Change Management - When to use consultants

As a consulting company, so you might expect us to push the use of consultants at every turn.  Not so.  Our principal consultants have spent many years within organisations, in situations which include acting in senior IM&T management positions. We understand that there are times to bring in specialists, and times to make use of your in-house expertise.

We specialise in Strategic Management, Risk Management, Change Management, Project Management Training - activities that require more than an academic understanding. You need people with appropriate skills developed in relevant business situations.  In some cases, these skills may already exist within an organisation - particularly larger organisations with an ongoing history of development.

Factors in determining whether consultants are appropriate
  • Corporate Objectives. For some organisations, it is more appropriate to develop the skills of in-house staff in such areas as change management, training, risk management etc. For other organisations, such skills would seldom be used, and it would not be feasible to develop or maintain such skills.
  • Experience.  Do you have staff who have training and experience in the relevant skills? Does the organisation have a history of successful projects which would inspire confidence in doing this in-house?
  • Flexibility. Do you have staff who can work outside of their normal environment, possibly with a different management structure. A Project environment requires quick and sound decision making, a flexible approach and requires the specialist to work as an integral part of a team, yet have the ability to be demanding as to the quality of their work. 
  • Stress. Projects place demands on staff in terms of volumes and speed of work which is often well in excess of their normal environment.  This may be particularly upsetting for staff whose positions do not often require them to work within strict time / cost / budget limitations.
  • Availability. Do you have appropriately skilled staff who are able to devote the required amount of time to the project?  Change Management and training in particular often requires far more effort than initially thought - particularly if the organisation does not have much large project experience.
  • Impact.  How important is the success of the project to the organisation?  For smaller or non-critical projects, there is time for staff to learn on the job, and learn from their mistakes in a non-critical environment.  When the stakes are high, the need for experience becomes mandatory.
Mix and Match
One approach that suits some organisations is mix of consulting and permanent staff. The implementation of this will depend on the factors noted above.  We have seen successful situations where consultants have been brought in to provide strategic leadership, and a mentoring service to permanent staff, who have been in a position to learn and take over the reins at the appropriate time.

We have also seen success where consultants have worked closely with the permanent staff to develop a change management strategy and / or plan, then have handed over to the organisational staff.  This has been very successful where the organisation has enough skilled staff available, but not a particularly strong history of in-house projects.  In this case, the consultants can be brought in from time to time to review progress and provide input to the team.

While ongoing management of the change management team is one option, there are real advantages to using the organisation's in-house staff in as many areas as possible.  In many situations, change management consultants should working themselves out of the situation, by training permanent staff to the stage where they can take over the role (provided this is in keeping with the organisation' capabilities and requirements).

Who decides?
The decision as to whether to use consultants or not should rest with the project sponsor. As always, the sponsor should seek input from the project manager and if appropriate, the manager of any in-house providers of similar services.  If your project manager is on contract, he or she may feel obliged to suggest using their company. There are some benefits here, but these need to be carefully weighed against the potential for conflicts of interest. Ensure that any consultants you are considering are appropriate specialists for your situation. 

If a project impacts on the way your staff undertake their work, or in the way in which the organisation interacts with its clients, suppliers or partners, you should have a formal change management plan.  Poor change management can cause project failure just as surely as poor project management. On the positive side, superior change management will help ensure a better, faster return on investment from your project.

Like many things in business, you must decide whether or not you have the capacity and time to undertake this activity in house.  If the expertise is not readily available, our advice is not to ' wing it' with inexperienced staff or consultants. Whether it be contracting a builder, getting your car tuned, or having brain surgery would you prefer someone with a successful track record, or someone who had just read the manual? Why apply a different standard to a critical business project?