Bringing an HR consultant into your organisation should be done to achieve a specific objective. It may be a project that needs delivering eg a recruitment campaign, completion of a TUPE or redundancy project or to cover a maternity leave post. Whatever the company requirement, whether linked to strategic or operational HR objective there is an HR consultant to fit the bill, whether they be a generalist or specialist.
It was reported recently that a union member was sacked by Salford Council for assault. He went to an employment tribunal and won his case for unfair dismissal. The tribunal found that the council had failed to establish that an assault had taken place. In fact the employee had merely brushed past the manager with whom he was having a heated disagreement in a narrow corridor.
Such a case highlights the importance of rigorous investigation before taking disciplinary action particularly dismissal. All witness should be thoroughly interviewed at least once if not several times if discrepancies come to light during the investigation process. They should be interviewed individually using a question and answer format. Alternatively they should be asked to provide their own statement which should be done whilst supervised. All relevant paperwork/evidence should also be collated. The process can be conducted by managers or, as it can take up time, by an experienced HR consultant. Sufficient time should be taken to ensure the investigation is completed well and a comprehensive report written up. The investigation forms the basis of whether to go forward to a disciplinary hearing or not.
It should aim to leave no stone unturned and, if done correctly, can prevent a costly miscarriage of justice.
The advantages to bringing in an external professional can be buying in specific expertise just when needed. Many HR consultants have many years solid practical experience before launching into the world of consultancy. They bring with them a fresh eye on the workings of your company and can often offer new problem-solving solutions to issues such as staff retention or absence and provide tailored solutions. They are used to “hitting the ground running”, and can build key relationships quickly, establishing credibility and just getting on with the job in hand whether this be as a change agent or role caretaker or both.
Being an “outsider” an HR consultant tends not to get involved with office politics. Their decisions can, therefore, be based on benefits to the organisation, not whether it will upset the opinions of certain individuals. This is particularly important in any change management and organisational design project.
Using an HR consultant can save an organisation time and money. Time is saved by, for example, outsourcing a project that existing HR professionals in an organisation can’t spare from the usual day to day tasks; this can include delivering coaching or conducting 360 degree appraisal. A consultant can also be brought in on an ad hoc basis when no HR expertise exists at all within the organisation eg to conduct a disciplinary investigation or provide support on a poor performance issue.
Other cost savings can include not having a permanent member of staff on the payroll and if the work can be completed from home then office resources are saved.
A disadvantage of using an HR consultant can, on the other hand, be the potential expense. Depending on the level of expertise required, consultant fees can vary from £200 to £1,000 per day so companies need to consider what they can afford and negotiate the daily rate. To avoid escalating costs consideration should be given to defining a project cost eg as with management training.
To avoid any confusion a clear agreement and contract needs to be drawn up at the start between the company and consultant establishing clear goals with regular meetings built in to check progress. Clear responsibilities should be allocated to avoid any confusion. Fees and expenses need to be included as well as confidentiality issues and problem resolution.
Before recruiting an HR consultant, a company needs to have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve and draw up a project plan and brief for discussion. There should also be a job description and person specification. With the latter this provides the basis to recruit the right calibre of person. As the need for an HR consultant can often be at short notice, companies need to consider the best place to advertise or find the right candidate and consider a more streamlined recruitment process.
Once recruited the consultant should be provided with a robust structured induction to enable them to hit the ground running.