For years, HR professionals served as the guardians of organizations. We enforced organizational rules, state requirements, and federal laws as well as ensured that well-meaning, but uninformed managers and executives played by the rules. More recently, the human resources transformation has shifted that emphasis from compliance to value provision. In other words, instead of being an enforcer, HR staff became internal partners dedicated to organizational success. This transition challenged most of us to retool our approach as well as our skills and grow into a new role: internal HR consultants.
Although most HR staff serve as resources to the organization, becoming an internal consultant is different. A consultant by definition exists to help others succeed and provides value by increasing the value of others. Through their knowledge, expertise, and experience, they provide advice, support, and assistance with business challenges.
As most HR functions make this transition, we should ask, “what makes one successful as an internal HR consultant?” It is probably not shocking that relationships skills surpass pure knowledge in most customer satisfaction surveys. A recent study by HCS of HR service surveys in six industries found that six factors were most important to high customer satisfaction and knowledge correlated with one factor. The factors most critical to success include:
Knowledge. Useful, timely, and relevant knowledge provides the currency of exchange in a consulting relationship. In order to be successful, an internal consultant must possess the expertise necessary to research, diagnosis, and resolve most common issues as they arrive.
Trust. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship or interaction. Trust allows people to seek and consider input from each other in an open manner. Only in a trusting relationship can two parties jointly collaborate in a consistent and meaningful manner.
Connections. Connections set common ground between parties based on mutual interests. A connection allows people to be open to new ideas and overcome differences in the way we view the world. Differences in our view arise from age, race, gender, education or experience and occur in every workplace. Connections allow us to bridge these identity differences while preserving the value of diversity as a driver of potential solutions.
Respect. Everyone wants respect for who they are, what they think, and what they want. When we interact in a respectful manner, interactions are considerate, honest and tactful. If each person is treated with respect, openness and trust will grow. A key part of being an adviser is respecting the opinions of those you serve while providing helpful advice.
Communication. Effective communication makes the difference between stagnate and growing relationships. In addition, it is important that the type and use of communication match the needs of the parties. As a consultant, it is important to determine the most appropriate type and timing of communication. Different clients have different communication needs and that discovery process should occur early in the relationship.
Mutual Success. A consultant is only successful when those he or she serves is successful and reach their objectives. Yet, like any relationship, it is best when both parties feel they gain something.
So, when we transition generalists as well as specialist to consultants, we need to keep in mind that like most areas of HR, the people skills are what matter.