What is an internal HR consultant?: And how do I work with one?

Human Resources

Dear Joan:

“I’ve recently moved to a new company and I’m a manager with a fairly large staff. Most of my experience is in manufacturing and now I’m working in a service business. In the past, my dealings with human resources have been mostly grievance related and disciplinary actions for personnel problems. They helped with the hiring and firing and things like performance reviews.

“In this new company, I have an ‘HR consultant,’ but she is employed by the company – not an outside consultant. She works with our division. My question is about her role. I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to be working with her. She wants to sit in on some of my staff meetings, and wants to meet with me to talk about my staff. I’m not sure how to take that. Is it because I’m new, or because my boss doesn’t trust what I’m doing? It feels a little like she is overstepping her job.

“She reports to corporate HR and has my division as her ‘customer.’ I’m worried about confidentiality and also about how much she should be involved in my decisions. Could you tell me what this role is supposed to be? I don’t want to appear defensive. She seems competent enough, but how much do I tell her?”



The HR consultant role has evolved over the past 10 years. It has been adopted by many companies, but the transformation from administrator to consultant varies by company and corporate culture.

Historically, the philosophy among managers was, “I’ll get the job done, HR can do the people stuff.” But without ownership and involvement in the “people stuff” the results aren’t as good. As managers evolved their leadership acumen, they – rightfully – began to get more involved in the people business. And as laws and regulations increased, and employees became more sophisticated, leaders needed expertise to help them. And the HR consultant role was born.

I’ve worked with many HR consultants, and I also created and teach a course for HR consultants, so they can partner effectively with the leaders they work with. One of the key points is that trust has to be earned. And the way to earn it is to add value to the leaders with whom you work. And the best way to add value is to help them find practical solutions to business and people problems…not to be the HR Police, enforcing rules and handing out forms.

In other words, a good HR consultant may help you think through a decision with which you or your team is wrestling. She would ask insightful questions to help you and the team think of all the upsides and downsides to the company and the employees. She may help with a plan to communicate it. She might give you honest feedback about what you do well and what you need to work on to be more successful. She may give you feedback about members of your staff or help you sell an idea to your manager. She would give you creative ways to apply HR practices. For instance, she may challenge the need to replace a retiring employee – and suggest ways to redistribute those responsibilities.

But of course, if you don’t trust that she has your best interests at heart or she can’t keep some things confidential, you aren’t going to partner with her. So, like with any partnership, she has to earn your trust. I would suggest that you have a “contracting meeting” to discuss each of your roles and responsibilities. For example, spell out things such as:

  • How she can add value to you and to your employees.
  • What kind of ongoing communication you both want to have.
  • What should be confidential.
  • Explore how open each of you is to feedback from the other. For example, do you want her to provide feedback on your leadership skills? Give input on business decisions?
  • Talk about “trust busters” each of you has. For example, going around you to your employees without your knowledge. Or speaking for you instead of letting you speak for yourself. Or sharing negative information about you or your team with other people.
  • In which areas do you want her to take a stronger role and exert more influence?

Having an open conversation about your respective roles will be a solid start to a collaborative partnership that could be developmental for both of you.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational and leadership development strategist. She has a proven track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at info@joanlloyd.com and visit www.JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1,600 of her articles. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500.

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President of Milwaukee based Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc. Executive coach & management consultant with 98% success record (measured by clients). Specialties: Executive/leader team coaching; 360-degree feedback processes & development plans; facilitating executive planning retreats, resolving team dynamics issues, presentation skills coaching. Corporate experience includes officer of Northwestern Mutual, Miller Brewing, Clark Oil and Refinery.

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