Payroll Consultants: A Guide to Knowing When to Change Direction
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By Dave Foxall
When the Payroll Software Consultant Relationship Isn’t Working
In the same way that sometimes (regrettably) organizations choose the wrong payroll software, they can also fall into the trap of choosing the wrong payroll software consultant. Indeed, as the selection consultancy Software Think Tank points out “One of the most significant errors organizations make is that they focus the majority of their time on the software product and a limited amount of time on the professional services firm that’s going to help them implement that product”. Still, no organization wants to think they’ve made the wrong choice; and the process for letting a consultant go mid-project is not a decision to be taken lightly. Equally though, it makes no business sense at all to throw good money into a payroll software consultant relationship that has run its course and is no longer working. So what are the danger signs that might lead you to consider your payroll software consultant’s performance? Here’s our list of the top 4.
Payroll Software Consultant Danger Sign #1: The Project is Slipping
One particular set of warning signs (derived from an article from Axia Consulting) centers on the project deliverables themselves. Any of the following issues should be addressed immediately and in most cases should at least prompt a discussion of your consultant’s performance.
Missed deadlines (particularly on tasks for which the consultant is directly responsible).
‘Critical path’ tasks done in the wrong order, affecting dependencies.
Key stakeholder input is missing at critical stages due to a lack of co-ordination.
The project team is lacking focus and direction.
Project updates are missing or late.
Internal politics, vested interests, or conflicting departments are slowing progress (especially if the consultant has a stakeholder engagement role).
Of course, just because progress is falling behind on the project plan, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s due to anything your consultant has or has not done. That said, when faced with significant project slippage, all potential causes must be considered—meaning a long hard look may need to be given to the idea that it may be time to end the consultant relationship.
Payroll Software Consultant Danger Sign #2: Credibility is at Risk
One of the core advantages of bringing in external expertise on a payroll software project is the objectivity and credibility that a consultant can lend to the process. Fair or unfair, stakeholders at all levels are more likely to give the external help credit for their competence compared to known in-house people. Part of the consultant’s contribution is often to present this credible “face” and play a role in finding a path through conflicting opinions, concerns, and requirements. If you notice this credibility lacking in any way, especially with the C-suite (senior support and sponsorship is vital to the success of major IT projects), then a closer look at how the consultant is dealing with internal stakeholders may be required.
Payroll Software Consultant Danger Sign #3: The Wrong Individual
Skills and experience aside, to really hit the ground running the ideal consultant has a degree of rapport or “fit” with the client organization; particularly in relation to non-tangibles such as culture and ways of working. This is not to say that an organization’s culture is automatically the best for what it’s trying to achieve and doesn’t need to change, but the consultant must be able to work with what is already in place and not against it. A relevant finding from an HR Outsourcing Association survey states, "We were happy to hear how a provider could improve how we work but not change it… the provider needed to mirror our culture. Providers who came in and tried to change our approach failed”. Hence, if the consultant is unable to build the required rapport in fairly short order it may be a sign of problems to come, including the lack of credibility mentioned above.
Payroll Software Consultant Danger Sign #4: The Consultant’s Job is Finished
Clarity on exactly what job a particular consultant is equipped to achieve is important. For the selection of a new payroll solution, the ideal external assistance is completely unaffiliated with any platform or application, but at the same time carries an encyclopedic awareness of the payroll software landscape; the different offerings/products; and the organizations to which they’re best-suited. However, once the selection has been made, the requirements change and a detailed knowledge of the specific solution, its capabilities and quirks, its hardware requirements, its capacity for broader integration, and so on is necessary for a smooth implementation process. In an ideal world, you might choose to engage different consultants for selection and implementation of the new payroll solution. Therefore when the selection is done, it may be time to change consultants.
Changing Payroll Software Consultants – Final Thoughts
Of course, there is always a risk attached to “changing horse midstream” and a change of consultant shouldn’t necessarily be the first recourse. As in any performance management or productivity best practices situation, a simple dialogue can usually turn things around. However, what can’t be avoided is that in a limited duration software project (in which external consultancy is a key success factor) time is of the essence and sometimes hard decisions must be taken sooner rather than later. As mentioned above though, the other factor to bear in mind is that in all these cases, it may simply be a case of the wrong consultant (and not necessarily the wrong consultancy). As such, a simple change of personnel could be much more manageable, avoid further project delays, and satisfy the need for a different course of action.