What to do if you’re worried a client won’t like a report you write?

Something our consultants do on a relatively regular basis is step in and hear an appeal, or conduct an investigation. This is often for someone else’s client, if, for example, an independent fresh eye is needed, as is often the case with appeals, and particularly in small organisations where there perhaps isn’t a senior manager available who has not been involved in the original decision.

Drafting reports/outcomes for this type of work can be challenging, and a consultant can often feel enormous pressure to make the ‘right’ conclusion as wanted by the client. The client is the one paying the bill, and no consultant wants to wave goodbye to potential future work.

If you ever feel that pressure, there are several things you should do:

1. Get clarity of brief at the outset

Make sure you are absolutely clear when taking on the work what your role is. If it is an appeal, do you have autonomy to make a decision about whether to uphold the original outcome, or are you recommending to the client but the decision being ultimately theirs? Autonomy is best, for you and also for the integrity of the process and therefore also for the client. But that needs to be clear upfront.

2. Remember your own risks

It’s not just the client who is at risk of claims in the event of poor decisions or procedural failures, it’s you, too. You might literally be at risk of being named in a claim (unlikely but not outside the realms of possibility), but actually, you might also end up as a witness in a tribunal claim, and be questioned about your actions and your report. If you’ve tweaked it to please the client, you might find that uncomfortable!

3. Draft ‘straight and true’

This is the only thing you can do. If it’s an appeal or similar, look at the situation with fresh eyes, as you are supposed to do. Shut out external pressures and noisy voices, and consider the facts using your expertise and your experience. Then draft your report in an honest, authentic way, such that if quizzed on it later, you can substantiate everything you’ve said.

4. Remember nothing is black and white

An appeal doesn’t have to mean ‘upheld or not upheld’. An appeal is looking again at a decision – a dismissal or a grievance outcome, usually. You may find that there were procedural problems or faults. You may find that things could and should have been done better/actioned sooner.

It’s fine to say that, but to also say that the ultimate outcome should still not be overturned, if that’s what you think. You can make recommendations for future improvements, or for remedial actions. That shows that you have genuinely considered both sides, have genuinely considered complaints or concerns made, and, where you agree, have specifically stated that even if the whole outcome isn’t being changed. That kind of report is actually far better for claim-prevention than a straight denial of the appeal anyway, as the employee making the appeal often just wants to be heard and to have their concerns taken seriously and addressed. If they can see that’s happened, they are less likely to want to take things further. This is something you can of course explain to the client if they are unhappy.

A client will be more protected if you don’t bend under their pressure, because the integrity of the process you’re involved in is important to them in defending a possible claim, even if they don’t realise it at the time. And if drafting with integrity costs you a client, so be it. You’ll be able to hold your head up high, and will be able to confidently defend your report if you need to, and both of those things are more valuable. And both of those things might also be noticed by other parties involved and result in more work down the line too – an HR consultant with knowledge and integrity is a valuable thing.

If you like the idea of launching your own HR consultancy, working with us is an option. Do get in touch to find out how we work and what we offer.