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HR as Strategic Consultants Inside the Organization

Any HR department can become a consulting powerhouse

​A consultant has to justify costs and add value to the client—that's something I quickly learned after founding my consulting company almost six years ago. All consultants must learn how to price projects, set up retainers, act in interim positions and answer questions about return on investment (ROI).

Every HR department should also be learning these things and asking these questions. HR acts as a consultant to the organization. While not everything HR does is project-based, it still has to know what value it is bringing to the clients and the organization. ROI is critically important for all parts of an organization, and the HR department is no exception.

Consultation is one of the eight behavioral competencies described in the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge® (SHRM BoCK®). This competency is defined in the SHRM BoCK as "the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics needed to work with organizational stakeholders in evaluating business challenges and identifying opportunities for the design, implementation and evaluation of change initiatives, and to build ongoing support for HR solutions that meet the changing needs of customers and the business."

Proficiency in this competency is essential for an HR department to evolve into a strategic consulting model. Below are a few recommendations to build on. Focus on these opportunities toward success. 

  • Know the business and organization. Consultants' decisions are based on our knowledge of the client's basic business functions, strategy and finances. For professionals in an HR department to grow, it is vitally important to understand this information about the organization.
  • Work outside of HR. Partner with your organization to expand your knowledge, skills and abilities, including those relating to areas that seem to fall outside the realm of HR. Throughout my consulting career, I have been involved in challenges ranging from overseeing maintenance functions, working on food-vendor contract issues, reviewing grants, working on requests-for-proposals and getting deep into financial audits. When I saw an opportunity to learn, I took it.
  • Subject matter experts. Focus on becoming an expert in all subject matter areas of HR. Consultants have to provide answers to our clients—accurate answers—and to ensure this, we either have the knowledge already or have the network to obtain it. An HR department should be no different, guiding the organization with a confident approach as subject matter experts.
  • Word-of-mouth credibility. Much of a consulting firm's growth is based on referrals. Think of the HR department in the same way. If employees in your organization feel that the HR department is doing a great job, its reputation will grow, which will result in a beneficial impact on collaboration, relationships, culture, communication and more.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.


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