Choosing a Partner for Change

Published July 2009

Future economic growth rates are likely to be slower than those prior to the Great Recession. Your organization can no longer simply rely on a rising tide which lifts all boats. In order to thrive, fundamental changes will be required to distinguish your organization from its competitors. This means significantly better products or services and vastly superior performance in delivering those products and services (e.g., faster response, higher quality, lower cost).

By its very definition, fundamental change implies that it is outside of your organization’s history. We’re talking about changing not only how people perform their jobs, but more importantly, how they think about them. This often requires the help of an outside resource. Several factors should be considered when choosing a consultant partner.

First, understand that the number of people calling themselves consultants increases with the unemployment rate. This is a frequent first-stop for professionals with 10 or more years of experience who have just received a pink slip. As the unemployment rate approaches double digits, realize that there are a lot of self-proclaimed consultants.

Second, keep in mind the warning of American psychologist Abraham Maslow which can be paraphrased as “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Many consultants will attempt to sell you a tool (the use of which they coincidentally are an expert).

Prior to choosing a tool, leadership should first carefully define what fundamental change is desired. What are the desired outputs of the change? Why are these important? If accomplished, what will they be worth to your organization in terms of dollars? By first answering these questions, you are in a position to determine what tools are required to affect the change.

With the desired tools identified, you can narrow your search to only those consultants specializing in the tools required for your intended outcomes. If your organization involves manufacturing, prospects should have demonstrated successes in applying the tools both in factory and in office support functions.

It’s also critical to identify someone that has demonstrated expertise on both the technical and the cultural aspects of those tools. Sustained improvement requires positive changes in employees’ mindsets; they must embrace continued use of the new tools long after the consultant is gone. This is accomplished by actively involving employees in the change process. The consultant must therefore also be an expert on the process for leading change within an organization. Also, the right candidate must not only earn your trust, but must be capable of winning the trust of your employees.

The best way to verify demonstrated successes is via references. Any reputable consulting organization should have multiple clients willing to sing their praises. In addition to talking to the leaders of these happy customers, I recommend visiting their facilities so you can see and hear about their experiences firsthand. Provided you’re not a direct competitor, most organizations are happy to share their successes.

By now it should be clear that the right consultant for your organization may very well not be the lowest cost provider. The goal is not to realize the smallest outlay, but rather the largest return. When we selected a surgeon for our daughter the first question was, “How often have you successfully completed this procedure?” The same question is valid when choosing the right person to operate on your organization.

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