Managing Change

    Change can be a major issue to deal with whether you’re managing it on behalf of the client or change within your own firm.  This week’s podcast deals with the various types of change a consultant must learn to deal with along with some approaches for dealing with it.

    1 –How much of a factor is change in the consulting world?

    • It can be a big factor.  Most organizations hire consultants and other professional service firms to help facilitate change.  For example, when a new product launch is being planned by a consumer products firm, they’ll often bring in a marketing consulting firm to help them with branding development and product launch.
    • Another example of that is in the IT world.  Most organizations hire enough staff to maintain their existing systems.  But when a whole new application needs to be developed, or a new project where they don’t have the expertise, they’ll often bring in a firm to do the development and manage the whole project.
    • A third example is in the area of search engine optimization or SEO.  Although we hear more and more about this every day, it’s a new skill that many online companies are struggling with.  They’re hiring consultants that are SEO experts to help them deal with these changing trends.
    • Each of these are examples of companies making fairly significant changes in how and when they hire consultants to help solve their business problems.

    2 – So what is the issue with managing the change?

    Well it depends on how it will affect the organization.

    • Each of the examples I just mentioned represent major disruptions to an organization.  Not only is their standard way of doing business being shifted dramatically.  Outside experts are coming in to lead it.
    • So in the IT example, a team of outside consultants are coming in to manage this new software implementation.

    If the application will change the way a majority of the client’s employees will do their work, people may begin getting uptight about how their jobs will change.

    • As an example
      • I once managed a project for a small manufacturing system going from a home grown system that was highly customized, to a large package.
      • Had an IT staff of 1
      • At the kickoff, received comments like
        • What was wrong with the old system?
        • Are you throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
        • They’re only focused on how they do their jobs from day to day and don’t recognize that it doesn’t have a web front-end, or doesn’t communicate with external vendors, or have growth capabilities
    • We needed to deal with the change and how it would affect the client’s employees early.
    • Otherwise, rumors begin to spread and before you know it, there are rumors that the consultants are here to eliminate X number of jobs.

    3 – I would imagine that becomes a bit of a PR issue

    • Client employees can begin to resent the consultants intruding on their turf and changing their comfortable little status quo.  We are essentially disturbing their peace.
    • Consultants are outsiders who become representatives of the terrible change that’s taking place.
    • I’ve often suspected that one of the reasons some executives hire consultants is to take some of the heat from their employees for all of the changes taking place.
    • So a consultant needs to promote the cause to get people on the bus
    • We aren’t necessarily there to be liked.  Consultants have a job to do.  But if they are hated, feared or distrusted, it will affect their credibility and their overall ability to get the project completed effectively.
    • They also may need to do damage control on the project.
    • If client employees are fearful of how it could affect their jobs, especially if they’re afraid the new software will create efficiencies to replace them, they have little incentive to cooperate.
    • They may not resort to outright sabotage.  But I’ve seen client employees do a number of things in subtle ways to interfere or be uncooperative which can delay the project or cause it to veer off course.

    4 –Do you have any examples of clients being uncooperative like this?

    • As I said, it’s usually done in fairly subtle ways, but one of the most common is for people to just not show up for meetings.  I’ve scheduled meetings where key people accept the invite and then they’re MIA when the meeting convenes.  They’ll say they were double- or triple-booked at that timeslot or they’ll resort to name-dropping and say that the CEO stopped by their office with some questions.
    • These are believable excuses once in a while, but when the same people do it repeatedly you start to wonder.
    • Another example is when you assign tasks or deliverables to client employees.
    • When the deadline comes around, they don’t get their tasks completed, claiming that it due to their normal daily responsibilities.

    5 – How do you handle these situations?

    • If it becomes habitual and begins setting the project back significantly, you can raise the issue to higher-level management at the client, but you risk salting the wound.  The employee already resents consultants.  You could turn them hostile.  If the employee is intentionally causing trouble and you report them to their manager, they start just figuring out other ways to throw sand in the gears
    • But if the person is legitimately too busy, management may be able to relieve them of other responsibilities so they have more time to dedicate to the project.

    6 – Rather than reacting to that, are there ways to keep it from getting out of control?

    • Getting client management involved works if the person is truly too busy.  But if they’re being uncooperative because of an aversion to change you need to get to the root of it.
      • It’s all about communication
      • Make sure the team knows how this will affect them.  Be honest about the good and the bad.
      • Tout the benefits – if not to the individuals, at least to the client’s business.  Try to make them understand why this is a good business decision.
      • Create a burning platform – why we must do this
      • Be honest Don’t lie.  Your goal is to develop trust and lying will do just the opposite.

    7 – Turning the tables a bit, I would assume a consultant needs to be able to deal with changes as well.

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    Yes, this happens on a nearly daily basis:

    • Projects change direction, whether for budgetary reasons or just because staffing changes as the project goes on.
    • Clients sometimes ask for personnel changes if they don’t think a consultant is a good fit at their site.
    • There are lots of reasons that a consultant could get moved from project to project
    • You can also get assigned to an out of town project at a moment’s notice.
    • Need to be flexible. Embrace and enjoy the variety and accept it as a challenge, rather than always trying to have things planned out.

    8 – What is the most abrupt change you’ve had to deal with in consulting:

    • Called the night before (Thursday) to be in a city 3½  hours away
    • Woke up the partner to verify
    • Showed up in a suit – attire was business casual
    • Spent the next 6 weeks traveling there Mon-Fri
    • I’ve had several other detours though:
      • Company went into chapter 7 bankruptcy protection
      • Company sold
      • Laid off abruptly 3 times in my career
      • sudden moves from one project to another

    9 – You’ve talked about helping a client’s employees deal with change.  Have you had to deal with your own employees or peers in consulting deal with change.

    • Usually with project staffing changes
    • There are usually so many possibilities in consulting, it’s difficult to communicate to individual consultants what is in the sales hopper
    • Could have sales proposals with 4 different companies.  These are all possible projects.
    • Maybe none of them hit.  If you’re lucky, one hits.
    • If you talk to consultants about what might happen, you need to make it clear that nothing is guaranteed
    • I once knew a consultant who was told they were considering her to go to a conference in Puerto Rico.
    • She nearly went into a panic, wondering out loud about who would water her plants and feed her cat.  As it turned out, they never had her make the trip
    • If you’re in consulting long enough, you learn to deal with constantly changing environments
    • You actually thrive on it after a while.
    • I’ve always tried to explain that to new consultants before they start experiencing it – just to prepare them a little.
    • When it does happen, help them to see the bright side and the benefits of whatever the new change is.
    • The bottom line though is that good consultants are very adept to change.  If you need things to always be predictable and stay the same, you may have a lot of trouble with consulting.

    10 – Any final thoughts on dealing with change?

    • – Always be prepared
    • – Anticipate adversity to change with a client – try to read the ones that are for and against.
    • – Those that advocate it the most may not be for it. May suffer the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome
    • – Also, be prepared for it internally. Expect change and embrace it when it happens to you on a project.

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    Images: www.freedigitalphotos.net

    Music: Kevin MacLeod – Incompetech.com

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