Consultants as Change Agents

BY ICFAI - 2016-12-30

The role of management consultants in creating new prospective aimed a bringing about change has received lot of attention in recent times. According to Smircich and Stubbart management consultants challenges existing thinking patterns.

They ‘state the obvious, ask foolish questions, and doubt everything’. This forces the management to take a fresh look at the organization. Gattiker and Larwood say that consultants are experienced at observation and analysis. And they can take an objective view of organizational problems because they do not need to defend their past actions. Through there are varied perspectives on the role of consultants, they certainly have a significant role to play as change agents.

Consultants play the role of change agents by changing the perspectives of the management on the emerging environment. Consultants need to possess the skills to assess the organization’s readiness to change, to understand and appreciate the perspective on resistance, to develop internal resources that will be needed to address similar problems in the future, and to give the appropriate non judgmental and open feedback. They familiarize the management of the organization with the problemsolving process. While reporting the result of a Mckinsey study conducted in 1970 to GE’s management, fred Borch, the CEO of GE from 1963 to 1972, said:

As the quote shows, consultants provide Information, concepts, tools, and procedures necessary to understand the problems at hand.

Consultants provide the authority of knowledge necessary for a change initiative. For example, Philips Electronics benefited immensely from the reputation of Cap Gemini (a consulting organization). Before restructuring, the company had 24 divisions and 300,000 employees spread all over the world. It had antiquated managerial systems and was governed from its headquarter in Holland. this was the time when Japanese electronics giants such as sony were dominating the consumer electronics market. Many felt that Philips electronics would be wiped out. Media reports said that the company would split up and sell off key divisions. When Cap Gemini took on the role of change agent at Philips, investors and lenders began to regain confidence in the company.

A consultant’s typical role is to act as an advisor to a taskforce comprised of client personnel. The taskforce, in most of the cases, has adequate technical knowledge members of the taskforce are clear about the objectives of the change initiative. A consultant’s task is to attain change smoothly and guide the management away from pitfalls. Consultants help minimize conflict of opinion by making the decision-making context clear and by introducing objectivity and relevance into the organizational decision-making system. The leader of the organization is responsible and accountable for the problems in the organization. Consultants do not have such deep institutional responsibility. Hence , consultants are required to compliment and not supplant the leadership in the organization.

A process-based consultant acts as a catalyst for change. He plays a key role in influencing the approaches taken, methods used, and values applied by employees and thus facilitates the desired change. His business knowledge, analytical skills, and familiarity with the client give him considerable power to influence the thinking of the management. Yet he has no say in implementation. He cannot ensure that his recommendations are followed.

Most consultants are package-based rather than process-based. Package-based consultants are experts in their field. They relate to the client in a doctor/patient model of consulting. In this model of consulting, it is assumed that whenever a client (company here) faces a problem, it will be a standard problem and the consultant is already aware of the nature of such problem and he can suggest a solution for it. Through this approach seems convenient, if there is no generic solution to the problem at hand, the problem may not be solved at all, and new problems may arise. So this approach should be used with caution.

On the other hand, a process-based consultant takes a client-centered approach. He asks reflective questions that revel inner state of client’s employees. He is a good listener. More than just listening he can step into the shoes of his client and understand the reality the client is facing. He knows the importance of feeding back the language the client is using. As he does this, he tries to identify assumptions that underlie the client’s words. The consulting he does is facilitative in nature. This underlie the client’s words. the consulting he does is facilitative in nature. This facililitative approach educates people in the organization and enhance their problem solving ability. Thus a process-based consultant helps his client solve the problems on his own. That way he strengthens the learning process of his client. This task of developing internal resources is crucial to manage long-term change. Consultant can act as catalysts to build the organizational capacity necessary to change. But real change is said to have occurred only when change is apparent in the day-to-day working of the firm. Then only can one say that change has materialized. This sort of comprehensive change takes a lot of time. Consultants can’t be expected to oversee this comprehensive change fully.

A consultant as a change agent is sensitive to both the client’s values and attitudes. As James Smith says, the consultant serves his clients by helping them find ways of behaving when there is development, deterioration, obsolescence in the company’s environment.

In case you missed it, my last post was HR Personnel as Change Agents

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Acknowledgement: Leadership & Change Management book by ICFAI

Gemba Kaizen