A Guest Post by Debbie Malone
Ask anyone who works in any type of office environment and one word more than any other strikes fear in their hearts: consultants. Thanks to misleading representations in TV and movies, many people mistakenly believe that when their company hires a consultant of any type, big changes – including layoffs – are imminent.
While there have been cases in which consultants have found areas where businesses could be more efficient, and yes, have recommended changes to staff, more often than not, consultants actually improve business processes and the functioning of the office, in addition to making it easier for staff to do their jobs more effectively.
And in some cases, hiring a consultant is an absolute necessity. While it’s possible to run a successful business without a background in sales, marketing, finance, human resources, business law and management, if you lack knowledge and experience in one of those areas, hiring a consultant can get you on the right track and, in some cases, prevent you from violating laws and regulations. In fact, in some situations, particularly when it comes to HR, hiring a consultant should be the number one item on your to-do list.
Time #1: You’re Writing a Business Plan
When you’re starting a new business, the first step is to create a business plan outlining how you will operate – but a good business plan doesn’t just focus on the numbers. If you plan to hire staff, your business plan should include a comprehensive outline of how you plan to handle human resources, and that’s where HR consulting firms come in. If you do not plan to hire a manager or HR director, a consultant can help you develop your plan for hiring and managing staff, providing guidance on policies and regulations. A consultant can also help you establish your benefits and payroll plans, and set you up with appropriate vendors.
Time #2: You’re Offering – Or Changing – Benefits Packages
Your small business is growing – and you need to start offering insurance and retirement benefits to your employees. Or, perhaps you want to change carriers or adjust your retirement plan offerings. In any case, the world of employee benefits is a complex one, and if you aren’t familiar with the various options, you might not be able to create an ideal benefits package. A human resources consultant can help you weigh your options, establish new packages, communicate with employees as well as manage the enrollment process.
Time #3: You Need to Communicate Change
In the business world, you cannot afford to stand still. In order to remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve, your business has to be flexible and open to change. Whether you’re trying to communicate major policy changes, a new business model or simply create an environment in which your team works as effectively as possible, a consultant can help you develop strategies for communicating and working with your staff that will propel your business forward and prevent future problems.
Time #4: You’re in a Crisis
Sometimes, things happen that can adversely impact your business. Perhaps you’re the target of a lawsuit from a disgruntled ex-employee, or you’re being charged with an ADA violation. While you certainly need legal advice, a human resources consultant can be a valuable part of your defense team as well, offering the HR perspective and strategies for going forward. In fact, if you do not have a full-time HR professional on staff (or a department) engaging the services of a consultant to help develop policies and an employee handbook, and lead staff training, can actually prevent problems down the road.
Time #5: You’re Merging With – or Acquiring – Another Company
Mergers and acquisitions can be a scary thing for employees; many people wonder if they will still have a job once the deal goes through, and if they do stay employed, what it will look like. A consultant can provide guidance during the M & A process, and help make the transition to a new organization a smooth one.
Of course, there are other circumstances in which you should consider hiring a human resources firm, such as when you want to move to a computer-based management model, or if you’re switching payroll companies and processes. A consultant can make a potentially overwhelming process manageable, and save your business time and money in the long run.
About the Author: Debbie Malone holds a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and has more than 5 years of experience in benefits administration. She recently left a position with a large hospital in New Hampshire, and now works as a consultant to small and mid-sized businesses