Large organizations are more capable at dealing with change than ever before, and are able to do more of the “work” required of a change program. As they have typically implemented projects to improve business processes, install new technologies, and execute critical strategies, a large number of their employees have a reference point through prior experience of what is required; many firms have even added highly experienced change consultants to their management ranks.
Yet most companies continue to seek outside resources for help in managing change, often over the objections of those being supported. There are many good reasons to do so, but easy pitfalls abound as the consulting industry has not kept pace with the increased sophistication of their clients. The cost of consulting services has skyrocketed over the past decade, their participation is increasingly seen as disruptive, and the perceived benefits are declining along with the sustainability of their contributions to the effort. Top reasons to hire or to avoid consultants.
A broad survey of the reasons consultants are brought into the effort produces the expected contributions: to close both strategic and tactical resourcing gaps. What is interesting is what is often not mentioned: knowledge transfer, building the internal capability for change, and a process to reduce dependency on the outside consultant.
How does the traditional implementation model create a cycle of dependency? The underlying problems are a result of leadership and the organization taking the path of least resistance, by stressing the importance of short-term activities related to the defined initiative without investing a bit more in order to prepare for the next wave of change. Engagement and ownership suffer.
- Avoidance of organizational gaps – External support was deemed necessary at the outset of the initiative, sometimes to meet temporary needs, but more often to meet longer term critical capabilities; instead of developing internal resources to meet this need, expedience dictates that the expert (consultant) should lead the charge. Areas most often hidden by this tactical focus are the leadership development of mid-level managers and the capability of employees to embrace change as part of their core job responsibilities.
- Leadership disengagement – Once the “crisis is avoided” by the addition of fresh, committed, and knowledgeable resources, management often treats the initiative as an outsourced effort: they expect the work to “just get done” and are only passively involved with updates and decisions. Skills and knowledge are not transferred, and limited behavior change occurs at both management and worker levels.
- Expanding role of the consultant – The nature of the traditional consulting business model is to “fill the void.” Client resources were stretched thin (the reason for external support in the first place), and are not able to be fully committed to the efforts; it is easy to fill the open resource slots will all-too-willing consultants. Then, once the initial phase of work is “successfully” completed, it is natural to extend the consulting relationship beyond the original scope to subsequent work; unfortunately, this work is often outside the expertise of the consulting firm (e.g. strategy to execution).