Careers in HR consulting are changing and the skills demanded for the job are becoming more varied. Much of this is down to human resources work moving away from the bureaucratic bogged-down administrative functions and becoming more integrated into business strategy.
This shift is demonstrated by the change in emphasis both within consulting firms themselves and attitudes in the market.
“We don’t have a separate HR function,” says Mark Gaunt, director at TCA Consulting. The firm’s policy is to make sure that human resources is part of its own management team and integrated into the business.
Says Gaunt: “You have to have managers who are skilled in HR. And they need the personnel skills to be in-line with the overall strategy of the firm.”
TCA Consulting takes the view that employees are in the driving seat because of the huge demand for staff and the flourishing contract market.
Firms have to work harder to ensure that their staff are satisfied and offer them the types of training and career programmes that help them fulfil their personal aims. TCA goes as far as bringing in external human resource consultants to ensure that its consultants have the right career guidance.
“Firms have to make sure that there is a coaching function, which manages people and fires them up. Otherwise they treat their work as the job they are currently doing as opposed to the direction they really want to go,” says Gaunt. “The contract market has put extra pressures on HR and consultancies to establish and manage staff development programmes.”
The consulting firm has spent time and money mentoring and training its people and the results are evident in a low attrition rate.
“Our people are in demand and sought after in the market so we have to cherish them,” says Gaunt.
More and more people are taking up careers in HR consultancy, Gaunt says, because they can develop both their own skills and those of other people.
He emphasises that firms are beginning to understand the importance of the word “people” rather than “personnel” or even “human resource”.
“At an HR conference I attended, the speaker was talking about one of the big issues in business being a lack of resources and someone said: ‘don’t you mean people?’ They are our people or your people not resources,” says Gaunt.
Based on his experience of the needs of HR within business teams at TCA, Gaunt understands the growing importance of linking HR management to all aspects of employee needs and as a result the growth of careers in HR consulting.
He says: “In the future I see it becoming less of a personnel type function and supporting the business function.”
He emphasises the need to find the right people with the right skills to support that change. He says firms must understand that the HR function does not need to be a separate function, but that HR consultants can be part of the business team to help train, educate, motivate staff and manage their careers.
“If people are not happy and motivated, it has a direct bottom-line impact,” he says.
What firms need today are HR consultants who can help them identify career opportunities for their people; who can train up staff in management and within business teams to counsel, mentor, train, develop and maintain the appraisal process.
But the role of the HR consultant does not stop there. It is growing in size and in importance.
Richard Finn, director responsible for HR, change management and the people budget at Crane Davies, believes that the role of HR consultants is changing dramatically and that there are not enough people in the business who have the skills to fulfil the new demands of the HR role.
“It is a question of finding an HR animal at a high level who has strategic competencies,” Finn says. “People are being recruited by one of those skills, either HR or business strategy. We tend to recruit people from strategic consultancies and HR, then we give them the consulting competence or the HR training. So there is quite a lot of growing that needs to be done once the person is recruited.”
The training period is long and can take from six months to a year before a consultant is fully versed in the new HR/business skills needed to work on the sorts of assignments that the firms undertake.
“I think there is a shortage of this kind of person. And people who fit the bill won’t have any problems in finding work,” he says. “Our clients have recognised the need for HR/business consultancy skills, but what they have not got is the people with the right skill sets to satisfy their requirements and support them in their strategic investment decisions.”
After starting with 24 people 12 months ago, the firm has recruited 10 people into this area over the last year. Finn believes that Crane Davies illustrates the new trend towards employing the strategic HR consultant.
“In the area of HR consultancy as opposed to change management and strategy, our workload has doubled both in terms of the number of consultants we have working on HR assignments and the projects themselves,” he says.
“We were working on seven assignments last year, now we have 15.”
He says HR consultancy now is all about moving mundane transactions to more value-added strategic activities. But the shortfall of HR/business strategy professionals in the market is a direct result of the personnel teachings in the UK.
“The trend towards partnership roles means new skills are required.
But that is not what UK HR training does,” Finn says.
“The Institute of Personnel Development (IPD) is predicated on the old model and creates people who are good at transactions, compensations and benefits. There are not many strategy-driven HR people out there.”
People moving into strategic HR consultancy will be required more and more to understand and demonstrate the value-added side of HR and how that can be integrated into other business areas.
“The competency-driven HR model is still very popular, but when organisations integrate all their HR processes with selection, management, reward, training and development processes, IT and business strategy, it makes a more effective model,” Finn says. “It makes you go towards your strategy and gives you all the competencies you need.”
In today’s climate consultants need to be able to design skill sets that help individuals to do their job well in the context of organisational strategy. The focus is not just on the individual now, but moving towards team and organisational strategy, so the new breed of strategy consultant needs to have a greater understanding of the needs of business: from investment needs to mergers and acquisitions to developmental needs.
So the market is ripe for bringing people from industry into the strategic HR/business consultancy arena because they have a knowledge of business requirements. Hay Management Consultants likes its recruits to have at least five years’ experience in industry, so that they have an understanding of business processes and more importantly have a capacity to empathise with clients. One of the foundations for becoming a consultant at Hay is understanding progressive company structures and being able to apply that to HR consultancy in public and private sector work is key. But while that is important as an entry requirement, once in the firm career development is much more flexible and depends very much on the individual.
Broadly speaking how consultants develop is their choice. There is no particular pattern in HR consulting at Hay, says head of HR Julia Warren.
Consultants have the opportunity to work in all the consultancy areas, industry sectors and service lines or choose a combination. They can go into line management as well.
Progressing rapidly up the firm’s career structure is a basic requirement, and Warren cites the example of one female consultant who came in as a senior consultant and made it to associate director in three years.
“HR careers are changing because there is an awful lot happening in the organisational change area. It is important that consultants understand the business change area, coupled with people issues that link into that,” Warren says. “Hay has very strong experience in the reward side of things, but there is growing emphasis on the people issues that arise from large organisations. So the work our consultants are doing is much broader than work done in the past.”
Under the new market demands developing consultants with the right skills is a challenge. It requires an understanding of behavioural aspects of teams and how they work together.
“What really matters to people is that they have a good relationship with others at work and with managers,” says Hilary Scarlett, who is in charge of the change theme team at Smythe Dorward Lambert.
She says that there is a growing awareness among firms, including the Big Six, of the need to talk about behavioural styles, although, she says, this is still not accepted at senior levels in some firms yet.
But things are changing and, according to Managing People in the Current Climate, a Hay survey of 58 firms in 1997, over a third of those surveyed introduced an internal consultancy role to their HR/personnel function and another 18 per cent are considering following suit.
Whatever change programmes firms are intent on implementing, none will really succeed unless there is a change in people’s behaviours throughout the organisation.
“This is where so many change programmes don’t meet their objectives,” Scarlett says.
“We help clients to be aware of their own leadership styles and broaden their range of styles so that they are equipped to deal with different audiences and help managers in firms think about what they need to think about,” she adds.
At Smythe Dorward Lambert, consultants focus on learning how to deal with behavioural change, and analyse the visions of organisations and the sorts of behaviours that will motivate staff and impact the bottom-line.
Communicating issues about pay and change are now central to the role of an HR strategy consultant. And the capability to work with top managers on leadership and style issues and succession planning is key if consultants are to provide an integrated HR/business strategy service.
“It is a very exciting time for firms and the HR consultant is in the ideal position to be the person who drives through behavioural aspects of team working,” she says. “There is more opportunity to play a greater role in change programmes and it falls to them to be part of the team.”
Reengineering and cost-cutting has been top of the business agenda for many mature firms over the last 10 years; now HR has taken its place.
HR in consultancy today is about getting involved in the creation of business strategy, in the people culture and core company organisation systems, all of which are designed to reinforce business strategy.
“HR consultancy is on a roll. The only place left to turn is the people area. And the spotlight is on moving from cost-cutting programmes to saying ‘let’s make sure we are understand the value-added we are giving’, like managing areas like people,” says Finn.
He adds: “HR is saying that it has not been adding much value, so it is now demanding a wider agenda.”
Outsourcing is just the ticket for BA
Capita Ras, part of the Capita Group, has been working with British Airways over the past year to deliver outsourced recruitment administration and assessment services within its IT and telesales areas.
The programme, which involves sending out information, handling applications, assessments, interviews and follow-ups, deals with the recruitment of up to 1,000 staff a year across both these areas.
The aim of the BA contract with Capita RAS was to help free-up the time of BA’s in-house HR people to concentrate on more strategic elements of their work, but ensure that the high calibre of people appointed to BA was maintained. Some 5,000 to 7,000 people are appointed each year.
A high candidate response rate to BA – approximately 4,000 applications a month – meant the creation of an outsourced application response centre in Basingstoke, headed by a Capita Ras’ senior recruitment consultant.
“This a trend which is increasingly being taken by large organisations who have heavy recruitment and assessment needs, either due to organisational growth, a reluctance to increase the sizes of in-house central support teams, or a need to recruit quickly, effectively and efficiently due to the traditional higher than average staff turnover,” says Judith Hatch, director responsible for recruitment and new projects at Capita RAS.
According to Hatch, large firms want partner/suppliers to get involved in initial feasibility studies about how to deliver HR in a new way.
Firms now require a consultative sales approach both in the private sector and increasingly in local government.
She says firms are employing qualified HR consultants to help with resource planning, development strategies, competency definition, job evaluation, assessment and selection methodology and performance management. In addition, firms want the consultancy findings to be implemented and the administrative work to be outsourced.
Hay collaborates with Willis Corroon on HR integration policy
Hay Management Consultants has been working with 10,000-strong global insurance brokers Willis Corroon, helping the firm to develop an integrated human resources/business strategy.
“Over the last 18 months we have designed, developed and had agreed a fully integrated HR strategy based upon strategic selection tools, assessment centres, new performance management systems, 360 degree developmental processes, new career succession and planning techniques,” says Steve Maycock, Willis Corroon group human resources director. “We have three competency models and these three models are the basis of all we are doing.”
Maycock was hired two years ago to analyse business needs and develop an integrated HR/business strategy. He believes that, together with Hay, the firm has now established the building blocks for developing the right skill sets and behaviours to grow the type of insurance risk consultancy and advisory firm that its clients are demanding.
The new competency models will help Willis Corroon to migrate towards its goal of being a professional services firm.
The firm has also launched an HR intranet service and a virtual learning service, Willis Corroon Institute, which links with its HR strategy.
It aims to ensure that staff can build up the skills needed to push through its new HR/business strategy.
“Our business historically has been based on gaining commission for insurance broking,” he says. “Under our new proposition, we would say to clients, you need to look at your factory and maybe you need a new security system or sprinkler system – and that requires a different set of skills. Once we have analysed the risk, we would charge for the consultancy, but say, if you want us to get insurance cover we will do that too.”
Willis Corroon’s Year 2000 targets
– All the firm’s people investment activities will form an integral part of its business strategy and plans.
– The qualities, skills, behaviours and capabilities required of staff will be well defined competency models and supported by high quality, user friendly human resources policies, practices and programmes.
– Ensuring that core behaviours such as teamworking, knowledge sharing, cross-selling and collegiality are fundamentally established, exhibited, recognised and rewarded.
– All newly hired employees will participate in an appraisal. The firm’s prime tool will be 360 degree appraisal, applicable to new and current professional staff.
– A voluntary mentoring programme will be available to all employees, with new and existing professional staff having an identified mentor.
– All employees will have their own developmental plan jointly agreed with their supervisor and monitored against agreed actions.
– All employees will be required to recognise the competency-based career path with which they are associated and are likely to follow, with guideline career steps.
– Targeted training programmes will be developed and available to support the core skills and behaviours required of its staff.
– The Willis Corroon Institute will be the firm’s “virtual university”, defining and offering training/development programmes to staff. The programmes will be supported externally by business schools and internally by core training programmes.
What the professionals think
Mark Gaunt, TCA Consulting
“There is a lot of management by e-mail. But keeping in touch by e-mail does not build strong personal relationships. E-mail has increased the volume of communication and information but whether it has improved the quality of it and addressed the softer issues is another question.
An issue gets bounced around on e-mail and become more innocuous. Whereas if people are asked directly, the issues would be answered and forgotten.”
David Fitt, director of financial services at Hay Management Consultants
“The most significant change has been in attitudes towards knowledge management and intellectual capital. People have become more important to most businesses and that has lead to an emphasis on managing change.”
Competency framework for HR consultants
According to Julia Warren, head of human resources at Hay Management Consultants, HR consultants now need to have greater competencies if they are to succeed in their new role. These include: differentiating behaviours around achievement; motivation; service orientation; self confidence; organisational awareness; analytical thinking; and interpersonal skills which include sensitivity, influencing, negotiating and team working skills.
David Fitt, director of financial services at Hay Management Consultants
“The market has grown because of the need for specialists to take over outsourced projects. And what is driving this change implementation is the realisation that 75 per cent of mergers and acquisitions fail because of people practices and policies not being thought through. The people factor is critical in that.”
Hilary Scarlett, Smythe Dorward Lambert
“I don’t think that the big financial institutions are ready yet to talk about behavioural change, but it is coming. And as retaining good people becomes more of an issue we will start to look at more than just what we pay them.”
Richard Finn, Crane Davies
“The key trend is to ensure that HR is adding value and is therefore strategy-driven, strategy-focused. One of the effects of the move from transaction driven HR to strategy-driven HR is that we will see more outsourcing.
Because some of the organisations will say that some of the transactional work does not add value, they will say let’s outsource it. It is a metaphor of what was happening in IT five years ago.”
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