Many leaders hire external consultants to help them and their teams adopt new ways of thinking and behaving to achieve desired results. These experts apply their capabilities and experience to assess the organization, build a change plan and manage the transition process. If all goes well, the change is made and the consultants move on. Nothing wrong with that, unless the consultants:
- Create a dependency on their expertise so that leaders defer decision making to them. I have seen leaders look at consultants for approval before answering questions about the business. This isn’t healthy or sustainable. Consultants provide perspectives for leaders to make better decisions, not make decisions for leaders.
- Don’t build change capabilities. Change is constant, complex and uncertain. Building people’s ability to navigate change is a must. Change agility, the ability to manage multiple and continuous changes, is rapidly becoming a source of competitive advantage. Part of a change consultant’s mandate should be to transfer their knowledge and skill to clients so that they need less or no support in the future. Instead of holding a client’s hand, he or she needs to strengthen their muscles.
- Rigidly employ their proprietary methodology. Frameworks are helpful in structuring the activities required to change how people think and behave. Although change is rarely linear, a sequential approach or methodology is helpful in ensuring that your address all aspects of a change. The problem arises when the framework is implemented without customization to the client’s circumstances. This happens when consultants are in love with their design or they don’t want to invest the time into rethinking it based on client needs. This can lead to a checklist mentality where completion of the steps is the goal versus implementing the right steps for the change. Also, adherence to one methodology excludes other approaches and tools that might be better suited for the organization. The best change management consultants use a blend of approaches and tools that are appropriate to the need. They only use what is needed for that change regardless of who created it.
- Leave before the change is embedded. People need time to internalize new ways of thinking and behaving. Launching a change doesn’t mean it will stick. People need guidance and encouragement as they try out new ways of working to see if they work for them. If not, many will revert back to old ways, reducing the benefits of the change. Change consultants need to monitor progress and provide assistance to those who need it until they work. Only then can they move on knowing the change has taken hold.
So what is right with change management consulting? External consultants partner with leaders to transition their organization to new ways of thinking and behaving. They consciously build change agility skills and resist the temptation to “do the change” for leaders ‒ they help leaders lead change. The best consultants also invest time in assessing the organization and its needs, employing the approaches and tools that are best for the change. Their work is done only when new ways of working become everyday practices, knowing that the benefits of the change will be realized.