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Walk this way: Think like a consultant to excel at your HR job

By Elaine Varelas, 08/04/2008

Most HR managers have worked with consultants at some point in their careers. If you have been involved in hiring consultants at your organization, or if you've worked on a project with one, you are most likely familiar with how they work. A consultant's approach to work is very different than salaried employees. Because of the short-term nature of the relationship between consultants and their clients, there is no job security. Their jobs are always on the line. Many consultants actually thrive on this uncertainty; it makes them work that much harder and brings creativity to their work. Their necessity is always being evaluated. If they aren't providing value and showing measurable results, they are out the door.

Successful consultants-those who get their contracts renewed-have three things in common. They do their jobs well, they're easy to manage, and they make their clients look good. Actually, these qualities are also the reasons why full-time employees are promoted and rewarded at work.

You can't be expected to be a top-performer every day, but do the days when you excel outnumber the slacker days? The security of a 9 to 5 job and steady paycheck can make us comfortable-and maybe even a little lazy. If you were a consultant and your contract ended today, would you be re-hired?

Here are some ways HR managers may want to take a cue from consultants to provide value on the job:

Be objective — One of the ways consultants provide value is by offering a new perspective. They can zero in on a problem or come up with a fresh idea because they aren't distracted by office politics or the day-to-day minutia of the job. They also aren't invested in any one program or initiative. If you've ever listened to a consultant and thought, "Why didn't I think of that?," it may be time to step out of your HR manager role and put on your consultant suit. Are you holding on to an obsolete program because you helped bring it to life? Are you doing things a certain way because you've always done them like that? Is there a way to streamline? Does anything need to be revamped or eliminated? Could work be re-distributed so all team members are at their most efficient and productive?

Look at the big picture — Consultants are often hired to work in a specific department, but they are always cognizant of how their work fits into the larger organization. How does your role contribute to the success of the company? How can you provide more revenue or cut costs? Are there creative ways your department can make a positive impact company-wide?

Beware of urgent — Consultants are brought in to concentrate on one initiative which allows them to have laser focus. Employees often are pulled in many directions at once. Just because an issue is time sensitive, it doesn't necessarily mean it warrants your attention. You could spend all day trying to meet pressing deadlines that consist of nothing more than busy work. Find ways to delegate urgent work that takes you away from providing value. Don't let urgent get in the way of important.

Get clear — Consultants focus on the highest value tasks and behaviors-those that make an impact on the organization. What are the most valued parts of your job? Do you know? Would your answer to this question be the same as your manager's, or company leaders'? Make sure you are aligned with your boss about what the most important responsibilities in your job are, and put your focus there.

Communicate your worth — Consultants have a flair for showcasing their value. After all, their jobs depend on it. Keep track of your accomplishments and share them with your manager. Many times, we hesitate to remind people of our achievements because we don't want to look self-serving, but it is important to keep your boss informed. Often when we meet with our managers, we don't prepare. You should always have an agenda (even if it is a silent or short one) and be prepared to share your successes.

Forecast need — Consultants are always anticipating the next business challenge at the organization. Otherwise, they are out of a job. Instead of waiting to be assigned a project, look at your organization's goals and the short- and long-term plans. Is there a need you can identify or fill?

HR managers could bring a new perspective to their jobs if they adopted some of these techniques. If your employment contract was up, what would your bosses be saying about you and your work? Would you be re-hired? It's time to think like a consultant.

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