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Micah Fairchild 4 "Worst Practices" for Choosing an HR Software Consultant

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 By Micah Fairchild

What NOT To Do When Choosing an HR Technology Consultant

Just about every website dealing with HR technology, HRM (Human Resource Management) software, or human capital solutions has a healthy amount of space dedicated to "HR best practices" (Heck, even I've written my own fair share of best practice articles). Most of this "practice" space is actually backed up with supporting evidence, whether it be driven by common sense or empirical data; however, other "best practice" advisory offerings ring more like poorly-developed commercials—stating the equivalent of… "Buy Brand X…Trust us, it's a best practice!" Regardless of the caliber of the "best practice" advice though, decidedly absent from the discussion are "worst practices"—especially when it comes to settling on an HR software consultant. To remedy that serious injustice, here is HRLab's Top 4 "Worst Practices" for choosing an HR software consultant.

Worst Practice # 1: Base Decisions on References Provided by the Consultant

If there is one truth you can say about consulting, it's that the hype that surrounds references veritably eclipses their utility. This has been fairly well-established on the Talent Acquisition side of the HR house through countless years of asking applicants to provide names and phone #s of at least 3 references. Only on the rarest occasion will a reference have something negative to say, let alone helpful to the decision-making process. As such, rather than simply relying on the references provided by the consultant (or consulting firm), try one (or both) of these methods:

  1. Ask for non-indicated contact references from the references that have been given by the consultant;
  2. Ask for a list of contacts for all customers and randomly select from the list the references that will be used.

Worst Practice # 2: Buy In To the Consultant Bait & Switch

We've all got employees that are stellar and employees that are average (likely even some that are flat-out bad), that's just the nature of the game. Organizations need to understand though, that this same principle applies to HR consulting firms and not just the rest of us. Put yourself in the shoes of an HR consultancy that's trying to land your business—who are you going to parade around as an example? Your Top Dog Consultant? Or your Average Joe Consultant? Of course, you would send the employee that is most likely to land you the business (i.e. the "bait"). Now, who will the consulting work actually be assigned to? Top Dog's Team? Or Average Joe's Team? If the account isn't a high-dollar or high-profile one, chances are, Top Dog and his/her team will be sitting this one out (i.e. the "switch").

Unfortunately, far too many organizations enter into an HR software consulting relationship only to discover later that a firm's consultants can be rearranged, redistributed, or even removed from a project at the firm's discretion. Worse yet, an organization goes into an agreement and finds out after the fact that the consultant that "fit" with their team during initial talks won't be working on their project at all. Protect yourself during the HR selection process by making sure crystal-clear language is in the contract about a) which consultants will be working on your project; b) the manner in which those consultants can be removed from your project; and c) the concessions the firm will make to compensate for any additional project hiccups caused by the consultant's absence.

Worst Practice # 3: Think Consulting Firm Size is the Only Thing That Matters

Many organizations falsely believe that the number of consultants on a firm's bankroll acts as a proxy for how well client support or expertise will be delivered. While it is true that larger consulting companies will have a greater array of resources at their disposal than the "mom-and-pop" outfits or boutique shops, keep in mind that their size matters little when it comes to consulting. In large part this is due to the fact that consulting relationships revolve around deliverables and organizational "fit", and finding those elements are what will make a consulting association worthwhile—not company size.

For instance, a smaller software company might need in depth knowledge on how to manage change for software engineers, while breadth into Salesperson behavior could be a non-starter. On the other hand, a multi-national corporation could need both breadth and depth for a host of positions for an organization-wide roll-out of the next HRM system. Because every organization is unique, the needs that a consultant will satisfy will be unique as well. Hence, make sure all deciding factors are looked at carefully. This advice goes double when considering the cost of bringing on a consultant—high prices don't necessarily translate into better results and vice versa.

Worst Practice # 4: Assume HR Consultants' Answers & Don't Ask Questions

No matter whether you're interviewing a boutique or one of the Big 4 consulting firms, the fact is that questions should always be asked and no answer should be left to assumptions. This advice applies to market leaders and laggards alike and ultimately means that you can't be afraid to ask any question—no matter how unintelligent you might feel in asking it. That being said, given the fact that the answers to these questions could be the deciding selection factor, certain questions flat out have to be asked. Specifically,

  • What are your credentials? (e.g. 6 Sigma, PMP, etc.)
  • How much experience do you (or your firm) bring to this project area? (Remember "Worst Practice" Point #2!)
  • Tell us about a time when you worked on a similar project for a similar company?
  • Tell us how you will manage change for our staff?
  • Tell us how you will manage our expectations?
  • Explain how we will achieve ROI by selecting you? (hint: you're looking for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, and Time-bound criteria here)

Choosing an HR Consultant Conclusion

Working with a consultant for your organization's next HR software implementation project can be fraught with issues; from not having enough expertise to not having the right cultural fit, and from not getting a straight answer from a reference to not asking the right questions. Steering clear of the above "worst practices" though, is a step in the right direction. Remember, HR software implementations of this sort may obligate your organization for years to come, or at least incur lost time and money if required to make a switch, so it's important that each element of the selection process (including choosing a consultant to help) be carefully thought out and objectively measured. End

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Far too many organizations enter into an HR software consulting relationship only to discover later that a firm's consultants can be rearranged, redistributed, or even removed from a project at the firm's discretion."


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