The Art of HR Consulting: Ten Skills That Matter

Globally, the HR consulting market is estimated to be more than USD 30 billion. It is spread over various segments of consulting like HR Strategy, compensation & benefits, organizational development and change, talent management, HR analytics, HR technology, learning & leadership development, etc. Such a vast market is served by established consulting firms, boutique firms that focus on specific areas, management institutions /B-schools, and individual consultants who have one or two areas of expertise to offer.

 

I have worked with two major HR consulting firms — EY and People Business. The top 10 skills for HR consulting are based on my experience working as a consultant with more than 70 organizations and best practices in consulting.

#1: Problem Solving

 

Clients articulate their problems in many ways, such as:

 

a) Our employees are not happy with the performance management system.

b) Management would like to have a better performance culture in the firm.

c) Employee attrition is very high. We need to sort this out.

d) We are not able to attract the right talent.

e) We need to make our salary structure more tax-friendly.

f) We need to have a succession plan in place.

g) We need to digitize our HR practices.

 

Here, the consultant’s skill is to have a solution approach that aligns with the problem at hand. For example, if it is an issue of attracting the right talent, an employer branding solution might help. The consultant must also have to explain his approach’s rationale. This brings us to the next skill.

 

#2: Knowledge Application

 

While having rich functional knowledge is imperative, the skills lie in its application to the solution. For example, while the consultant would have read or understood about employer branding, the ability to enumerate the various steps with case studies will be an important step to convince the client about the solution offered. Often, the client will also ask if a similar solution worked with any other clients.

 

#3: Adept Educator

 

While it’s important to put up the right solution, it’s also essential to understand that clients have their own perceptions, biases, and even their own opinion about a solution. A consultant’s skill is to educate the client about the optimum solution, which may involve multiple steps, and might also require a particular specific timeframe for completion. A good consultant should be able to blend the clients’ interests and an optimum solution. Growing in consulting ability to educate the client and making them think beyond their biases is a great strength.

 

#4: Facilitation

 

Many times, a consultant works with a group of stakeholders at the client site. This requires the facilitation of group discussions, workshops, training the client groups, etc. Definite ability to communicate, understand group dynamics, and facilitate learning, along with the confidence to deliver are skills that hugely benefit HR consultants.

 

#5: Leading Teams

Consulting is hectic, and your team is your biggest support. As their coach and competent leader, you must engage them and keep them on a path of excellence and learning. It is important to understand and leverage each team member’s strength. While one team member may be an excellent conceptualizer, another may be good at delivery, and yet another may possess good facilitation skills. Some members may have commendable project management skills, while others might excel in solution sales. You will see that oftentimes, not more than two to three skills are found in a single consultant.

 

#6: Networking and Influencing

 

Building a network is an essential aspect of success as you grow in the consulting profession. Establishing a credible proposition to the network is indispensable. A consultant needs to prove himself/herself as a thought leader who can institute networks that matter. It is crucial to note that any relationship should be founded on a win-win proposition. Effectively spending time on professional networking forums or events also helps. The key to success is developing relationships that are for the long term - any business is just incidental.

 

#7: Learning Agility

 

Industries and firms are growing at a rapid pace, so is the HR profession. New methods and practices are getting introduced, and clients expect their consultants to be aware of these. A good consultant is always seeking opportunities to learn and apply various emerging aspects that are happening in the field. You need to not only be research-oriented but also learn constantly about different industries, businesses, organizational contexts, and new solutions. There are no readymade solutions in many cases.

 

#8: Pragmatic Solutions

 

Irrespective of the many concepts and tools that are trending, a consultant should provide a solution that actually meets the client’s needs. One needs skills to customize solutions and also only deliver what makes sense to the client. Create solutions that will solve the customer’s issues and show business results. Simply put, a well-implemented pragmatic solution is far better than an ideal solution on the shelf.

 

#9: Managing Oneself

 

As a consultant, you’re expected to travel quite a bit, work simultaneously with multiple clients, research, guide the team, and make high-stakes presentations. Good consultants should be able to manage their time and also prioritize and organize themselves well.

 

#10: Sales Skills

 

All said and done, you are selling your ideas, knowledge, and solutions. Therefore, it is important that you establish your credibility as somebody who can add value. The ability to strike a conversation with the client as an equal is critical in selling solutions. In my experience, consulting sales is about knowledge sharing and a lot of patience.

 


 

Dr Sandeep K Krishnan is the Senior Partner, People Business and Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad for the course “Making of a CEO”. Formerly, he has worked with organizations like IBM, Infosys, Ernst and Young, and RPG. As a consultant, he has led large assignments in the areas of leadership development, talent management, and employer branding with both public and private sector organizations.

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