The notion of HR as a business partner is now very well established. How it works in practice for the individual HR professional varies from company to company. In larger global organisations HR professionals can be more focused and specialized when in the partnering role as much routine administrative and day to day HR hygiene work is taken over by HRIT systems, service centres or HR help desks. This frees up the HR professional to concentrate on adding value to the business of her or his internal customers. In smaller organisations HR professionals can find themselves operating on many fronts and needing to move adroitly from the detailed operational to the strategic at short notice.
In both cases what will be an important competence for the HR professional is well developed process consulting skills. He or she requires being able to define the need and organize the activities for small scale things and perhaps a more complex set of project plans for large scale things that will deliver the appropriate outcomes for the business.
So what are the key steps in process consulting?
Contracting is about defining the objectives and scope of the project or task including specifying the business case and the business impact. This stage is called contracting as it is about developing a clear agreement (contract) with the internal customer on each of these elements. This includes making sure that you have the commitment of your internal customer to what you propose to do especially when it may be controversial or have outcomes which may be potentially challenging for some. The nature of the contracting process will vary depending on the scale and importance of the project but there should be a minimum documenting of terms of reference as a statement of shared understanding with the project owner. HR can tend to be slow in pinning down senior management on what exactly they expect to be achieved and how they will support the process. Secondly they can also be too deferential to outside suppliers. I remember one case where a financial institution went through a process of defining their leadership development needs driven by an internal project team. When it came to delivery they compromised completely on the program content as the external supplier “did not do that but preferred to do it this way”!
Information Gathering is about investigating to understand the challenges and issues objectively. HR professionals will often have a passive knowledge or even a direct experience of the issues they are being asked to address. However it is important that you investigate the issues with an open mind. A key failing in information gathering is that we are prejudiced by our existing knowledge and fail to gather wider data or information or spot opportunities. One very good example of information gathering is a large multinational who consulted with their senior line management in the process of developing an important leadership program. Come the financial crisis when all investment on training was restricted and a thorough self-study of what the business units needed was completed the outcome was that the business units identified from this process that the leadership program was what they needed and wanted retained and prioritized. The Learning and Development function had made sure to gather information before developing the program so that it matched the need as seen by the business units and it continues to be successful today.
Problem solving is what we do all the time. But do we force ourselves to use any particular models or approaches to ensure that our problem solving is generating the right solutions? How much do we involve and use the brainpower and experience of others to give us new insights on the problem? A simple but effective model to help us in our problem solving is expand, explore, contract, conclude.
Managing Key Stakeholders. Key Stakeholders are anybody who has an interest in the success of the project or who is affected directly or potentially indirectly by the project. We can often assume that because we have the commitment in the terms of reference we have our key stakeholders on board. A significant challenge for HR can be getting the attention of especially senior managers if they are absorbed by the business and have very full agendas. It is important to find opportunities to check that they are still on board and that there have not been some developments in the business or elsewhere which is throwing a new light on the project. Business leaders especially if they are at another location can move quite significantly in their thinking and may forget to tell you. How often do you check in with your key stakeholders and review the project and its progress?
Communicating and Reporting. This is very much about keeping a regular flow of information to all key stakeholders and interest groups. If we don’t communicate often less desirable interpretations take over in the vacuum. Regular reporting also ensures that key players are up to speed especially when they may have wider constituencies that they need to manage who may be impacted by the project.
Implementing. Making it happen is critical for the credibility of HR. The challenges and issues can be different in different organisations. In larger organisations you may have more narrow and specialised focus and can dedicate more active time. The challenges come from more people who need to be engaged and systems that need to work. The very visible world-wide example at present is the Obamacare website. Despite having the resources and one would guess correct competencies they are still missing important delivery deadlines. In smaller organisations the challenge is focus to get things delivered as the HR professionals are carrying a wider range of tasks and responsibilities. And then there is the unexpected. A very good example of this is one client organisation that is rolling out a performance management system. All the training plans are in place with managers booked for specific workshops. Quite a bit of work! But now it has all to be moved as the supplier failed to deliver on time. HR professionals do need to be sensitive to making things happen. Their credibility and therefore ability to persuade at future points is quite dependent on it.
Reviewing, Exiting and Moving On. The two key elements here for the HR professional is taking the time to review what just happened and learn from it. The pace and volume of things to be done often leads us to take short cuts and drop things that may not have a direct impact now. But if we don’t learn from our experiences we are doomed to repeat history. Secondly, we do need to move on. If the project or change cannot survive without us we have inherited an additional monkey on our back as opposed to making it self-sustaining. We need to let go not matter how interesting it is or how much we like being involved in it. If it is not our primary delivery responsibility we need to let go so we can focus on the other things that will make a difference.
HR professionals are already very well skilled. Adding more competence in each of these areas enables you to have a more powerful positive impact.