Managing the Payroll Software Consultant Relationship: 5 Core Principles
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By Dave Foxall
Getting Maximum Results from the Payroll Software Consultancy Relationship
An organization may have hired a payroll software consultant because in-house employees lack particular skills, time, or both. However, like any other resource, the organization and its employees have a role in ensuring that it is leveraged fully. According to Dr. Philip Kotler, regarded by many as one of the world's top business thinkers, "The most important skill is client relationship management." While this is clearly the skillset that underpins all others in the case of the consultant, the reverse is equally true for the client organization. In fact, those employees working in partnership with payroll software consultants (such as the in-house project manager) are in have a great deal of influence over the consultant’s effectiveness, being in a position to help or hinder. As such, organizations need to consider how exactly to best manage the HR technology consultant relationship. Following a number of core principles allows a mutually beneficial consultancy relationship, resulting in maximum value for the organization.
Payroll Software Consultant Relationship Principle #1: Be Hands-On
An in-house project manager who adopts a laissez-faire approach is handing over too much responsibility to the consultant. Mike Myatt of N2growth offers his clear opinion: “You need to manage the [consultant] and the process to the best possible outcome and this cannot be accomplished with a passive management style... You can either manage the engagement process or let it manage you.” Myatt goes on to highlight that the deliverables must be clearly understood, and that a project plan with clear and measurable benchmarks, milestones and deadlines is agreed as a roadmap to those deliverables. However, hands-on does not imply holding the consultant back – a good project manager uses his or her organizational knowledge to be a steering wheel and not a brake.
Payroll Software Consultant Relationship Principle #2: Monitor and Review
Regular project meetings between the project manager, consultant, and other relevant stakeholders allows for process review, priority-focused briefing, scope and remit checking, budget review, off-the-record discussions and resource monitoring. For instance, Clarity Consultants’ research on onboarding payroll software consultants adds “Another benefit to conducting regular meetings is that they allow the project to change as it develops. Team members are able to review project goals and schedules, revisit or revise the project scope, and amend the action plan. This helps to ensure the work meets the goals of the project.” While meeting frequency will depend on the scope and program of the payroll solution project, weekly reviews can limit the degree of any slippage while still allowing time for progress between meetings. This monitoring approach leads to genuine agility within the project management process, and allows for quick, course-corrective responses as needed.
Payroll Software Consultant Relationship Principle #3: Require Written Reports
Meetings (either in person or via conference or video calls) are effective but a requirement to produce written progress reports concentrates the mind in a different way. Tim Bryce at Toolbox.com notes, "The two most obvious ways to manage consultants is by having them prepare routine status reports and project time reports". These reports Bryce suggests, "should be produced on a weekly basis and detail what the consultant has produced for the past week and detail his/her plans for the coming week". With regular meetings (point #2) it may be that written reports for an organization’s payroll project can be produced less frequently, but it is critical that the organization should be the one to review, approve, act upon and file all such reports accordingly.
Payroll Software Consultant Relationship Principle #4: Park Non-Critical Issues
As the software project proceeds, new options and possibilities are often raised (e.g. new customizations, additional system integrations, etc.) by both the consultant and in-house stakeholders. However, as Clay Scroggin of compareHRIS.com warns, "Make sure you don't get off track with work that is outside the scope of the project". Demonstrating early successes and quick time to value is generally critical and unless the organization’s requirements have fundamentally shifted, new add-ons or features are unlikely to drive these goals. A functioning payroll system operating to a high degree of accuracy is the bottom line success criteria – as Scroggin puts it, "push off anything extra or [nice-to-haves] until the basics are completed." Expanding the project scope ‘mid-stream’ carries the risk of implementation failure and a reduced return on investment (ROI).
While there is no reason to expect unethical behavior within the client/consultant relationship, the organization should have a clear idea of the standards that it expects from the payroll consultant. Some of these standards will derive from the internal culture and laid-down policies but a savvy client will also be aware of the consulting industry standards that are in place. For example, the Institute of Management Consultants USA outlines its requirements as including:
Safeguarding confidential information.
Rendering impartial, independent advice.
Accepting only those client engagements they are qualified to perform.
Agreeing with the client in advance on the basis for professional charges.
Developing realistic and practical solutions to client problems.
Open discussion of these issues up front during the HR consultant selection process can avoid the occasional unpleasant surprise later.
Payroll Software Consultant Relationships – The Bottom Line
In essence, these relationship management principles are an application of good workplace practice to dealing with external consultants but ultimately, there is perhaps a sharper focus on being mindful of the consultant's time; not only because any wasting of that time causes delays to the actual payroll software project, but also because it has a direct cost implication. As Fieldstone Alliance's Carol Lukas, says: "remember, the meter is running; use the consultant's time wisely."