SI Review: March 2013

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Expert’s Corner

Free Agency

The hiring and retention of a skilled consultant

By Alan Kravitz

The hiring and retention of a skilled consultant is difficult when there is a shortage of consultants and an excess of open positions. To use a sports analogy, it’s like having free agency across the industry every day of the year. The best talent can literally change teams whenever they desire. The healthcare electronic medical records (EMR) market is a great example of this industry cycle. Nearly all health systems in the U.S. are looking to upgrade their technology, and there simply are not enough consultants in the market to meet the demand. The key is to hire top-notch consultants with strong skill sets, and then provide a great home for them within your company. You have to make them want to stay on your team.

This phenomenon has all companies pondering the fundamental question: Should you hire a consultant before you have a position or scramble to find a consultant when a position is open? Hiring to the bench is a challenging solution because it is expensive and you cannot predict when a position may be available. However, when you have a consultant on your staff working at a client, your priority is to keep them engaged and on your team. Consultants on the bench after a contract ends are just as expensive as hiring to the bench.

One school of thought is that it is more economical to keep a consultant and find another position than to find a new consultant for each new opening. This does make great sense, but how do you keep your consultants on the team?

Money is often what motivates people to become consultants, but it takes more than a high salary to stay a consultant. Consultants often are away from home most of the work week. That means they miss their children’s afterschool activities, helping with homework, birthdays and more. Maintaining a household alone is not what their spouses signed up for. While these things are out of your control, they should be on your radar, as they affect the morale of your workforce. Let them know you recognize and appreciate their sacrifice with small gestures such as sending a gift card to the spouse when the consultant is on the road for longer than usual. Know the birthdays of your consultant’s family and send cards with a hand written note. It is important to know your consultant as more than a billable asset.

Create a team atmosphere even if your consultants are not geographically located near the home office. Bring them into the office twice a year to meet each other and you. Be sure consultants with similar skills are able to build relationships, enabling them to help one another with difficult work and take some of the load off the home office staff. It is easier to ask a friend for help than to call a stranger. Once these relationships are established, hold regular team video conference calls to discuss any personnel issues, project updates and any tough project issues.

Further, schedule regular one-on-one calls with every consultant. This will enable them to discuss issues that they would rather not share with the team. Beyond that, be sure to have an open door policy; let them know you are available to help or you will find the appropriate resource for any issue personal or professional.

Your HR department also needs to establish clear communications with your consultants. Your consultants need to know the experts at the home office. These experts should be standardizing and educating consultants of all HR processes. Now that your consultants are talking to each other, any discrepancies will become obvious, so make sure everyone receives the same message.

Retaining consultants is about more than money. Build a place where you want to work; a place that takes care of its employees and their families; makes employees feel appreciated by the boss and their peers; and a place where they know whom to call when they need help. The culture you build within your company and the principles by which you manage will be the foundation for these efforts. This will create a team that everyone would be excited to be a part of.

Alan Kravitz is CEO and founder of MedSys Group Consulting.

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