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Challenges of an internal Human Resources consultant vulnerable to downsizing

The Human Resources department is one of the business support organizations vulnerable to downsizing. More specifically, the HR strategic business partner...or organization consultant...may be ignored in preference to bringing in a presumed outside expert.

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Let's think together about some differences among the management consultants, social psychologists, and academic-based consultants and internal consultants.

Internal consultants to organizations may be located in the Human Resources department, perhaps in a strategic planning organization, or even in a functional discipline like marketing. I'll argue from having been an internal consultant that reputation within the organization, influence, and attributed expertise are important factors that determine the types of requests for help an internal consultant will get. These factors will also have a bearing on who asks for help and what kind of help. The days of the task force, the process improvement team, and the accelerated problem solving team are still with us. The internal consultant may be called on to help facilitate meetings, task groups or teams or even to work with semi-permanent groups of executives.

Critical to the internal consultant's ability to be helpful is his or her skills and experience, knowledge of the organization, and network of supporters. It is possible for an internal consultant or skilled group of specialists to languish from neglect unless there is a continuing demand for their services.

The outside consultant-particularly the consultant with a big reputation as a David Nadler, Michael Hammer or a Susan Albers Mohrman (University of Southern California Center for Effective Organizations) have-- get the benefit of anywhere from dozens to hundreds of articles, numbers of books used in graduate management or organizational development curricula, and exposure the potential clients at leading academic and industry conferences. Our author, Ed Schein, is well-known to the American Society for Training & Development and its thousands of members.

So if you were a senior manager-let's say a former Sloan Fellow at MIT-where might you turn to find a skilled resource to help diagnose problems with your organization's culture? How likely is it that you would choose the ideal expert versus a professor whom you knew and liked from your MIT days? I'll admit I have hired consultants whom I have heard present at professional conferences and seminars. Were they the best person or people for the job? Did I even understand the problem for which I thought the organization needed help? These kinds of questions reverberate throughout Ed Schein's accounts of his experiences with process consultation.

The key message in this solution is that the internal organization consultant must continually position himself or herself as a valued and competent strategic business partner.