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1 September 2022

How to make the HR Associate Relationship a Win Win

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Posted by: Katy Mcminn

The Associate Relationship can work particularly well for both individual HR consultants and larger, more established HR consultancies.

As with any relationship or agreement, it is important that it is a balanced and respectful relationship. There will be occasions however where there are issues which can cause problems both for the individual consultant and the HR consultancy so it’s important to put the planning and thinking into how the relationship will work at the outset to protect the interests of all parties.

The benefits of the Associate Relationship

There are a number of benefits for established HR consultancies to engage with Associates:

  • There is only so much work an individual can deliver in working day. To grow an HR consultancy business, a consultancy needs to engage additional resources to take on more work
  • Engaging an associate is a more flexible and cost-effective method of building a team, without the extra responsibilities of employing someone
  • Consultancies can benefit from highly experienced and skilled HR professionals with complimentary or additional skills sets to expand your offering

There are also a number of reasons why an individual HR consultant may be interested in taking on Associate work:

  • Enables them to focus on the pure HR delivery without having to invest time and effort into business development
  • Can be helpful when first starting out on their consultancy journey, providing immediate revenue through a more established consultant
  • Provides an opportunity to expand into different specialisms
  • Can benefit from support and guidance from a more experienced HR consultant to build confidence

How to Build a Successful Associate Relationship

For the relationship to be successful it is important that the relationship is based on the principles of respect, honesty, and professionalism on both sides. Any deviation from this can result in a negative experience for either party which can be damaging both to the HR consultancy who is engaging with an Associate; the reputation and wellbeing of the Associate; but also the reputation of the overall HR profession which is something we all have a responsibility to protect. To ensure the relationship is based on these principles needs careful thought and planning from both sides. Here are some key tips for both parties to take into consideration before embarking on this journey:

HR Consultancy

  • Have a clear agreement in writing which outlines the responsibilities and obligations of both parties
  • Be clear upfront on how pricing and fees work
    • This may differ from project to project. There are many different arrangements in place here, ranging from set fees set by the HR Consultancy, to an Associate providing a daily rate that the HR consultancy chooses whether or not to accept. Figure out what works best for the business and ensure there is transparency and agreement on this upfront.
    • Agree upfront when and how Associates will be paid. This may be when the business gets paid by a client, or on a monthly invoiced basis. Either can work as long as there is awareness and agreement on both sides.
    • Where possible, try and pay invoices Associate swiftly, in line with what you have agreed – as all business owners, know cashflow can kill a business and this goes for the Associate as well as your own HR Consultancy business.
  • Ensure you provide an onboarding experience which covers your brand, ways of working and expectations regarding client liaison and communication
  • Check all qualifications and accreditations to ensure these are all valid and in place. The HRI accreditation is a great way to ensure you are engaging with an HR consultant who is competent, credible and operates on a professional basis.
  • Ensure the Associate has Professional Indemnity in place to a level that is appropriate for your business and clients and ensure you receive a copy of this for your records.
  • Have a clear data protection and confidentiality process and procedure in place to ensure your client data is safe and secure and ensure the HR Associate is adequately training in your systems and processes.
  • Have a clear scope of work agreed for any project work or any longer-term assignments to ensure everyone is clear on expectations.
  • Set reasonable timescales and agree these in advance with the Associate, whilst emergencies can arise due to client needs, most project timelines can be planned for.
  • Be realistic in your expectations from an Associate. They may well be trying to build their own consultancy up at the same time so don’t assume availability without checking or having a process in place to confirm availability.
  • Be available, whether this be for support or quality control. The Associate is a representation of your business, so you need to ensure you are comfortable with the work they are delivering and how they are looking after your clients.

Individual consultant

  • Always carefully review the Associate Agreement to ensure you are comfortable with the obligations and how the relationship will work from the outset.
  • Ensure you are comfortable with how the pricing will work and how/when you will be paid. Having these discussions early on can prevent issues further down the line.
  • Always remember you are representing someone else’s brand and you have a duty to protect and uphold this. This will impact how you communicate with clients and present work, so always ensure you are fully aware of the brand and any brand guidelines
  • Be clear on your availability and manage expectations. If you know you are not going to be available at certain times, be proactive in letting the HR consultancy know so they can plan accordingly
  • Ensure you have all of your professional indemnity up to date and available to share with the HR consultancy
  • Ensure you keep any required professional qualifications up to date and if these expire for any reason ensure you communicate this.
  • Always be very clear on the scope of work you are delivering and where your role stops i.e., if client discussions move to pricing or fees, always defer to the HR consultancy.
  • Be clear on boundaries if you are looking to build your own business further. Whilst it can be easy to say yes to everything, if you are looking to develop your own business you will need to carve out time for your own business development at some point.

By focusing on these key areas, with open and honest communication, the Associate relationship can be highly productive and rewarding for both parties. The independent HR community is an incredibly collaborative group, with a high level of skill and professionalism. The Associate relationship is a fantastic way to harness this for the success of all consultancies, as well as promoting and driving the credibility of the HR profession as a whole.


Katy McMinn

Co-founder and director of HRi

Director of Task HR Ltd