HR Consultants Can Offer Limited Guarantees

By Lin Grensing-Pophal Jun 4, 2008

In the world of consumer goods, guarantees are prolific. Not so much in the world of consulting, although their use is not unheard of and can be a way of leveraging consultants’ ability to grow business, especially among new and unknown clients.

“If you have a solid relationship with the buyer, not the HR department, guarantees should never be necessary,” says Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group Inc., in East Greenwich, R.I. “Trust is the key,” he says.

Obviously, consulting services are different from consumer goods, and while it is fine to guarantee the quality of the work, guaranteeing results is unethical, Weiss says. Consultants cannot control all the variables such as key people leaving, competitive actions or shifts in the economy, he adds. However, clients want some assurances about the investments being made.

Career consultants cannot guaranteethat clients will get a job or receive a promotion or pay increase. Yet Kathy Sweeney, owner of The Write Resume in Chandler, Ariz., offers a guarantee to her clients that if they do not receive at least one interview in 60 days, their resume will be rewritten at no cost. “The guarantee provides potential clients with a trust factor that I stand behind my service and makes them feel more comfortable in the purchasing process,” she says.

However, Sweeney does not leave much to chance, and she has certain expectations that clients must meet. The requirements are not meant to make it difficult to honor the guarantee, but to ensure that candidates are active participants in the job search and in applying for positions that genuinely reflect their qualifications. The guarantee is posted on The Write Resume web site; it includes the following requirements:

    • The client must be searching for a position actively in thier field of expertise. Searching actively is defined as applying for at least 10 positions within the 60-day period.

    • Proof of positions applied for must be provided to The Write Resume for verification of qualifications/credentials required on the position posting.

    • Clients must use all avenues to obtain employment opportunities, including, but not limited to, recruiters, employment agencies, headhunters, Internet postings, newspaper advertisements, networking, professional associations and job referrals.

    • Verification of qualifications and credentials for applied for positions may be obtained from outside parties, including recruiters, human resource professionals and employment specialists.

    • Clients must contact The Write Resume, in writing, of failure to obtain interviews, and must provide supporting documentation and evidence of application, including time receipts and/or automatic replies from employers.

Being concrete in terms of the guarantee offered is important, as is making the guarantee as broad as possible, says Paul Travis, who is the president of the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) Pacific NW Chapter and author of Leadership on Demand: How Smart CEO’s Tap Interim Management to Drive Revenue. “One approach to guarantees is to make them as broad as possible, because their purpose is to reduce risk, and therefore decision time, on the part of the prospective customer,” he says. “On the other hand, it is difficult for a consultant who is paying his or her bills to risk returning those funds,” he says. Yet, a guarantee can make the difference between two otherwise identical providers, he adds. “I know, because I also hire consultants in the course of my work,” he says.

Therefore, the key points in a guarantee should protect the client and the company, Sweeney says. For example, a consultant cannot control the types of positions candidates apply for in their searches. However, a consultant can review what they have applied for and provide education on the types of positions they should be applying for if they do not meet the requirements written in the job posting, she says. Taking that approach allows a consultant to be a strategic partner in the job search process and helps ensure that candidates are accountable for their roles in seeking a job.

Consultants might be hesitant to offer guarantees. After all, with so many variables outside of their control, there could be a risk of seriously impacting revenue and cash flow, Weiss says.

However, that fear is generally unfounded, notes Nan Andrews Amish of Big Picture Healthcare/Big Picture Perspective in San Francisco. Andrews Amish says she has offered a guarantee for years and has had to deliver on it only twice. In both situations, it was an issue of poor communication between the client contact and herself, she says. Therefore, providing guarantees is worth the effort, she says. “Most HR consultants have clients who are in HR,” she says. “HR, by its very nature, tends to be one of the company gatekeepers and, as such, is often risk averse. A guarantee can serve to decrease the risk of a client when they hire a new consultant as opposed to using a tried and true one,” she says.

The details of the guarantee, what is included and what is offered, will vary significantly depending on the consultant’s area of expertise or focus and their target audience, Andrews Amish says. A consultant can guarantee improved performance or improved knowledge retention or improved processes and can provide additional free or extra service of hours when a project does not go as expected, she says.

“Just like the ratio of ingredients is important in a recipe, it is important to remember the place of a guarantee in the buying process,” Travis says. “It won’t get the work, and shouldn’t. It naturally follows, and supplements, the primary decision factor triangle: quality, price and service,” he says.

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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