In part two of SHL’s masterclass on consultancy we look at planning and negotiating interventions and how to take action and evaluate success
Although these planning, intervention and evaluation skills are being presented last, they are essential throughout the consulting process. In the course of scouting, contracting and diagnosis there will be much compromise and evaluation – where both planning and negotiating are vital.
Planning & negotiating
Planning and negotiation is important to almost every situation, from deciding where to go on holiday to buying a new car. For HR professionals it is essential. Companies tend to be resistant to change, especially if it involves financial outlay (for example a new training programme). This means the HR professional needs to ‘sell’ the idea to the people making the decisions, while ensuring that any compromises are practical.
Each encounter with the client needs to be carefully considered, with time set aside specifically for feedback and ample discussion. At SHL we look at several negotiating techniques that our research has shown to be most effective – four are listed below:
This is where the HR professional ‘pushes’ their own agenda – essentially selling the idea to their client. One way to push is to use assertive dealing. The HR professional evaluates the situation, determines the client’s expectations and highlights the incentive and/or threat of not taking action.
This can be used for difficult clients that are not giving you the information you need. It is important to be open in your discourse here, and draw the client out with your questioning.
When the negotiations are no longer constructive and are not progressing, it is important to withdraw and tackle the issues later on. This is known as disengaging – here are some ways to do it:
- “Let’s tackle this tomorrow”
- “I feel we are not working too well, why is that?”
- “Let’s take a break”
However, a word of warning – although disengaging is a useful technique, in that it reduces tension and cools tempers while allowing the consultant to regain control, over-use can be viewed negatively.
It is not always appropriate to say ‘yes’ to everything. Consequently, HR professionals need to have the confidence to decline politely yet with some authority. To give an example, spelling out the risks or stating what other managers have found successful are diplomatic ways of expressing your concerns, and will help guide the client to your position.
By now, the course of action should have been agreed and the HR professional should be ready to implement it. The way this is done depends greatly on the chosen intervention. As such, this part of the course focuses on dealing with possible problems such as resistance. Employees may not want to attend the training programme or managers may not want to administrate it. This is resistance and the HR professional needs to fully understand the source before it can be tackled.
As dealing with resistance is difficult, negotiating skills are invaluable. Work out ways to overcome the problems behind the resistance and remember, it is a symptom of another problem.
Thorough evaluation is often neglected and it is one of the most important stages. In fact, evaluation should be discussed in the earliest stages and measurable, relevant, criteria should be established. This is a joint process between the consultant and the client – the powerful ‘Solve’ model described in part 1 is very useful here. The technique allows you to uncover the reasons behind the problem and encourages the client to think about the value of the project.
Aside from knowing whether the action you took actually worked, there are other bonuses to conducting a thorough evaluation.
First, it is good for your own reference. A formal analysis of what went well, what didn’t and what could be improved will be invaluable to future projects.
Second, discussing how to measure success in business terms shows that you are aware of the bigger picture and understand the business – you are showing that your proposal will have a demonstrable impact on your client’s goals.
This in turn gives you credibility and means you are more likely to be approached in future to contribute to company strategy.
10 Reasons For Resistance
- Feeling out of control
- Lack of time to adjust
- Stress from change overload
- Defending status quo to save face
- Concerns about future competence
- Implications for personal plans
- More work
- Past resentments
- Concerns about winners/losers
Source: Dr Rosabeth Kanter The Change Masters: Innovations for Productivity in the American Corporation, Simon and Schuster (New York) 19831
Effective consultant Ineffective consultant
Listens Appears superior in attitude
Does not contradict the client Treats client’s opinion as unimportant
Initially non-judgemental Criticises or blames client
Makes project high priority Gives other projects more importance
Takes time to assess problems Impatient
Gets to know the situation Proposes instant pre-packed solution
Authoritative and confident Indecisive and unsure
Fulfils promises Fails to deliver
Adopts a positive approach Only points out what is wrong
Achieves tangible results Solutions are inappropriate or non-existent
Not afraid to suggest change Unquestioning acceptance of the situation
Imaginative Relies solely on conventional wisdom
Adapted from: Managerial Consulting Skills by C.J. Margerison, Gower, 1995 and the SHL consultancy skills course
Applying the skills
Opencall Communications is a UK mobile phone company. It has grown rapidly due to a new agreement with another network allowing it to slash its prices. Its market share has grown to 12% this year, which is equivalent to more than 3 million customers. A recent training scheme for a new computerised information manual for customer services personnel has failed. HR was brought in at the implementation stage, but was not involved in the planning.
Recap from part 1 (Training Magazine October 2003)
Scouting: HR went to management after reading that the number of complaints had risen by 25% in the quarterly customer service report.
Entry and contracting: ‘Solve’ model applied and the situation is defined:
“Too many complaints are resulting in lost customers and is damaging the reputation of the company. Opencall could save as much as £1million by reducing the number of missed calls to 2% of call volume.”
Diagnosis: Reducing the number of missed calls was decided upon as the biggest contributing factor to customer complaints. After using analysis techniques, training on the manual was chosen as the focus of the intervention as it is both easy to solve and will have the largest impact (hiring more staff is unviable due to budget restrictions).
Planning and negotiating interventions:
Points to be addressed in your first planning meeting:
Pull – to get answers
- Why did the training fail before?
- How many employees need training?
- How will we select those to receive it?
Push – important for this programme to succeed
- Programme must be pitched at the correct level (possible reason for failure of last programme)
- Training should be managed in-house
- Ongoing evaluation, looking at coaches as well as learners
Taking Action: Possible areas of resistance:
- Staff unwilling to be evaluated- explain that the results are anonymous and not personal.
- Staff are obstructive in training sessions – probably stemming from the pace of the training – stream sessions so that slower and faster learners are trained separately.
- Unwilling to take time out for training – explain the time savings and workload reduction that will result from enhanced use of the computerised manual.
Evaluation: Measure – customer complaints.
- Measure complaint levels before training and after and conduct a controlled comparison
- Could the implementation be improved?
- Is there any dissatisfaction after the training?