CEO Insider

What you need to look for when hiring an HR company

Ilona Charles

If you’re reading this you may well be thinking, “do I really need to hire an HR person?” Many CEO’s and executives will recount their poor experiences with HR leaders and HR as a profession generally. It is often with significant reluctance and resignation that companies embark on the process of hiring HR into their organisations. They know they need support on the people side but are unclear what they will get for their money. Whether you are looking to bring in some temporary support for your small business or seeking to optimise or build capacity into your exiting HR function, at some point you may need to bring on some external HR expertise through a consulting or services firm.

When choosing any external firm to support you, there are some key considerations and things to look for. An article in Entrepreneur Asia Pacific talked to 5 simple but effective guidelines for choosing a consultant. These are: unimpeachable character, solid experience, creative problem solving skills, outstanding communication skills and excellent interpersonal skills. These are no doubt not new to you, but what should you specifically focus on when hiring in human resources?

Understanding your business

Great human resources professionals demonstrate and engage with you about your business. They are commercially minded and show a deep concern and interest in the problems you are trying to solve. They talk in business language, not in HR language. Great HR companies and their consultants will have built their credibility by demonstrating six key characteristics. These include courage, curiosity, collaboration, confidence, communication and consistency. Are these characteristics demonstrated in their discussions with you?

Understanding you

Not only do they show an interest and curiosity about your business, but they also demonstrate a genuine concern for you. As the CEO, you need people in HR you can trust. HR needs to be trustworthy and have integrity. They need to demonstrate empathy and care for others and often this will be illustrated by their interactions with you. Do you get a sense that they genuinely care about you and your success aswell as that of your company and workforce? If you get a sense through conversation that the work is more about them than you, then look elsewhere.

Understanding the business they are in

Human Resources is often accused of being overly complex. Designing solutions that don’t necessarily serve the business or the workforce.  When choosing an HR company it is important to keep in mind the critical requirements that demonstrate a pragmatic approach to HR delivery. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Are they able to articulate an appropriate balance between getting the core foundations and basics right and focusing on the issues or problems of most strategic importance to you?
  • Do they have the right mix of team members or consultants to support you with your specific business problem or are they heavily reliant on one or two key people? Team is important.
  • How focussed on the new fads are they? In other words, how real are they? Can they demonstrate a balance of creativity and innovation with the practical application of new ways of thinking?
  • How pragmatic and practical are they with the potential HR solutions they are suggesting? Do you understand what they are talking about?

There are many HR companies to choose from, however not all will deliver what you need. Like most professions and consulting firms, there are some that are great, and some not so good. Similarly, it often comes down to individuals within those teams.

A good HR company will support you in clearly identifying the problem you are trying to solve and working with you to determine the best outcomes and solutions for you and your business.

Most importantly they will have a genuine belief that people really do matter. They can balance the needs of the workforce, whilst not losing sight of the need for organisational performance.

They know that it is not one or the other, but both, and that this will be critical in driving business success. Most of all, they need to demonstrate the key leadership traits they espouse including humility, empathy and integrity. You must believe you can trust them implicitly and they have the experience and skills you need.


Written by Ilona Charles.

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Ilona Charles
Ilona Charles, author of HR for Impact: Practical steps for HR leaders to build influence and thrive, is an experienced executive and human resources leader. She is respected for her pragmatic and business-focused approach to human resources. Ilona is co-founder of shilo. a world leading provider of on-demand human resources professionals. She is passionate about supporting businesses and HR professionals to be successful and impactful. For more information visit www.shilopeople.com


Ilona Charles is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.