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Flexibility: The Future of Consultancy?

Should we offer a flexible consultancy service? We think so, and that is why we have introduced new ways of offering HRIS consultancy for iTrent here at Phase 3. But flexibility is a conundrum for the service industry and HRIS consultancy is no different. Let’s consider the perspective of a client in the wider world.

The big news story in the UK in the 100 days following the general election on flexible services has been David Cameron’s pledge of a “truly seven-day NHS”. Jeremy Hunt is busy getting organised so that consultants’ contracts fit, and numerous GP practices across the country are trialling extended opening. The mission is to deliver a more patient-focused NHS service. We applaud this, as politicians argue that we, the consumers, demand and need that flexibility. Meanwhile, the BMA are among the clinician representatives pointing out the risk to the quality of service from a lack of robust-enough planning and resourcing.

Less popular to read is the tale of the Royal Mail. We, the consumer, are supposed to cherish the flexible “universal service” of our postal service, whereby residents in all parts of the UK can expect daily delivery at an equal price, regardless of how tricky it’s been for the postman to get to our address. Ofcom delivers a message like that of the government on health – “people want it, so do it”.

What do you think? Is this flexibility a good thing for the consumer or just not needed?

My view is pretty strongly in favour of healthcare availability seven days a week. Those taking on this enormous question in a context where it really does matter have my admiration and respect. I want them to do it. By contrast, I feel rather differently when it comes to the postal service. I’m not sure in today’s world it’s a proportionate response to insist on every day, same price snail-mail.

Within both of these stories, I see the same consideration of demand for choice and timeliness, versus conflicting expectations about cost and quality. Thinking on this leads me to two conclusions: firstly I thank my lucky stars that I’m responsible only for a very small world of service delivery in the HR systems market, which has a very teeny little bit to do with everyone’s health and well-being. Secondly, there is a thought on whether delivery of a flexible service is the right response to this demand.

Flexibility is great if it is (a) really wanted and (b) not at a cost to better-than-usual service. Otherwise, in a people-based business, we are just human “load-balancing”. In HRIS, shifting limited expertise to meet a subsidiary demand for something new, or even just new-ness for the sake of it, is not going to make organisations happy. At Phase 3, we have chosen to do things differently with our Retained Consultancy services because I have heard a growing voice from clients that this is what is really wanted. Extending expertise with these new approaches is such that current clients, many of whom are loyal and long-standing, experience only something that is additional, integrated and better.

Changing HR technologies and working environments creates opportunity for the consultancy experience to adapt with brighter ideas about how to move forward with people technology.

Everybody’s pace is different – which in itself needs attention – but as we know, place and time become increasingly arbitrary when it comes to the achievements of an HR or systems team. Consultancy must support and lead this, but only at the pace at which we can afford to do so without leaving metaphorical letters undelivered. Perhaps I’m happy to allow my mail to wait until tomorrow because there are other alternatives to stay in touch. In HRIS this is not yet true.

So, at Phase 3 Consulting, we are really fortunate that our Retained Consultancy – focused on “bite-sized” advice, guaranteed and at short notice – works intimately with the rest of the business. James Proctor leads this brilliantly for us and, for now, we are happy with a modest capacity to offer flexibility really well.

Is flexibility the future of consultancy in HRIS? I think it is, and the real moral of the story is that you as a consumer are the demand that the industry is there to look after. By all means, take our advice, but be the deciding factor.

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