One of the things really important to our approach to HR advice is having a focus on what end result the client wants for their issue, and basing our advice and support on that.
Many other advisory services, particularly those of a helpline nature, give generic advice about a specific immediate query, focused around what the law says about that situation. But while a client might come away knowing that the law says x y z about the subject, they do not come away with a long-term, realistic, tailored strategy for resolving their situation, which maybe complex. Or, if they did actually say to the person advising them what outcome they wanted in the long-term, they may well have been told “you can’t do that, you have to do this”.
So what are the reasons for this? Well, advisory services who operate on a helpline basis often offer legal cover, guaranteeing to represent their client in the event of a legal claim, or pay legal expenses. This means that the objective of the advisor during the phone call is to ensure that their employer does not need to pay out on its guarantee, rather than successful resolution of problems for the client. The focus of the service becomes negative and restraining rather than positive and enabling.
The easiest way of avoiding claims at all costs is to adopt a ‘you can’t do that’ ‘you’re not allowed to do that’ approach. Great, it means the client is very unlikely to be the subject of a claim, but it also means they are not being provided with advice on actually dealing with their problem. Small businesses need quick resolution of their problems as they can represent an enormous drain if allowed to drag on for ages. Money is tight, there is limited room for adjusting duties, redeployment, long sickness absences while they wait for ages to address the problem.
Another reason is that helplines or services with multiple advisors simply cannot build a long-term relationship with the client, with a deeper understanding of their business, their staff, their issues and their priorities, meaning they are quite simply not able to give that longer-term view and develop a tailored strategy in that way.
But even where legal cover/helplines are not the issue, many HR consultants who do have a long term relationship also demonstrate similar, negative behaviour, and focus on what their client can and can’t do, what the law says, rather than an end result. One of the reasons for this is laziness. It’s far easier to just tell a client they can’t do something, or to churn out what the law says, than it is to come up with a proper strategy to achieve a desired result within the context of the law and of the individual client and circumstances in question. It’s also less risky. Even if you don’t offer legal cover as an HR consultancy, you still want to make sure no client gets a tribunal claim so adopting a similar negative approach to those used by the helplines is a line many take.
Some HR consultants don’t want to ask a client what end result they are looking for in case they find the answer unpalatable. Newsflash! As an HR consultant you are not the employment law police, and understanding your client’s ultimate objective, even if that objective is getting rid of someone, will help you give constructive, valuable advice, and will ultimately help protect them more than if they feel they can’t tell you what they want as you will disapprove or just tell them they can’t do it.
Sometimes clients find it difficult to either actually decide what the desired end result is, or acknowledge it to themselves or you. But encourage them to do it and guide them through the process. When change has to happen anyway, or when a client has a difficult issue to resolve, encourage them to see that resolving the situation will involve action and change anyway, so with that in mind they should consider what they want things to look like in a month, three months, six months or a year’s time, and work back from that.
Once you’ve discussed objectives with your client and know what end result you are ultimately working towards, you should be able to outline their client’s options and help them identify costs (financial and otherwise), risks and possible developments. It may be that a decision is made to aim for a compromised end result, or a half-way house with a final end result in mind later on down the track, or feel that the risks or costs involved in getting the ideal end result right now are not viable.
But regardless of the strategy you decide to take, it’s easy when bogged down in a staff nightmare for a client to find it difficult to see a way out, and taking a step back and thinking about the end result helps focus decision making and gives clients a path towards an end to the situation which is always very positive.
If you’re interested in talking to us about becoming a partner with face2faceHR, do get in touch.