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The very things that keep HR professionals and their CEOs up at night can represent opportunities for independent HR consultants. Talent management and people issues are the drivers for much of the stress facing corporate executives today and represent ample opportunity for HR consultants, say a number of those who are already seeing increasing demand for their services.
There are two areas that are particularly hot in the HR field right now, says Joyce Gioia-Herman, a certified management consultant and the author of five books including Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People (OakHill Press, 2002). The first is onboarding, which can be the key to reducing new hire turnover by setting the employment relationship off on the right foot, she says. Onboarding “seems to be the number one stress point where we consultants can make the most difference,” she says. What consultants need to know is that a client’s onboarding process does not start on the day a new hire shows up for work, but rather with the job candidate’s initial contact with the client, she says.
At the other end of the spectrum is the growing trend of long-tenured staff who leave their companies for “better jobs,” and take intellectual capital with them, Gioia-Herman says. The opportunity for consultants is to provide clients with strategies to keep that attrition from occurring, and to assist clients with re-recruiting and re-orienting long-term, valuable employees, she says. For instance, consultants can offer to provide clients with “stay interviews”. Closely related is the need to transfer the intellectual capital from older workers to the newer members of the workforce, she adds.
Gioia-Herman’s perspectives are substantiated by Salary.com’s third annual Job Satisfaction and Retention Survey which indicates that more than half of the 7,000 employees surveyed are actively searching for new opportunities. While 27 percent of those surveyed reported inadequate compensation as the reason for leaving their positions—making that the leading reason for leaving a job—it is joined on the list of the top five reasons given for searching for something new. The remaining reasons given are:
• Lack of career advancement, 19 percent.
• Insufficient recognition, 17 percent.
• Boredom, 11 percent.
• No professional development, 11 percent.
Managing talent is an issue that has gained in importance for clients, says Edith Onderick-Harvey, president of Change Dynamics Consulting. Clients are systematically examining ways to improve talent management, and asking multiple questions, including:
• How should the company compete for the best talent in the market?
• How can the company retain top talent?
• How can the company plan for future talent needs?
• How can the company develop the next generation of leaders and key individual contributors?
Helping employers provide employees with career advancement opportunities, recognition and professional development is a natural focus for HR consultants and an area that is already gaining some traction, says Susan Stockton, co-author of Goals for Successful HR Executives (Aspatore Books, 2007). The hottest issue in the HR consulting field is the expansion of executive coaching to include supervisors and line managers, she says. “Coaching has shown to be very successful at the executive level in companies so that many are now trying this approach further down in the organization,” she adds. A particular niche area is life coaching for moms going back into the workforce.
“After being out for several years with small children, people wanting to make a mid-life career change are…finding it very valuable to have someone to bounce ideas off and to discuss the realities of moving into different areas,” she says.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a leadership consultant who works with business leaders and corporate HR departments in large and small environments. Varying demographics and global workplace diversity are added challenges that workforces are dealing with today and which HR consultants can help address, says Gupta-Sunderji. “Many of the baby boomer and Generation X supervisors and managers I work with are bewildered, perplexed and often frustrated by the 68 million millenials making their way into the American workforce,” she says.
In addition, global workplace diversity is becoming a challenge for companies’ HR departments, Gupta-Sunderji says. “Not just increasing immigrant populations within their companies, but also the whole trend toward outsourcing facets of operations to other countries means that people in organizations much know how to properly deal with the new and different challenges that follow,” she says. “HR professionals can and should play a major role in getting past these obstacles,” she says.
Beyond the tactical, a strategic focus is still crucial for HR consultants as well as their corporate colleagues. “HR is emerging as a key business driver,” says Rachel Wallins, director of HR and global talent management for Ketchum, a PR firm in Chicago. “How companies manage human capital is increasingly being discussed in executive committees in addition to HR staff meetings,” she says. Wallins suggests that HR professionals focus on a few key areas to ensure relevance in the new business environment.
“In the past, the HR department was often viewed as just overhead, but now it is expected to actively manage and mould the workforce and company culture,” says Gupta-Sunderji. “More and more HR professionals are being asked to sit at the senior management and even boardroom tables, as companies increasingly recognize the importance of dealing with HR issues proactively,” she says.
Onderick-Harvey agrees. “Evidence-based HR is the ability to provide empirical evidence of the real impact HR initiatives are making on business results,” she says. Providing those results requires going beyond just ensuring the company gets a “return on investment”—which is what most HR departments now seek to achieve—to examining how initiatives or HR programs are linked to improvement in qualitative and quantitative measures of business results,” she says.
“Capitalizing on these emerging trends and creating processes to make them scalable is a key profit driver for external HR consultants,” says Wallins. “It’s a wide open world out there for anyone with a strategy and metrics to match,” she 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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