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(May 12, 2005) - We're big fans of the goings-on over at Staffing.org. Maniacally focused on the introduction of measurement techniques into staffing, the team at Staffing.org patiently and carefully plows the ground of profound organizational change. Each week, they put out a newsletter that alternatively infuriates us and hits our sweet spot.

We particularly enjoyed this week's article:

There isn't much to argue about. HR is a service that is primarily and best delivered by consulting processes whether we like the term or not.

There are five stages of consulting, the first of which is Contracting. Contracting starts with opening a file for the assignment and establishing or re-establishing rapport with the client. It also includes listening carefully and understanding what the client considers to be his or her HR needs and to re-articulate them until both of you are in agreement. This validation process is absolutely essential to, and continues through all consulting stages.

After the needs have been agreed to you must determine what your requirements are to fulfill the assignment. (Yes, HR professionals can have requirements too.) These needs may include financial resources and with rare exceptions at least some portion of the client's time. Invariably the requirements should include timely, ongoing communication. At this point you and the client should reach an agreement to proceed and you should end this stage with a clear commitment to help.

Data Collection and Analyses is the second stage of the consulting process. Regardless of the current or prior relationship with the client it is very important to understand the challenges and situation the clients faces - even beyond the scope of the HR work you are being asked to deliver. While their needs many well be validated it is imperative that you also understand the factors or motivators that are driving them.

The most successful operations in any endeavor experienced problems. They are inevitable; what differentiates between success and failure is how you respond to the problems. At this point in the data collection and analyses stage it is beneficial to start anticipating any problems that you may experience and cataloging the associated responses. Planning for foreseen problems will also prepare you to deal with the unforeseen. The importance of this step cannot be understated. Directly and indirectly, long term and short, you will benefit.

At this point you should start identifying the best solutions and be sure to be solution oriented, not problem oriented. As the potential solutions become clear you should also make a final review to make sure that you have learned everything you need to about the situation as well as identify what resources are available when, and how to avail yourself of them if and when you need to.

The third stage is to formalize the Recommendation. This should start with a restatement of the client's needs and end with a confirmation of the resources necessary to deliver and the final timeline. If the first three stages are conducted properly there need be no anxiety associated with presenting the recommendation. The recommendation itself, arrived at through this proven methodology, will produce no surprises or resistance from the client.

Execution is the fourth stage. Many people are surprised that execution, the actual work is fourth out of five and concerned that this is indicative of the "all talk and plan" syndrome that never seems to result in accomplishing anything. Being fourth out of five doesn't mean that getting the work done is not paramount. Rather it means that the work is so important that there are three previous stages proceeding to insure that it is done how and when agreed.

Sometimes once the execution stage starts we quickly get caught up in the work and forget about what was determined in the three previous stages. It's a natural inclination which must be steadfastly avoided. There are a host of sound reasons behind the process, take advantage of them and they will insure that you execute in the best possible manner.

If you should recognize, for whatever reasons that the execution seems flawed, stop and review each of the previous stages. This should not happen but there are some organizational dynamics that have a propensity to undermine sound consulting practices. The only way to deal with them is by stopping and going through the process again to make sure you have them right. Otherwise, enjoy the work!

The last stage is Evaluation, Reporting, and Change. The first level of evaluation is very simple. Did you deliver what you and the client agreed to? Did you deliver on time and according to quality, time, and resource standards? You can determine this yourself as you review and close out the assignment but the most important feedback is obtained by simply asking the client, "Are you satisfied?" Ask the question soon after completing the assignment. Whether the feedback is good, bad or indifferent, the sooner you ask the question the better.

A few simple notes including lessons learned are sufficient for many assignments but those that were long term, complex, or used significant resources should be closed out with a brief written report the client and other appropriate constituencies.

It's always a good idea to touch based with the client six to twelve weeks after the work was completed to get their final evaluation. This will give you an idea of the lasting value of your work and also how the client will remember it and speak of it to others.

Save your consulting records and refer to them when you have similar assignments or are working with the same client again.

Developing you consulting skills should continue throughout your career. They will fundamentally improve your baseline performance as well as drive continuous improvement. And make your work life a whole lot easier and less painful.

John Sumser

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