What to Expect When You Hire an Organizational Change Management Consultant

Change is a constant today in virtually every organization, and especially so for oil and gas firms in this low commodity price environment. Energy businesses are constantly undertaking new initiatives to improve performance, reduce costs, and optimize the way they serve stakeholders. But, these changes or organizational transformations often come with a cost:  employee stress, low morale, and change fatigue. Fortunately, many organizations now recognize the need for professional help with this human dimension of transformation, and are hiring organizational change management consultants to help achieve successful change. If you are considering a change consultant, the following guidelines may help you get the most from your consultant and avoid disappointment or mismanaged expectations.

  1. Understand that the S-curve applies in change management. The s-curve in business illustrates how one variable (say outputs) varies over another (such as time). In change management consulting, understand that you might not see tangible deliverables immediately; it may take time for the consultant to complete the front-end stakeholder assessment, change readiness analysis, and other analytics before you start to receive typical change products (communication collateral, training materials, etc.)  But, also understand that the time invested in those front-end analytics sets a baseline for measuring progress and will pay significant dividends over time.  You’ll see output increase quickly once those initial analyses are completed.
  2. Your Consultant will lean on you to speak and write in terms of business outcomes. Do your best to stop thinking about transactions or activity counts.  Instead, be prepared for your consultant to challenge you with “so what?” questions and to identify the outcomes you need and desire.  For instance, your consultant may not ask you to host an “all hands” kickoff meeting; instead, the consultant may ask you to “generate excitement in the organization by engaging leadership with employees.”  Remember that organizational change management is a bit different than other consulting disciplines.  It blends art and science to inspire action among stakeholders and produce a conversion from unawareness (or resistance) to acceptance and adoption. These changes occur in the heart and head, so to speak, and can’t be measured empirically by just the volume of output deliverables.
  3. Don’t expect your consultant to be your graphic artist. Posters, flyers, and other graphics certainly have a place in helping communicate change, but the consultant that helps you with a change strategy or leadership messaging, isn’t necessarily going to help develop these deliverables. There are plenty of creative designers who can help as part of the change management team, working shoulder-to-shoulder with your change consultant, who often has great ideas about effectively communicating with visual media.
  4. Your consultant isn’t your employee; they are your trusted advisor. You’ve brought in an expert in change management. Sometimes they will need to tell you things you don’t want to hear, which may feel harsh, but is always in the spirit of helping you through the pain of transformation. View this as an opportunity to get unbiased input.
  5. Be prepared to look broader than just the focus of your individual change initiative. Your change consultant will be looking at the climate across your organization (or at the environment your stakeholders live within) as those broader conditions will impact the success of your individual change.  Change doesn’t happen to those just within the silos of an organizational chart or within the context of a single program. Change is happening all around people and they are shaped and impacted by this broader environment.
  6. Deliberately and strategically select your consultant’s sponsor. Driving change is often a full-time role. You’ll need to select a sponsor who will be visible, engaged, and has the “juice” to mobilize resources and inspire acceptance. Some organization’s make the mistake of assigning a change sponsor who simply isn’t busy. Effective change leadership is repeatedly identified as a critical success factor. A sponsor with influence in the organization will be more capable of catalyzing change agents (another success factor) and reinforcing their messages across the organization.
  7. Change isn’t just communication (or training). Change management leverages a variety of tools and techniques.  Communication products or training materials are some of the most common, but far from the only tactics.  Think about leadership engagement, incentives and rewards, reinforcement, and institutionalization. The neuroscience behind change and the growing body of experience around change management have enabled consultants to bring forward increasingly sophisticated techniques to help achieve success.

We encourage you to set up your change consultant relationship for success through these approaches and techniques. These tactics could help pivot what can be the most challenging endeavor for your organization into one that is both rewarding and effective.

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4 Responses

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  1. Gary
    Jul 01, 2015 - 03:00 AM

    I’ve been involved in change management for seven years. I have certifications in change management and project management. This is an excellent article about what to expect from a professional change manger. Excellent.

    • Brendan Smith
      Brendan Smith
      Jul 09, 2015 - 03:01 PM

      Many thanks, Gary! All the best to you!

  2. Jim Smith
    Jul 03, 2015 - 11:35 AM

    We find that making a real impact on change requires the CEO to be the sponsor. Although not a politically correct observation, politics, culture and silos all contain someone with a vested interest in NOT changing. Soliciting input from employees in a politics, cultural and silo vacuum makes all the difference. For twenty years we’ve been doing this with the CEO’s direct sponsorship which allows us to suspend the negative effects of culture, politics and silo management and affect huge change during a ten week process.

    The results are quite a shock to our CEO clients. We don’t do much in the way of consulting other than fighting the employees battles to make change happen. Since our fees are determined at the end of the ten weeks, we have a vested interest in seeing that there’s no interference. In one case this approach delivered a sustainable SG&A reduction of $300 million, a capital reduction of $200 million, an inventory reduction of $45 million and reduced previously announced layoffs (The WARN Act) by 60%

    The change occurs because the folks wishing to block the change find themselves in the spot light, not a great career move. The approach is therefor self policing.

    You cannot push a string up hill. IF the CEO isn’t interested in seeing change happen and happen quick, guess what message that sends to the rest of the organization.

  3. Alan Lilley
    Mar 02, 2016 - 09:35 AM

    Great article and list of key requirements – one of my top ones is to get the No1 person on board.