CTRM & Commodity Value Chain Consulting Organising Purposes: Implementing Changes and Building Consensus & Commitment

5. Implementing Changes 

A consultant’s proper role in implementation is a matter of considerable debate in the profession. 

Some argue that one who helps put recommendations into effect automatically takes on the role of leader,  exceeding consulting’s legitimate bounds. 

Others argue that putting sole responsibility for implementation in the client’s hands is not a professional attitude, since recommendations that are not implemented (or are implemented poorly) are a waste of time and money. So, just as the client may participate in diagnosis without diminishing the consultant’s role, the consultant can assist in implementation without usurping the customer’s role.

Consultants will often ask for a second engagement to help install a recommended new system. However, if the process to this point has not been collaborative, the client may reject a request to assist with implementation simply because it represents such a sudden shift in the nature of the relationship. Effective work on implementation problems requires a level of trust and cooperation that is developed gradually throughout the engagement.

In any successful engagement, the consultant continually strives to understand which actions, if recommended, are likely to be implemented and where people are prepared to do things differently. Recommendations may be confined to those steps the consultant believes will be implemented well. Some may think such sensitivity amounts to telling a client only what they want to hear. Indeed, a frequent dilemma for experienced consultants is whether they should recommend what they know is right or what they know will be accepted. But if the assignment’s goals include building commitment, encouraging learning, and developing organisational effectiveness, there is little point in recommending actions that will not be taken.

A Systemic Issue

Viewing implementation as a central concern influences the professional’s conduct of all phases of the engagement. When a client requests information, the consultant asks how it will be used and what steps have already been taken to acquire it. Then they, along with members of the client organisation, determines which steps the company is ready to pursue and how to launch further actions. An adviser continually builds support for the implementation phase by asking questions focused on action, repeatedly discussing progress made, and including organisation members on the team.

It follows that client leaders should be willing to experiment with new procedures during the course of an engagement—and not wait until the end of the project before beginning to implement change. When innovations prove successful, they are institutionalised more effectively than when simply recommended without some demonstration of their value. For implementation to be truly effective, readiness and commitment to change must be developed, and client members must learn new ways of solving problems to improve organisational performance. How well these goals are achieved depends on how well both parties understand and manage the process of the entire engagement.

People are much more likely to use and institutionalise innovations that proved successful than recommendations merely set forth on paper. Experiments with implementing procedures during the course of a project rather than after the assignment’s completion have had very good & more importantly proven results. All in all, effective implementation requires consensus, commitment, and new problem-solving techniques and management methods.

6. Building Consensus & Commitment

Any engagement’s usefulness to an organisation depends on the degree to which members reach accord on the nature of problems and opportunities and on appropriate corrective actions. Otherwise, the diagnosis won’t be accepted, recommendations won’t be implemented, and valid data may be withheld. To provide sound and convincing recommendations, a consultant must be persuasive and have finely tuned analytic skills. 

But more important is the ability to design and conduct a process for: 

(1) building an agreement about what steps are necessary and (2) establishing the momentum to see these steps through. 

An observation by one of our consultants summarises this well:

“To me, effective consulting means convincing a client to take some action. But that is the tip of the iceberg. What supports that is establishing enough agreement within the organisation that the action makes sense—in other words, not only getting the client to move but getting enough support so that the movement will be successful. To do that, a consultant needs superb problem-solving techniques and the ability to persuade the client through the logic of their analysis. In addition, enough key players must be on board, each with a stake in the solution, so that it will succeed. So the consultant needs to develop a process through which they can identify whom it is important to involve and how to interest them.”

At Implementary we can gauge and develop a client’s readiness and commitment to change by considering the following questions:

  • What information does the client readily accept or resist?
  • What unexpressed motives might there be for seeking our assistance?
  • What kinds of data does this client resist supplying? Why?
  • How willing are members of the organisation, individually and together, to work with us on solving these problems and diagnosing this situation?
  • How can we shape the process and influence the relationship to increase the client’s readiness for needed corrective action?
  • Are the Executives willing to learn new management methods and practices?
  • Do those at higher levels listen? Will they be influenced by the suggestions of people lower down? If the project increases upward communication, how will top levels of management respond?
  • To what extent will this client regard a contribution to overall organisational effectiveness and adaptability as a legitimate and desirable objective?

Leaders should not necessarily expect their advisers to ask these questions. But they should expect that consultants will be concerned with issues of this kind during each phase of the engagement.

In addition to increasing commitment through client involvement during each phase, the consultant may kindle enthusiasm with the help of an ally from the organisation (not necessarily the person most responsible for the engagement). Whatever the ally’s place in the organisation, they must understand the consultant’s purposes and problems. Such a sponsor can be invaluable in providing insight into the company’s functioning, new sources of information, or possible trouble spots. The role is similar to that of informant-collaborator in field research in cultural anthropology, and it is often most successful when not explicitly sought.

If conducted skillfully, interviews to gather information can at the same time build trust and readiness to accept the need for change throughout the organisation. The consultant’s approach should demonstrate that the reason for the interviews is not to discover what’s wrong in order to allocate blame but to encourage constructive ideas for improvement. Then members at all levels of the organisation come to see the project as helpful, not as an unwanted inquisition.

By locating potential resistance or acceptance, the interviews help the consultant learn which corrective actions will work and almost always reveal more sound solutions and more willingness to confront difficulty than upper management had expected. And they may also reveal that potential resisters have valid data and viewpoints. Wise consultants learn that “resistance” often indicates sources of especially important and otherwise unobtainable insight.

The relationship with the principal client is especially important in developing consensus and commitment. From the beginning, an effective relationship becomes a collaborative search for acceptable answers to the client’s real concerns. Ideally, each meeting involves two-way reporting on what has been done since the last contact and a discussion of what both parties should do next. In this way, a process of mutual influence develops, with natural shifts in agenda and focus as the project continues.

Although I am overly optimistic about the level of collaboration usually possible, I am convinced that effective management consulting is difficult unless the relationship moves farther in a collaborative direction than most clients expect. Successful consulting is expensive not only because good consultants’ fees are high but also because senior leadership should be involved throughout the process.

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About the Author

Jason Novobranec is Implementary’s Chief Operating Officer.

With over 20 years of Consulting, Program Management & Senior Leadership experience, Jason has delivered initiatives for large multi-national / multi-regional organisations as well as SME’s and is an expert in shaping solutions to fit a customer’s project needs.