Lose the politics: using consultants effectively to bring about organisational change

Posted by Leadent Solutions on February 24, 2017

Lose the politics for effective change

As consultants, we should help our clients calm the waters, not make devastating waves out of small ripples    

I’ve seen change and transformation from all sides; I’ve worked for small companies, a large global organisation and been both customer and supplier/partner side. Something that stands out across all of this, is that some of the most effective people I have worked with have been builders of teams, builders of bridges across organisations and industry. As a result, I have long been an avid observer of those who can win hearts and minds, and how this leads to business and personal results.

In a situation where you have external consultants coming in, what seems to work best is when they listen first, ask some honest questions, then at the right time seek to build, using their experience; both relationships and a plan to generate and sustain results. Usually, it is necessary to challenge or to put people outside of their comfort zone. Some people will choose not to be part of the future direction, but the important aspect is the building of trust and alliances, both with the client organisation and crucially, of their people and teams. The truth is that with the right environment (and investment!), most things can be achieved.

What doesn’t, or certainly shouldn’t work (in the long term for sure), is exacerbating organisational politics where it exists, or seeking to create it in the first place.

Sure, from the consultants’ point of view, it might justify bringing in more people, and create an inaccurate perception that a relatively simple situation needs a highly complex solution. However, that’s not the right approach. It doesn’t make business sense, and it’s not ethical.

Equally on the customer side, if you are managing a supplier every day by referring to contract clauses then you have problems. Am I scarred by experience? No, fortunately not, but I have seen it happen to others and it simply doesn’t work in a situation where you are jointly trying to create organisational change. It stifles innovation and leads to a culture of delivering to the letter. Customers’ needs change over time, especially if a transformation is planned over a number of years. You, therefore, need to look at what is going to deliver the most customer/business advantage, whilst working within the agreed commercials, where possible.

Change is a human process

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not fluffy about this. Results need to be measurable and tangible. But until we find out if robots can replace us entirely, we need to recognise that we are humans, not cold clinical droids. Above all else, we should aim to get the balance right. Businesses shouldn’t be ashamed to achieve profitable growth, whilst being straight and fair with employees and having an obsession for being customer driven. At the same time, whilst politics will always exist in our human interactions, we all need to stand back occasionally and ask, “Is this going to lead to something good”?

So, although obvious, one of the most important things to do is to bring teams and individuals together; to talk about how they feel they can or should work together to achieve success. The environment created should make it ok to also talk about where they feel another team stop them achieving their goals, provided everyone is focused on making it work.

Managed well, the result can be a more aligned organisation where people are working together.

Silos or ivory towers are pointless. They may make someone feel important and in control, however, whilst we talk about why we are more important than another team, the competition is focusing on taking market share, or gently exposing our weaknesses.

Getting it right

Some practical steps, that are often missed or poorly executed include:

  • Be clear about the vision and the case for change. Asserting that the change is definitely happening is really important, supported by objectives and measures, but start with making the justification for change
  • Make it about you, or us, not about me or only outside stakeholders, such as competitors, shareholders, government/regulatory bodies
  • Don’t be afraid to praise; it doesn’t always have to result in material/immediate gain (though that can also help!)
  • Be clear what success looks like, but set achievable targets. Often unachievable (I don’t mean ‘stretch’) targets do more damage than no targets
  • Be clear on the journey and break it into chunks; even the most complex challenges can be achieved if you break them down

Some of my greatest friendships from work are with people that I initially didn’t gel with. They had different views to me and maybe I felt threatened, thought they might stop me or the organisation achieving success, or it might just have been an ego thing. But given time and from working towards a shared goal, we have become great friends.

Isn’t it a bit boring when we agree on everything? Different viewpoints breed innovation and ultimately, if managed, lead to a company solving their own problems. A good consulting firm or facilitator can create the right environment to foster open discussion and progress, whilst ensuring everyone contributes to the company’s vision being realised.

What have you seen as working and failing?

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