Practice Makes Proficient: Getting Better at Consultation

By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP September 12, 2019
Practice Makes Proficient: Getting Better at Consultation

I had already planned to write about the HR competency of Consultation this month when I found out that Sept. 22 is American Business Women's Day. It is a day set aside to honor and reflect on the contributions and accomplishments of the millions of women in the workforce and the millions of female business owners in the U.S. I began to wonder how women compared to men in this area.

A 2016 Korn-Ferry study revealed that women outperform men in coaching and mentoring, influence, inspirational leadership, conflict management, organizational awareness, adaptability, teamwork and achievement orientation. These are all among the behavioral indicators for a high level of proficiency in Consultation.

No matter your gender identity, growing your Consultation competency will help you become more effective in HR. Greater proficiency will allow you to work with business partners and leaders to identify challenges and to design and implement HR solutions. With it, you can better lead and support change management and provide a high level of customer service.

To be effective as a business partner or leader, you need more than just business knowledge. You need to be able to act as a consultant to the C-suite and other managers. Enhancing your Consultation competency will allow you to be part of a business win-win.

Approaches to Developing Proficiency in Consultation

On the job:

  • Keep a log of each commitment you make. Review the promises you made and whether and why you followed through on them. Devise a plan to work on specific issues.
  • Participate on a project team. Volunteer to co-lead the project with an experienced project manager.
  • Work with others in your department to come up with solutions to organizational problems using creative approaches.
  • Ask your manager to increase the scope of your decision-making authority.
  • Identify someone who is successful at solving problems. Ask if you can think through a problem with him or her to enhance your problem-solving skills.
  • Research a significant problem in your department. Examine the background and break it down. Develop a plan to solve it. Consider possible pitfalls. Ask someone good at problem-solving to discuss your solution.
  • Think about an area for which you have strong emotions at work. Develop a list of logical ways to deal with it.
  • Practice listening, asking questions and analyzing before offering solutions.
  • Consider how the culture of a particular department or group influences the behaviors in that group before suggesting ideas.
  • When presenting a new idea, ask people to first identify and discuss what they like, rather than dislike, about it.
  • Use reliable social media (e.g., LinkedIn, SHRM's Member2Member Solutions, other business networks) to find answers to problems. Gain exposure to ideas other than your own.


Coaching and mentoring:

  • Seek out a mentor who is a professional consultant in HR or a related business. Ask him or her to help you develop your skills.
  • Join or follow the Human Capital Institute to learn and practice better coaching and mentoring.
  • Volunteer to coach a student or lower-level employee in an area in which you possess some expertise, to further develop your coaching skills.
  • Join the Mentoring Institute and attend its conference.
  • Identify someone in your organization who delegates responsibility well. Meet with or shadow them for a day.


Professional and community activities:


Reading, research and self-initiated activities:

  • Read books and reports to develop your consultation skills:

o   Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It from Happening to You (Harvard Business Press, 2009) by Sydney Finkelstein, Jo Whitehead, and Andrew Campbell.

o   The Data Squad: Building People Analytics Capabilities (Talent Pulse 3.4 Research) (Human Capital Institute, 2016) by Jenna Filipkowski.

o   Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice) (O'Reilly Media, 2008) by Scott Berkun.

o   The Essentials of Project Management (Business Literacy for HR Professionals) (SHRM/Harvard Business School Press, 2006); Wendy Bliss, Series Adviser.

o   Common Sense Talent Management: Using Strategic Human Resources to Improve Company Performance (Wiley, 2014) by Steven T. Hunt.

o   Manager's Guide to Effective Coaching (McGraw-Hill, 2011) by Marshall J. Cook and Laura Poole.

  • Play games that increase problem-solving skills (e.g., bridge, bid whist, spades, risk).
  • Read SHRM special reports and expert views to find out what thought leaders are saying about how to be successful in HR.


Educational activities:

Phyllis Hartman, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in Freedom, Pa. She is the author of several books for the profession, including A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017).

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