Running a successful business is always going to throw up challenges that many leaders will dread. In most instances, they will dig into their experiences and resources to find a solution. However, in some of the most challenging situations, such as mediation, disciplinary investigations, settlements and redundancy management, they will not always have the skills, experiences or capacity for impartiality to manage.

In these situations they will have to turn to outside consultants for support. But, how do you choose an external consultant to manage mediation? How do you find a consultant who can be objective on settlements? How do you know which consultant to use for disciplinary investigations? And, what skills will a consultant need to manage redundancies?

In each instance, the most important aspect is trust. You must be able to trust the consultant you turn to and ideally that comes from an existing relationship or through a trusted recommendation.

When appointing an external consultant for these challenging situations, you need to understand how they will approach the issue and that they can be discreet and have the skills, experiences and capability to secure an appropriate outcome.

Businesses turn to external consultants for their objectivity, a balanced view and their experience in coping with the tough stuff. All too often businesses lack the capacity to use someone internally who can be independent and hasn’t been influenced by events in the business.

Critically, when staff have to make hard decisions, the outcome can have long-lasting effects on relationships across the business. By using an external consultant, you protect employees from having to live with those decisions and protect internal relationships.

In this blog I consider the four toughest people challenges a business will face, why a consultant can add value and, critically, what you should expect from a consultant.

Managing a disciplinary investigation in a business

If an organisation has a serious incident, such as gross misconduct, fraud or criminal activity, they need to carry out a very balanced and careful investigation. All too often employment tribunals fail because the company’s own investigation was not handled well.

Investigations must be sensitive, confidential, impartial and the correct procedures must be followed. Not all businesses have the skills internally to be able to carry out investigations in this way and it’s worth considering how best to protect the business and the individual under investigation.

Businesses need someone who has the skills to cope with these challenging environments. They must be skilled to deliver solid questions and have exceptional listening skills so they can also hear what is not being said.

Experience is key. You need a solid investigation as anything else will result in problems further down the line.

Using consultants to manage mediation in a business

Mediation is an excellent solution when there is a genuine issue causing people to clash. This is a useful process when a relationship is so fractured that it needs repairing or someone to discover if it is beyond repair and a decision needs making.

Again external consultants can be extremely useful because trust and sensitivity are the key ingredients for securing an amicable solution. Those involved in mediation have to believe in the objectivity and capability of the mediator and bringing in someone from outside the organisation is often the best way to do this.

When choosing a consultant, make sure both parties are comfortable with that person acting as a mediator. Both parties need to be satisfied or the process will fail. The consultant should then draw on their emotional intelligence to build trust between the parties.

A consultant should be understanding and empathetic while also capable of being challenging. Find someone with these skills and they will find a solution.

Using a consultant to agree a business settlement

signing papers

In this challenging situation a person is leaving the business and there are no other avenues left to explore – everything else has failed. At this stage you are now faced with agreeing the terms that allows someone to walk away, but also working to make sure both parties are left with their dignity and respect intact.

These conversations can be extremely difficult and the other party could feel very injured. You want to make sure this person leaves feeling satisfied and there is no risk to the future of your business or your reputation.

Again this requires skill and experience and an external consultant can help to ensure both parties are happy with the outcome. Look for a consultant with HR experience and who can be objective. They have to be able to find a solution that suits the needs of both parties.

Using a consultant for redundancy management

The redundancy process is arguably the most challenging situation any business will have to face and very few businesses have the skills they need to manage it because it is usually a relatively rare situation for an individual organisation.

You have to not only mitigate the impact on the people being made redundant, but also ensure the people left behind in the business aren’t also heavily impacted by the process.

We are currently helping a business to manage redundancies. It is a relatively straightforward process, but they have multiple sites and we are having to work hard to make sure staff in all locations aren’t becoming disenchanted and aggrieved by a “central” decision.

The key to good redundancy management is keeping every employee engaged. Make sure every member of staff sees that the people leaving are being treated well and they will continue to remain connected to the business.

What are the benefits of using an external consultant?

In every one of these challenging business situations, experience is a key element and an external consultant can bring decades of experience to the table.

They also provide absolute independence, objectivity and the knowledge to follow the correct procedures when needed. This helps both parties to trust in the outcomes of decisions that have to be made and will help to make sure no-one leaves the process feeling particularly injured.

Ultimately, a consultant provides solid outcomes that are independent and can withstand questioning.

Businesses face many challenges but a consultant can provide the skills necessary to deliver a final result that allows a business to move on and look ahead to the future positively without the fear of difficult decisions or fractured relationships hanging over the head of key members of the team.