3 Things Every Federal Manager Should Consider When Hiring Consultants to Manage Their Change Effort

Change Management, Organizational Development, Leadership Coaching, Team Building, Interpersonal Skills, blah, blah, blah.  It’s what I tell people I do. Seriously.  We throw around these terms (among others) as if they are the panacea for whatever ails our organizations.  It’s simple, right? Many leaders or organizations hire consultants with great credentials and innovative and sparkling methodologies thinking this will solve their change problems. Most of the time they are wrong. Why?

Have you ever been in a relationship where you tried to “make” someone into who you wanted them to be?  How did that work for you?  If you aren’t blissfully married to that person I’d wager that didn’t work out so well.  So, why do we think we can easily change entire teams or organizations of people?  Make them be, mold them into, train them to become whatever it is we, with our imaginary magic wand, deem they need to be.  It’s pretty ludicrous actually and yet the government, and all of us “partners” (a.k.a. consultants, contractors, trusted advisors, etc.) seem to think we can fix, evolve, transform, dysfunctional individuals and teams and organizations.  Truth is, or my truth is, most organizations that do this fail.

Most of the time successful change is messy, follows a winding path, and takes a lot more time and effort than you think. There is no template for what that looks like.  If there were, Harvard Business Review wouldn’t have a blog, rich with daily insight and wisdom for how to tackle leadership, team, and other issues. If there were a simple template, thousands of consulting companies would have no work with the Federal government (OK, I made that number up, I don’t know if it’s 500 or 5,000 – I just know it’s a lot of us who do the work we do thinking, and believing, that we are making an extraordinary difference to our clients).

So is all hope for successful change lost? I don’t think so. Even though there is no perfect methodology or approach or framework or strategy that will solve your organizational, individual, or leadership issues, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.  And, at the risk of writing a blog without any tip or powerful question or perfectly crafted ending, here are three things we’ve seen that commonly undermine even the “industry leading” change process:

  1. Be prepared to spend at least 20% of your time on the effort.  If you, like many of our clients, are already swamped and overwhelmed, be prepared to add even more to your plate.  The BEST consultants in the world cannot do change work without you.  If you cannot commit to spending at least 20% of your time on whatever endeavor you intend to embark, save your money and don’t hire consultants – you will waste your money, among other things.  Think of it this way – add a 6th workday to your supposed 5-day work-week.  This means scheduling time (for real) on your calendar, at least 8 hours every week, to focus on the effort.
  2. Listen to what your employees have to say and show action.  Yes, of course you think you do this, and perhaps you do.  Prepare to listen even more.  Embrace the skeptical views and ideas – they may be your biggest ally in the change process.  Certainly listen to and engage those who support the initiative – just don’t tune out the dissenters.  And do something with what they say:  make it clear it was their suggestion.
  3. “Be the change you wish to see.” Know you are about to go under the microscope.  As if you aren’t already the topic of lunchtime conversations, hallway chats, and dinner table talk, people are going to watch with even more scrutiny everything you say and do.  That whole thing about modeling the behavior you want others to practice, here’s your opportunity.  And, it won’t be easy.  You are human after all and we all have bad days.  Just know that a misalignment between what you say and your actions may create resentment, skepticism, and could put a major blemish on the effort.  You will need allies in this and allies who will give you the real download about the kind of job you are doing leading the effort.

Now it’s your turn. What are the other underlying problems with changing an organization or team?

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