HR Consulting Skills
NASA HR University
Stephanie Spence Diamond
Human Capital Strategist
Human Resources Management Division
• Identify the key skills needed for effective HR consulting
• Explore the 5 phases of the consulting process
• Elements of a successful entry meeting
• Effective requests and responses
• How to say “No” when you must
What is a Consultant?
Client: What time is it?
Consultant: What time do you want it to be?
What is a Consultant?
Client: What time is it?
Consultant: Give me your watch and I will
Consultant vs. Client/Manager
• A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence
over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no
direct power to make changes or implement programs. HR
professionals serve as consultants by planning, recommending,
assisting or advising in a variety of matters.
Every time you give advice to someone who is in the position to
make the choice, you are consulting.
• A client/manager is someone who has direct control over the
action and is the recipient of the consultant’s advice.
Some Common Areas Clients Want/Need
• A study of a specific business problem
• Recommendations on how to solve a problem
• A training program designed and conducted
• Personal advice and support
• Other/specific examples?
Three Consulting Models
• Consultant as a pair of hands - Purchase of
• Consultant as the expert - Doctor-Patient
– This is often a role that HR consultants play in day-to-
day work roles
• Consultant as a collaborative partner - Process
– This is the model we should aspire to as true HR
• The goal or end product of any consulting activity
• Two types of interventions
– Any change in the line organization of a structural,
policy or procedural nature
• A new compensation package
• A new reporting process
– Results in one (or more) persons in the line
organization learning something new
• How to access and attract quality candidates
• How to implement progressive discipline to correct
• How to conduct performance evaluations
Three Needed Skills for Effective HR
• Technical Skills:
– Need to know what the person is talking about
– Need to have some technical expertise in one (or more) subject matter area
– Human Resources, business, marketing, project management, planning, analysis, etc.
• Interpersonal Skills:
– Ability to put ideas into words
– Give support
– Disagree reasonably to maintain the relationship
– Assertiveness, Supportiveness, Confrontation, Listening, Group Process
• Consulting Skills
– Contracting: Negotiating wants; Coping with mixed motivation; Dealing with concerns about
exposure and loss of control, triangular/rectangular contracting
– Diagnosis: Surfacing layers of analysis, dealing with political climate; resisting the urge for
complete data; seeing the interview as an intervention.
– Feedback: Funneling data; identifying and working with different forms of resistance;
presenting personal and organizational data
– Decision-making: Running group meetings; focusing on “here and now” choices; not taking
The 5 Phases of Consulting
Each consultation, whether it lasts 10 minutes or 10
months goes through 5 phases:
– Entry and Contracting
– Data Collection and Analysis/Discovery
– Feedback and the Decision to Act
– Evaluation, Extension, Termination
Phase One: Entry and Contracting
• The initial contact with the client about the project/issue. Keys to success are:
– Setting up the 1st meeting
– Exploring what the problem is
– Are you the right person to work on this issue? Who else should be involved?
– What are the client’s expectations?
– What are your expectations?
– How do you get started?
• When things go astray, it’s often because the initial contracting stage was
• Core transaction of any consulting contract is the transfer of expertise from the
consultant to the client.
Phase Two: Data Collection and
• As HR Consultants, you need to come up with your own sense of
the problem. You likely need to ask a lot of questions.
– Who is going to be involved in defining the problem?
– What methods will be used?
– What kind of data should be collected and where is it? Who else
do I need to talk to?
– How long will it take?
– This phase required research and dialogue with a number of
Feedback and Decision to Act/Planning
• The HR Consultant must be able to reduce a large amount of
data to a manageable number of issues.
• You have choices on how to involve the client in the process of
analyzing the information.
• During feedback, there is often resistance to the data. You must
detect and handle this resistance before you can help move the
client to an appropriate decision about how to proceed. Don’t
resist “resistance” – call it out and try to understand it.
• You should set the ultimate goals for the project with the client
and select the best action steps/interventions.
Phase Four: Implementation
• This involves carrying out the planning of the previous step.
• Often falls entirely on the line organization.
• Can take a variety of forms and different degrees of
• Focuses on 2 aspects:
– The technical work using your particular expertise
– Building ongoing support to maintain the business or technical
change you are planning
Evaluation, Extension, Termination
• Evaluate the main event/implementation.
• Hold a “lessons learned” meeting with the client.
• Determine if there will be an extension of the project/process to a larger
segment of the organization.
– Sometimes it is not until after some implementation occurs that a clear picture of
the real problem emerges.
• Process recycles and a new contract needs to be discussed.
– If implementation is a huge success/failure, termination of further involvement
may be next.
• Termination should be considered a legitimate and important part of the consultation.
• If done well, can provide important learning and keep the door open for future
• Utilize your expertise;
• Implement your recommendations;
• Engage in more of a partnership role with clients;
• You want to avoid “no win” consulting situations;
• Develop internal commitment in your clients;
• Receive support from clients;
• Increase the leverage you have on clients;
• Establish more trusting relationships with clients.
Elements of a Successful Entry Meeting
• Set a welcoming/open tone for the discussion.
• Make arrangements by phone – follow up with email.
• Ask lots of questions:
– What do you want to discuss? Describe the issue.
– Who is the client for this project?
– Who else will be at the meeting? What are their roles?
– How much time will we have?
– Discuss the boundaries of the work.
– Do you know that you want to begin this project or are we going to discuss
whether we do anything at all?
– What are the Client wants/constraints – the HR Consultant wants/constraints?
• State clearly what you need and want from the client to make it work.
• Be cautious about the results you alone will deliver.
• Do you homework ahead of time – Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
• Tell me more about….?
• What have you tried?
• What choices are available to you?
• What are the first next steps?
• Who will do what by when?
• What is your next step?
• What is your desired outcome?
• What are our measures of success?
• Have you ever felt that you asked for something and ended up feeling
let down because the person you made the request of doesn’t deliver?
We may hold another responsible for following through on something
they don’t believe they have agreed to do. Or others can think that of
• The reason is frequently that we haven’t been clear about the 3 major
elements of requests:
– Name exactly what you action you want.
– Specify whom you want it from.
– State the “conditions of satisfaction” -
• Standards of completeness;
• Number of people involved;
Getting Proper Replies
• There are only four proper replies that you should
accept- or give to a request:
– Counter offer
– Commit to reply later
How to Deal with Non-Responses
– “I’ll look into it.”
– “That’s a great idea.”
– “I’ll try.”
– “I’ll make it a priority”.
– “That’s outside my control, but I’ll see what I can do.”
– “As soon as I can get to it.”
Dealing with non-responses:
– Be aware of the difference between acknowledgement and
– Gracious persistence
• “I’ll see what I can do.” “Does that mean you will do it?”
How to Say “No” When You Must
• Know what you can and can’t do. Get clear with yourself whether you need to say yes
• Be gracious. Do what you can to cushion the blow.
• Take your time. Saying no usually takes longer than saying yes. Do not be abrupt. Do
• Don’t say No via e-mail. People need a more personal contact when receiving a no.
• Explain why you must say no. A no is not a no without justification or explanation.
• Make the customer feel you are on the same side. Talk in terms of “we” rather than
“you” or “me”.
• Say no to everyone the same way. With total honesty and total kindness.
• Be persistent with your no. Don’t be intimidated.
• Yet be open to new facts, logic, and reasoning. Yield only to objective criteria, not the will
of the client.
• Hold to the issue. Do not make up excuses or let the customer change the issue.
• Offer real alternatives. Don’t leave the disappointed client hanging with a simple no. “I
wish I could do that for you, but unfortunately I can’t. Here are some things, though, that
I can do…”
The Technical Division wants to reactivate/enhance
its intern program, particularly in the
science/engineering areas. The head of the
organization has recently joined NASA from another
federal agency which had a very active outreach and
How would you consult with this organization to
develop and implement a recruitment approach and
• HR Professionals function as process consultants every day
• You have learned some tips about being effective collaborative
• We can also apply these tips in our daily interactions with each
within HRMD as “clients” to each other
• Primary resource: “Flawless Consulting – A Guide To Getting
Your Expertise Used” by Peter Block