A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation on whether or not consultants / coaches are a good idea.
My friend’s organization was looking at a major change project. His colleagues were split on the value of bringing in a consultant. His instinct was that the project should be conducted organically by the existing team.
I understand his instinct. There are some great reasons for keeping the effort in house:
Consultants leave at the end of the project and don’t have to live with the results
The organic team is aligned with the goal and lead by example in making the change
Money spent on a consultant is money that can be spent on salary for a new, long-term employee
The existing team already knows the company, the culture, the lingo, the challenge, the stakeholders
Plus he still had fresh memories of a consulting engagement from a few years earlier that led to no action or outcome. The organization paid for a recommendation and then effectively shrugged.
As we talked I shared my thoughts on how good consultants and coaches add value by:
bringing a fresh perspective
effectively and objectively facilitating discussions, meetings and events
effectively communicating up, down, and across the client organization
employing specific, relevant skills
asking a LOT of questions
speaking unpopular but important truths
taking the blame for unpopular organizational decisions
Some of these points are more important than others. The last three are possible because consultants don’t have to protect their careers within the client organization after the project. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that knows me that I believe “effectively communicating” is critical; without earning buy-in, positive change is slow or doesn’t occur at all.
We also discussed the previous engagement that led nowhere and why this time might be different. What stuck out for me was that during the last effort, the market was at its peak and the biggest concern was satisfying customer orders while maintaining quality and cost controls. In that environment change appears too risky – “don’t break what’s working.” That’s in big contrast to today, where the oilfield market has been savaged over the last two and a half years and has stabilized but not recovered. Many companies in the current market are still fighting to survive and be positioned for the eventual upturn. That tells me that a change effort or consulting engagement today has a better chance of leading to action because the players now have a high sense of urgency, with strong stakeholder engagement… they recognize failing to change in this environment will lead to failure.
My friend and his company aren’t alone. I bet you’ve seen examples where:
your organization should have brought in a consultant, didn’t due to a variety of reasons (usually budget), and ended up spinning in circles wasting time and salaries.
your organization brought in consultants that either weren’t useful or assigned to projects that were never going to go forward, wasting time and salaries.
consultants were brought in that accelerated or made possible projects that had a major positive impact.
projects run organically were successful but often took months longer to execute.
So what’s the right approach – organic or consultant?
My bullshit answer is “it depends” based on answering a few key questions:
Is leadership committed to change and what it entails?
Is there an executive sponsor that will be personally engaged?
Will necessary resources be available to execute the change?
Will there be a high degree of politics that will likely derail progress?
Does the existing team have the critical skills or experience to guide the effort?
Is there enough time to rely on existing team ‘bandwidth’ or is the need time constrained?
Answering these questions honestly should help in making two big decisions – between going forward with the project or not, between organic or consultant.