3: Written reporting

Face-to-face meetings are effective but nothing concentrates the mind like a requirement to produce a written report on progress. As Tim Bryce at suggests, "The two most obvious ways to manage consultants is by having them prepare routine status reports and project time reports". These reports Bryce cites, "should be produced on a weekly basis and detail what the consultant has produced for the past week and detail his/her plans for the coming week". With regular meetings (point #2) it may be that written reports for a given HCM technology project can be produced less often, but it is critical that the organization should be the one to review, approve, act upon and file all such reports accordingly.

HR Software Consultant Relationship Principle #4: Parking of non-critical issues

As the HR software project proceeds, new ideas may emerge (e.g. new customizations, additional system integrations, etc.) from both the consultant and in-house stakeholders. However, as Clay Scroggin of warns, "Make sure you don't get off track with work that is outside the scope of the project". Demonstrating early successes and quick time to value is generally critical. The longer the deployment period, the greater the risk of implementation failure and the further elusive your ROI becomes. Organizations should be cognizant that getting the HCM system up and running and staff trained is the most important thing. As Scroggin puts it, "push off anything extra or [nice-to-haves] until the basics are completed."

HR Software Consultant Relationship Principle #5: Expect ethical behavior

While there is no reason to imagine unethical behaviour would take place within the client/consultant relationship, one of the worst HR consultant practices an organization can commit is to remain unaware of the consulting industry standards that are in place. For example, the Institute of Management Consultants USA outlines its requirements as including:

  • Safeguarding confidential information.
  • Rendering impartial, independent advice.
  • Accepting only those client engagements they are qualified to perform.
  • Agreeing with the client in advance on the basis for professional charges.
  • Developing realistic and practical solutions to client problems.

Discussing these issues up front and in the open during the HR consultant selection process can avoid surprises later.

HR Software Consultant Relationships – The Bottom Line

In the end, managing the HR software consultant relationship can be brought under the umbrella of being mindful of the consultant's time; not only because any wasting of that time causes delays to the actual HCM technology project, but also because it has a direct cost implication. As Fieldstone Alliance's Carol Lukas, says: "remember, the meter is running; use the consultant's time wisely." End

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Conducting regular meetings with the consultant, project manager, and other relevant stakeholders allows for process review, priority-focused briefing, scope/remit checking, budget review, off-the-record discussions and resource monitoring of progress.


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