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Thinking Like a Consultant: New Business Cards Not Required

I’ve been floating around as an HR professional for quite some time; I started in the days of snail-mailed resumes, typewriters and 1 PC in the entire HR Department.  We used that PC to process payroll and it was also where I maintained my applicant tracking logs (Lotus 1-2-3!!) so I could complete the annual the Affirmative Action Plan. I lived through the rollout of I-9’s, the implementation of the FMLA, and the evolution from voice mail (fancy!) to pagers (ooohhh!) to BYOD.

And through all those many years we in human resources have been having the same conversation about transforming HR from transactional and reactionary to strategic and future-focused. And we still continue the conversation today.  All these years later we work to change things from within our organizations and we have advocates for transformation.  We explore the critical skills needed a la the regularly updated HR Competency Model as mapped out by Ulrich/Brockbank where we are encouraged to be strategic positioners, credible activists and change champions. Yet we still find it hard to collectively make this transition.

I recently made a personal decision when, earlier this year, I stepped off the corporate HR wagon train (most recently having served as a VP of HR), hung out my own shingle, and opened shop as a consultant. It’s been my contention for quite some time that HR practitioners can better navigate the terrain of defining how they add value when they operate like a consultant within their organization; I’m therefore finding it quite fascinating to now do this from the other side.  But what, precisely, does this mean? What are the attributes and skills that an HR professional can hone to effectively operate like an internal consultant? Among other things, they can:

  • Have a good understanding of the business and the industry.  If HR professionals want to have input on the strategic initiatives of the organization they damn well better know what they’re talking about.
  • Be a proactive advisor – not a reactive HR ninny.  This requires they have confidence, cajones and the NINNYability to deliver the bad news about things that are embedded in the organization’s current reality.
  • Have more than one idea to present as a solution to a problem.  HR practitioners need to be adept at viewing situations from all angles and provide several options; it’s then up to the ‘client’ (C-Suite, internal departments, whomever) to decide which option to pursue.  This may, be warned, require the ability to improvise based on one’s inherent knowledge (see bullet point #1).
  • Understand what great sales and marketing professionals do.  HR leaders must have the ability to sell themselves and their ideas with a goal of gaining commitment and closing the deal.

While not everyone has the desire to strike out on their own and consult, any HR professional can adopt the consulting mindset which will allow them to demonstrate credibility and influence, participate in the formulation of corporate strategy, and make a powerful and positive impact.

Title:  HR Professional.   New business cards not required.

About the Mouth

Robing Schooling
With 25 years of HR Management experience, Robin Schooling, SPHR, has worked in a variety of industries including gaming, health care, manufacturing and banking.  In 2013, after serving as VP Human Resources with the Louisiana Lottery Corporation for almost 7 years, Robin left corporate HR to open up Silver Zebras, LLC, a consultancy focusing on unique HR strategies that power people, strengthen talent capabilities and harness the power of connections.  She blogs at HRSchoolhouse and is a contributor to the blog WomenofHR.

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  1. Robin, I love this post. Mr. T would be proud. I pity the fool who cannot step up and make a powerful and positive impact within their organization by thinking outside the box. I will never be an HR ninny!

  2. Love! Love! this Robin. I do agree that the “reactionary to strategic” conversation will never go away. And, I do remember being in HR many many years ago and being elated by our new pagers and car phones. Things were moving!

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