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Consulting is an art that requires a strong foundation of knowledge and experience coupled with exceptional communication, people skills and the desire to help.

Often the “nuts and bolts” expertise of human resources (HR) is the first area of skill requested, but a deeper phase of work involving participatory processes is critical to get people engaged in shaping the HR systems in the workplace. With a strong “people system” in place which includes a foundation in HR and active communication channels that encourages engagement, the organization is ready to shift the focus to whole systems. This shift encourages people to see beyond their job to a big picture which includes all stakeholders and to hold critical conversations with those within and outside the organization that will set into motion continuous feedback and learning throughout the system.

Human Resources Systems

  • Connect your job descriptions to the central goals of the organization
  • Make your personnel policies a go-to document for employees
  • Create predictability in your system of rewards

Job Descriptions

Compliance with employment regulations continues to create a compelling case for managers to ensure that job descriptions are up-to-date and accurate, but more important is building a link between what the employee does and the larger goals and purpose of the organization. Accurate documentation is critical to promote compliance with regulations such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, but job analysis is also an effective process for dialoguing about what work is performed, how often and WHY. The data gathering provides an opportunity to improve alignment with the mission and priorities of the organization.

Personnel Policies and Procedures

Personnel policies are the go-to document for employees to find information on benefits as well as learn the rules and expectations of the workplace. More important than the actual language is the dialogue that takes place when they are developed and communicated in the organization.

The single most effective way to demonstrate that employees have received relevant information about expectations for conduct and behaviors in the workplace is to show evidence that they have an up-to-date policy manual at their disposal. Although this does not replace the importance of day-to-day communication with management, it is critical for capturing the philosophy, values and expectations of the employer. When surveyed, employees often cite the importance of having policies and procedures to eliminate surprises and add predictability to the workplace. The caveat for personnel policies is that once implemented, they must be consistently observed to be an effective management tool.

Compensation Systems

Compensation policies and programs convey the organization’s philosophy of rewards and can be a valuable tool for building commitment. Internal equity, which determines how jobs compare within the organization, is balanced with external market data to arrive at a strategy for setting pay. While internal factors include such elements as the type and depth of knowledge required, the external market is defined as: “where do we get people from and whom do we lose people to?” In addition, organizations often desire a strategy for rewarding individual contributions based on performance factors and competencies that exceed standard requirements.

Research reveals a strong correlation between employee commitment to the organization and a positive view of pay and benefits. A good program will increase confidence in pay decisions, encourage consistency and perceptions of fairness, promote compliance with employment regulations through reliance on methods and procedures which can be replicated year to year, and satisfy basic employee wants and needs and be communicated in a clear fashion.

Take your compensation program out of the black box, and let it work for you to build employee commitment.

Employee Engagement

Convening Critical Conversations

Convene conversations that will build collective knowledge and lead to better decision-making.

NJHess Associates can help you design and facilitate critical conversations around issues that define your organization and will shape the future. From small informal meetings to large gatherings with multiple stakeholders, engage people in the process of discerning what is most important and urgent for the organization to support planning, strategy building, organization change, management team development and big picture leadership.

Examples of questions to trigger critical conversations:

  • What do we see in the future, with respect to the way we do things, that is different from the way we do them now?
  • What assets will help us move forward?
  • Where do we see evidence of something new emerging in our environment?
  • What would we most like to be recognized for that also fits with our understanding of our customer’s wants and needs?
  • When looking at the future, what causes us most discomfort, and/or anxiety?
  • What challenges will be most likely to hold us back?

Mission Vision Values

  • What is our purpose?
  • Where do we see ourselves in the future?
  • What do we care most about?

Core & Distinctive Competencies

  • What is it we do best?
  • What is it we do different?


  • What is it we intend to achieve?


  • How do we intend to achieve it?

Performance Measures

  • How will we know we have achieved it?

Process Efficiencies

  • Can we improve the way we do things?

Job Analysis and Job Evaluation

  • What are the essential functions?
  • What is the primary role?
  • What competencies are critical for success?

Group Process Facilitation

Improve how groups work together with a group process facilitator who will help them focus on interpersonal skills, group leadership, follow-ship and problem-solving.

“How do I get this group to work better together?”

A group process facilitator helps people in groups to work together to surface issues, frame work challenges, process ideas, formulate intentions, goals, steps forward, or whatever the group determines is necessary. The facilitator focuses the group on listening, reflection, cooperation and collaborative problem-solving and feedback.

The truth is, group work is often thwarted by old habits and patterns that interfere with progress. For this reason, sometimes the best ideas put forward by a group or individuals are lost, and conflict and tension dominate the gathering. In this case what is needed is someone with group process skills who can tap the internal resources of the group and help these to develop.

Work System Mapping

Capture the way a system works; Engage people in learning how to preserve the core and stimulate progress.

Organizations today often have a need to preserve an understanding of a work system to improve knowledge transfer or improve the way the system works. This requires collaborative efforts on the part of various performers in the system. When system mapping is underway, the consultant provides process and facilitation skills to guide a group to describe what the system looks like and to articulate answers to a series of questions, including: What is most important, why? Who is involved, why? What are the goals as they relate to financial measures and budget, customer preference, quality? How will success be measured? The consultant will facilitate design of a system map and then work with the organization to design a process for relevant input from important stakeholders such as customers, business partners and others. This feedback provides a learning loop for system improvements and adjustments to meet immediate and future challenges.

Strategic Planning

Set aside time with leaders to intentionally focus on critical challenges and opportunities ahead, emerging issues, assets to be leveraged and a plan to serve as road map.

What is most critical for organization success? Although strategy development must be an on-going process in the organization, an intentional focus is important to elicit input from management, bring issues to the surface, capture ideas, and work toward shared understanding of the mission and vision of the organization.

Similar to other areas of service, the methodology for strategic planning focuses on participatory approaches. Although the consultant will draw upon experience and knowledge of the organization to ask questions and elicit responses, the consultant does not serve as a content expert, but focuses on utilizing the expertise of participants and structuring the responses of the participants in the interest of building shared group understanding of what is critical to the success of the organization.

See also [Critical Conversations]

Succession Planning

Identify and develop the leaders for the organization.

Succession planning has evolved into one of the most critical organization issues facing employers today. The reason for this is not only because demographics reveal a great shift coming in the next decade, but because today new paradigms require vision from a global vantage point and the ability to grasp ever more complex systems.

Succession planning is a formal process of identifying and developing leaders for an organization. Short term leaders are those who are ready to step in to the challenge in the present, while long term successors may be groomed and developed over time to grow into a position of leadership. Either leader must be able to maintain the continuity of the organization and its values.

Succession management teams benefit from a facilitator and a consultant who will help navigate sensitive and often politically charged terrain of successors to key leadership posts. This person will help to convene critical conversations and assist the team through key steps in the process.

“Succession management” refers to the long term commitment to the planning process and extends beyond the immediate goals of the planning process. Ongoing assessment of organization capabilities and identification of “gaps” sets the stage for dynamic developmental processes where ever changing organization challenges are viewed as opportunities to grow leadership. Succession management charts leadership development by tracking current and future capabilities, and engaging in problem-solving to address needs.

Governing boards are responding to this challenge by demanding greater accountability for executives to develop successors, not only at the topmost levels of the organization, but horizontally and laterally. They are taking a greater role in preparing the way for future leadership by identifying the most important challenges in the future and engaging in future scenario planning to clarify what competencies are most critical for the future. [See also, critical conversations]

Whole System Engagement

Performance Systems

Design systems where feedback, competency development and coaching toward goals are a part of the everyday life of the organization.

Performance programs are a highly desirable component of human resource systems and are frequently the first thing requested by an organization. This may be due to a desire to create a high performing workplace or a desire to track and manage performance outcomes, goals and performed measures are viewed as critical. In truth, these systems are difficult to design in the absence of other foundational aspects of HR systems, strong participatory processes and clear organization goals which stem from the mission, vision and strategies set by the top leaders. However, once these components are in place, the goals for employee groups and individuals within the organization can be aligned to mobilize and energize the organization to reach high and accomplish great things.

A performance management system reflects the values of the organization and its leaders. It is not just something you do once a year but a way of thinking about the relationship between people, their work and rewards. It is about how to build feedbacks loops into the structure of the organization to create better opportunities for learning and becoming better stewards.

Change Management

Build a business case for change. Then set about engaging people to get to the heart of the matter.

People do not always make decisions based on rational thinking, particularly when about value-related concerns. For this reason, as leaders, we must appeal to both the head and the heart if we are going to get people to accept change.

At the heart of the matter, “I” conversations bring about engagement (i.e., what does this mean to me?) “C” conversations, about “change” on the other hand, set off a whole chain of unpleasant reactions (i.e., what is going to be different?) Leadership is about changing the way people think and act, and so naturally, it involves “C” conversations, but it can’t be accomplished without “I” conversations.

Change is a difficult process. It simply cannot be railroaded through. How can we think and act in a way that ensures a future we want and moves us toward a vision we seek?

NJ Hess will work with your organization to develop two kinds of approaches in mind which address both the head and the heart: First, we will build a business case for change. Second, we will engage people in the question of what is most important to them. We want to engage people because we want to engage the heart. If we are going to create the energy and will for change, we need momentum. Organizations are what we shape them to be and our conversations determine what gets noticed and which challenges and opportunities people will pay attention to.

Knowledge Management

Build continuity by capturing institutional knowledge through formal and informal means.

In what ways do you enable the facilitation, flow and transfer of knowledge across generational, geographical & functional boundaries?

Knowledge management covers several stages:

In the first stage, the organization focuses on documentation of work, work processes and contingency planning around critical operations, e.g., policy, procedure and operations manuals, job descriptions, safety manuals, disaster planning manuals, and the like.

In the second stage of knowledge management the organization focuses on less formal means of knowledge transfer and TACIT knowledge, or experientially based knowledge. Tacit knowledge is rooted in experience, ideas, values and emotions. During this stage, organizations attempt to capture rapidly changing knowledge of the kind not captured in manuals and generally held by peer groups. Examples of strategies during this phase include peer-to-peer mentoring, group mapping of work processes and setting up systems that locate experts in real time.

In the third stage of knowledge management, experiential knowledge is shared within the community but also is reflected upon and discussed in the context of important and pressing issues. So in the collective, whole system phase, when we think about capturing the knowledge of an organization, we think about conducting and convening critical conversations. These conversations help us to adapt to a new reality and as such are a key strategy for business continuity. [See also, Critical Conversations]

Examples of whole system strategies: World Café, Open Space Technology, Future Search, Communities Of Practice (COP), e.g., on-line global peer networks, social networking.

If knowledge is going to be transferred it must be given proper context and the channels of communication must be open. There is no better way to build trust then to enter into a shared space for the purpose of solving problems. Engagement and problem solving build trust and are the most important aspects of the knowledge transfer process.


Perhaps most impressive is Nancy’s ability to build HR systems from the ground up. Such a task takes technical knowledge and …

Yaron Prywes, PhD Consulting Psychologist C Global Consulting, LLC