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Whether an HR professional is in a corporate environment and considering starting a consultancy, or is an established independent HR consultant pondering a move back into the corporate world, career coaches can help the professional identify his or her opportunities, preferences and strengths.
Erik Luhrs, CEO of Make Your Business BOOM! Inc., of Butler, N.J., says HR professionals who are on a company’s staff but who are contemplating leaving the firm to start a consultancy have to decide if they “have the guts to live life on their own terms and discipline themselves.” When an HR professional is an employee, the work is provided, and so is a supervisor who ensures that tasks are completed, he says. However, once a corporate HR professional becomes an independent consultant, he or she also becomes employee and boss, he adds. Those who are “lazy by nature” will probably fail as independent consultants and eventually return to working for companies, but those who are “driven and self-disciplined” have a better chance of flourishing as independent consultants, he says.
The first step toward success as an independent HR consultant is having a thorough understanding of the field, the consultant’s role, where the opportunities are and what challenges have to be dealt with, say career coaches. The second step is determining how individual skills align with identified needs.
Ron Ernst, president of Leadership Horizons LLC of Indianapolis, says an independent HR consultant has to provide a client with expertise and wisdom, not insecurities about a project. Therefore, a consultant needs “a style that is firm and helpful” and that helps the consultant be persuasive when discussing a project, he says. A consultant should be heard and “not just listened to,” he adds.
Larina Kase, author of The Confident Leader: How the Most Successful People Go from Effective to Exceptional (McGraw-Hill, 2008), says people commonly hold themselves back from achieving greater success. Therefore, at the start, an independent—or potential independent—HR consultant needs to conduct “a self-inventory,” says Kase, who works with service business owners to help them overcome self-doubts. A self-inventory is an honest analysis of what an independent consultant is doing that is helping and what might be hurting, she says. A consultant needs to know if he or she is avoiding some professional activities because it makes the consultant uncomfortable, she says. In addition, a consultant needs to know if engaging in the avoided activities will increase his or her consulting skills, or even attract new business, she says. The answers to those questions might identify the top things holding an HR professional back, she adds.
Most successful business owners who lack some needed skill will overcome their shortcomings through training or by hiring or partnering with someone who has the needed skill, Kase says. HR consultants need to know which of their skills need improvement; that includes the areas of HR consultancy competence and business development skills, she says. HR consultants should ask themselves how competent at the craft they are, if the clients are achieving the desired results, and what is being done to improve HR and consulting skills, she says.
Business owners will not survive with excellent technical skills; they must be great at growing and managing the business, Kase says. Independent HR consultants need to write down their strengths and weaknesses in marketing, operations, management and finance. For every strength, create a plan that will leverage those strengths, and for every weakness, create a plan that will address the weaknesses, she says.
In addition, HR consultants need to know themselves on a very emotional level, according to coaches.
Janice Taylor is an executive and life coach. The job of a coach is to ask compelling questions that activate the mind of those being coached, she says. It is not the role of a coach to give advice; the coach’s job is to empower, she adds. There is an exercise for independent and potential independent HR consultants that can help them gain self-awareness, she says. The exercise directs consultants to imagine being in a movie theater alone and watching a film about themselves. While imagining the movie is playing, the consultant should ask several questions of himself or herself:
What is ______ doing to create the life he/she wants?
What is he/she not doing?
How is he/she holding him/herself back?
How is _____ interacting with his/her colleagues?
What are _____’s strong points?
What are _____’s weak points?
What might you tell him/her to do?
Taylor encourages anyone attempting to do the exercise to speak about himself or herself in the third person and to make a list of “what” questions.
Have a Coach, Mentor or Advisor
Because HR consulting can be a lonely experience, the opportunity to share ideas and get feedback from others on a continuing basis is critical.
Every HR consultant should have a coach or mentor, Luhrs says. Without objective, regular feedback, a consultant can quickly get into a hole, he says. The right coach can have a value “millions of times over,” he adds.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues. She is the author of Human Resource Essentials: Your Guide to Starting and Running the HR Function (SHRM, 2002).
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