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HR to Go podcast episode 6: Considerations for engaging a consultant (transcript)

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Mandy: Welcome to another episode of HR to Go. Today, we are talking with Director of Effective Workplace Solutions Greg Arnold about what you should consider when engaging a consultant.
Firstly, why engage a consultant?

Greg: There is a real value for businesses in having access to specialised support, and the objective and independent advice that comes from professionals that focus on a niche area.

Mandy: But how can you know if you will get the outcomes you want from a consultant?

Greg: The challenge is often ensuring these consultants can actually do what they say they do. You should also be clear on the expertise you are looking for, and the scope of the work you want them to undertake. The clearer you are with what you want from your consultant the better outcomes you will achieve.

Mandy: I find these days, there are so many consultants to choose from. Just say I needed a consultant for a piece of work and Googled nearby consultants and 20 came up, that’s a lot of choice! How do you choose?

Greg: You should apply the same vigorous vetting process to consultants as you do for your employees. If your consultant doesn’t have the industry experience or a proven track record to deliver what you need, you could actually be draining vital resources and impeding your company’s growth or indeed exposing your business to unnecessary risk.

Mandy: I like that advice about using the same process as you would when hiring employees. Does that mean you should also do referee checks?

Greg: Ask for the contact details for client’s they have worked with and specify that these shouldn’t be referral partners or friends. You want to be sure the reference provided is legitimate. Also consider asking your business networks for referrals, it is rare that a business colleague would refer someone they wouldn’t work with. In fact, referrals have been our primary source of business for our business. We have only engaged a marketing manager in the past 18 months and we still have not actually engaged in paid advertising. Referrals are a very powerful indicator of the professionalism and quality of the work that a business provides.

Mandy: What would you say are tell-tale signs of a good consultant?

Greg: A good consultant, regardless of their area of expertise, should be able to demonstrate their depth of experience and this should be evident when you are talking to them. They should have a client-first mindset, that is focused on achieving outcomes for your business and they should be reliable and professional at all times.

Mandy: I think that’s great advice, Greg. I’ve noticed, however, that some people are really good at the ‘sales’ part, and by that I mean some people are great at selling themselves, regardless of whether or not the information they give you is accurate. How do you sift out the ‘salespeople’ from the real consultants with expertise?

Greg: Back when I first started my professional career no-one would dream of passing themselves off as anything other than what they were qualified to actually do. Over the past 15 years or so, I have noticed there has been a shift in this space and there are a lot more people who seem to be comfortable to have a crack at anything if it means they can bring in a few extra dollars. It seems to be more common for people to claim to have expertise with no actual formal training or experience. I think the other important point is you wouldn’t engage a bookkeeper to look after your car, you’d engage a mechanic. Similarly, and vice versa, you wouldn’t engage a mechanic to do your bookkeeping. So when we, at Effective Workplace Solutions, engage our accountants and bookkeepers, we ensure they have the appropriate qualifications and experience before engaging them to make sure we don’t find ourselves in hot water because of their errors, mistakes, or bad advice. And just on that topic, we also ensure they have the appropriate professional insurances to make sure there are no issues down the track, particularly if there has been any errors or bad advice provided.

Mandy: Isn’t there a saying that it takes seven years of doing the same type of work to be considered an expert?

Greg: I think so. I think the more years you have in terms of experience, then the more expertise you are going to acquire during that period of time.

Mandy: I think you make a good point about the formal training. In the HR sector, it’s easy for people to work their way into the HR department with no qualifications. Sometimes they’ll work at that place for a couple of years and then leave and declare themselves a consultant. How would a business owner without much knowledge of HR and employment law be able to tell if the consultant they are engaging is qualified?

Greg: The Australian HR Institute seemed to recognise this pattern and how much it erodes the hard work of those individuals who have done the hard yards and they have introduced their AHRI Certification which provides confirmation that a HR professional has obtained a standard of expertise.

Mandy: And I’m assuming it doesn’t stop there, does it, Greg? We expect medical consultants to continue with professional development and keep up to date with everything in their field. Wouldn’t you say we should expect the same of HR consultants?

Greg: Absolutely. I think it’s important to note here, in terms of HR and employment law, there’s an everchanging landscape of law particularly we’ve seen over the last 12 months to two years. At EWS, we pride ourselves on professional development of our staff. We have regular meetings with them to update employment law and HR practices, they attend webinars on a constant basis, and we send our staff to seminars and conferences where our staff are brought up to date with these everchanging laws that are occurring. They’re able to then practically implement any of those changes in a practical sense.

Mandy: Having those protocols in place, with some professional development, and continuous learning does give Effective Workplace Solutions a lot of credibility. And I hope other consultants out there, no matter what their field, are also doing the same.

Thanks for your time today, Greg.

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This podcast was recorded on 23 August 2023.

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