Hiring and working with HRMS consultants: a complete guide

Sourcing and implementing an HRMS can be a daunting project, especially if it’s your organization’s first such system or you’re introducing significantly new functionality to users.

Often, it’s daunting because of what you don’t know what you’re doing. The services of an HRMS consultant can be an ideal way to bridge that knowledge gap.

Is an HRMS consultant right for you? To help you decide, the following article looks are the key issues when working with consultants, including:

  • Different types of HRMS consultant
  • The pros and cons of hiring an HRMS consultant
  • Budgeting for an HRMS consultant
  • Searching for your consultant
  • How to hire the right consultant
  • How to work with HRMS consultants

 

Different types of HRMS consultant

HRMS technology consultants come in many forms. Some specialize in helping you selecting the right system, some in HRMS implementation, many will offer to do both. They may be employed by the vendor of your chosen system, their services on offer as an add-on to the basic package. They may be independent operators, experienced in a variety of systems (and possibly certified as ‘partners’ of some of the bigger vendors, indicating approved expertise).

Which of these is right for you depends on exactly what you need. What HRMS-related knowledge, skills and experience are you lacking in-house? It’s useful to think about the following key stages of the HRMS project and where you lack the skills and experience to carry out the process in-house:

HRMS selection consultants

  • Defining your requirements: do you know what’s available on the HRMS market, what features and functions are possible? And how those features should enhance your business?
  • Vendor vetting: sometimes the overwhelming task is deciding who, out of the hundreds of vendors, might be a good fit for your requirements.
  • Demos and decision-making: planning HRMS demos can be an art in itself: knowing what to ask, how to evaluate the presentations, and not be taken in by sales talk.
  • Contract negotiation: you’ve found the right system but can you strike the right deal? Terms and conditions are everything.

For a complete guide to the HRMS selection process, check out our step-by-step HRMS selection survival guide

HRMS implementation consultants

  • Processes review and optimization: your new system will require you to review your HR processes and procedures, and quite possibly redesign them to take full advantage of features such as self-service and mobile access.
  • Data cleansing and migration: any system is only as good as the information it contains. Before go-live, a rigorous process of data cleansing is a must.
  • System testing: before you roll out the new system, you want to be 110% sure that it works and that means testing, parallel running, dummy processes, etc.
  • Customizations and integration: to make the system a glove-like fit for your organization usually requires some customizing. Furthermore, if you want to take full advantage of features such as HR analytics, your new HRMS probably needs to access other systems and databases.

Use this extended HRMS implementation guide to get new software up and running as efficiently as possible

That’s the technical stuff. An experienced HRMS consultant can also offer expertise in the broader project and change management process, understanding potential user reactions and effective communications strategies.

 

The pros and cons of hiring an HRMS consultant

First, the advantages:

  • They know the HRMS market: thanks to cloud computing, the number of available HRMS systems has rocketed. Knowing what’s out there is practically a full-time job. Then there’s the understanding of the inevitable jargon and understanding how different systems and features stack up against each other.
  • They have sourced and/or implemented many software systems: how often have you done something for the first time only to realize later that there was a better way to do things? A consultant’s experience should help avoid those ‘if only we knew then what we know now’ moments.
  • They are an additional resource: it’s possible you have all the knowledge, skills and experience you need already but is it available? Can those people be spared for an intensive software project? A consultant is an additional resource that avoids dragging skilled personnel away from their essential day jobs.
  • They are impartial: by this we mean that an external consultant is less subject to your internal politics (every organization has them). There’s less favoritism, baggage or history with an outside operator and as they’re leaving at the end of the project they can help make the hard decisions without worrying about who might be upset.

Now, the potential disadvantages:

  • There’s no knowledge transfer: the problem with buying in expertise is that at the end of the project it often walks out of the door. If your in-house people don’t learn from the consultant (and their project experience) you may be no better off next time.
  • Internal morale can suffer: often, external consultants attract resentment from internal staff, invidious comparisons are made with the HR consultant salary, and envy can lead to disrespect for what are perceived as over-expensive skills.
  • They know not your ways: the big advantage of your in-house team is that they know your organization. A consultant knows organizations like yours, but that’s not necessarily the same thing.  

 

Budgeting for an HRMS consultant

Unfortunately, few consultants like to tie themselves to a fixed pricing structure!

Cost will depend on exactly what role you want them to play which maybe anything from offering specialist advice to full-on project management. While ‘regular’ HR advice may start at $100-200 per hour, the technological skillset and expertise you’re looking for from an HRMS consultant could easily be double that figure.

"While ‘regular’ HR advice may start at $100-200 per hour, the technological skillset and expertise you’re looking for from an HRMS consultant could easily be double that figure."

Of course, if you’re using consultancy provided by your system vendor, you may be in a better position to negotiate as part of the larger package of services.

Our extended guide to HRMS costs will take you through how to create a budget for selecting and implementing new software

Ultimately, given the old truism, you get what you pay for, it’s better to focus on being crystal-clear about what you actually need – what can't you do for yourself? – and start budgeting from there.

Given that costs can escalate, explore the options of costing the different stages of the project separately, negotiating a fixed project price, or perhaps agreeing a cap on the daily fee – all possible ways of managing overspend.

And of course, you need to balance the cost of consultancy against the risk of a failed HRMS project!

 

Finding the right HRMS consultant for your business

As with any procurement or recruitment process (including your HRMS selection, of course!) the key is to be clear on what you’re looking for and build that into your HRMS consultant interview questions.

Here are our tips for finding a standout HRMS consultant:

  • HRMS knowledge: you’re hiring an expert so you want expertise. Ask about their experience: How many projects have they worked on? Which systems are they familiar with? If you’re looking at the big name systems (e.g. Oracle, Workday, etc.) are they an accredited ‘partner’? Are they full-time HRMS consultants or is that just part of what they do? 
  • Credibility: credibility is about more than knowledge and expertise. Are they a good fit with your organization, its culture and values? Will they be able to build rapport with your people at all levels of the business?
  • References: just as with a new hire, check the references. Any consultant should be able to name some past clients that you can have a conversation with. Check out that their past experience is compatible with the challenges you’re facing: project scope, delivery timescales, budget, strategic impact, ROI, technical factors, and how the inevitable unexpected problems were handled.
  • Cost: of course, price is also an issue. It shouldn’t be the only factor but you are looking for value for money and consultancy costs can escalate quickly if the project experiences delays (which is not unusual). 

Finally, are you looking at individual consultants or HR consulting companies (even with an individual, they may be part of a larger operation)?

It’s easy to focus your decision-making on the qualities of an individual but end up with a contract with the company. Should priorities or resources change – or even just someone fall ill – you could end up with a total stranger as your consultant and all your careful preparation goes to waste.

 

Working with HRMS consultants: how to maximize your investment

In a sense, this is the $64,000 ROI question.

Once you’ve engaged your consultant, how do you get the best from them?

Obviously, it's up to you to make your consultant feel welcome, provide them with the resources they need to do their job and build a mutually respectful working relationship. 'Being generally pleasant to work with' is one piece of advice we can give that costs nothing and will go a long way. 

That said, there are a few steps you can take to facilitate this. The steps below provide the foudations for a great partnership:

  • Onboarding: just as with any new recruit, you want them up to speed ASAP. That means a highly focused and accelerated onboarding process:
    • Access: security passes, system usernames and passwords, car parking spaces… all that simple but essential practical stuff that gets them into the office and working. After all, think about their hourly rate, any delay at all is expensive!
    • Meeting the right people: have a list of meetings pre-arranged for their first day – the HRMS team, key stakeholders, user representatives, whoever they need to know in order to do the job.
    • Background information: key contextual knowledge about your business that they need to have to hand: business structure and size, strategic priorities and goals, technical requirements, workforce details and more.
  • Clarity on their role: Ensure a shared understanding of exactly what the HRMS consultant job description entails, and what they’re not. Agree measurable and trackable outcomes and objectives. Agree available resources. 
  • The wider team: consider the rest of your HRMS team, and the wider organization. Your HRMS consultant is going to be engaging closely with them all and any misunderstandings about role and resources will only delay the project.
  • Performance management: as with any other team member, having agreed outcomes and objectives, you monitor progress. It may be regular written reports, review meetings, or something more esoteric but however you manage performance in your organization, apply the same to your consultant.
  • Build trust and loyalty: ideally, you want the same commitment to the project as you would expect from an employee, so bear in mind traditional motivation methods such as acknowledgement, recognition, and reward.
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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall