Alisa Knuutinen: 3 good reasons to hire a change management consultant (and 1 bad one)

Organisations are adopting new ways of working and systems all the time. Regardless of whether the change at hand is about ERP renewal, agile transformation or merger, companies are typically seeking for tangible business benefits. By embarking on a change journey, one could for instance expect to improve profitability, create cost savings or enhance customer experience. However, these desired benefits are not always gained in practice.

Even though the new operating model would be carefully crafted or the system available for use, it does not mean that people are going to change their ways of working. At the end of the day, succeeding in organizational change requires tangible changes in people’s behavior. Hence, it is important to understand whether people are starting to behave according to the new model or whether they are still falling back to their old ways. However, it is noteworthy that changing the ways of working is easier said than done.

Adopting new processes and systems takes a lot of energy and time. Consequently, gaining the desired benefits is challenging without sufficient encouragement and support activities. Due to these reasons, a change management consultant is often called for help. But what additional value can a change management consultant bring?

1. Change management consultant supports with people side of the change

When planning for an organizational change, it is easy to get lost in the technical aspects of the change. Project teams are spending their time solving questions like: How might we ensure that there are no bugs in the new system? What is the content of the new operating model or strategy? How might we ensure that the project is delivered on time and stays within the allocated budget? 
 
In the midst of trying to find answers to these questions, it is easy to forget about the people side of change. The project team might carefully craft a process and plan every little detail of it. Nevertheless, it might still be that no one will follow this process. Hence, a change management consultant can come into the picture and ask: How might we ensure that people have the needed capabilities to start using the new system or model? How might we execute the strategy in practice and who is responsible for what? We can answer these questions in a change execution plan, which describes how we will involve the key stakeholders in the change.

2. Change management consultant helps the project team and change agents to succeed

An effective change management consultant goes beyond asking tough questions or coming up with plans. She or he also gets shit done. Ideally, a change management consultant supports the project team and the sponsor in their roles in executing and communicating the change. A change management consultant could for instance prepare materials for info sessions and spar the leaders on their communication. Nevertheless, change management consultants are rarely the face of the change. The message coming from an internal familiar face is much more trustworthy and meaningful. This way the change can be motivated and explained in the context of the person’s everyday work. We tend to trust the familiar more.

3. Change management consultant brings in expertise and deep knowledge

When a change management consultant becomes a part of the team, they can bring a vast amount of experience and expertise in change execution. When talking about change management activities, many immediately think about communication and training. However, these are rarely sufficient activities to support people in adopting the new way of working. That brings the question: What else? A capable change management consultant can expand the toolkit and help the team to think broader. Other methods are for instance change agent network, line manager support model and measurement of the people change. Nevertheless, hiring a change management consultant might not always be the right solution. So, when should you not hire a change management consultant?

4. One bad reason to hire a change management consultant: There’s no time or resources to champion change

Succeeding in large-scale organizational change or transformation requires significant efforts from the organization. Typically, a variety of support activities are needed, as well as the commitment from internal change makers and spokespersons. Regardless of how competent the change management consultant is, she or he cannot succeed in their work alone. Having internal people on board is essential – they are in the best position to root for the change. 

Internal people need to have time and competencies to support the change.  They are the ones that are interacting with the people in their day-to-day work. They also know the work community the best and hence can translate the key messages to different roles and units. The closer the message comes, the more likely it is to feel relevant.

Change execution typically takes more time and resources than expected. It is good to keep in mind that in organizational changes we try to impact the behavior of hundreds if not thousands of people. One or even a group of consultants are rarely enough to drive the change. Ideally, a change management consultant supports the project team and the rest of the organization to succeed in their role as change ambassadors. Successful change requires effort and leadership not only from the project team but also much broader commitment throughout the company.  

In the ideal scenario, the entire project team gets together to think about people side of change and particularly, stakeholder engagement. In addition to the project team (or “change team”), we can establish a change ambassador network. Change ambassadors can be for instance front-runners that are excited about the change or line managers. Representing different parts of the organization, they are the perfect partners to root the change to everyday work. Also, the leadership team and sponsors have an important role to play. They speak for the change, remove the obstacles that the project team might face and ensure sufficient resources. In other words, we need a whole lot of committed and passionate people to turn the ship around.