Are External Consultants Needed for Change Management Programs to Succeed ?

Many organizations take the help of external consultants in identifying, recommending and implementing change. This article looks at whether there is indeed a case to be made for external consultants to help with the change management programs.

If we look at the reasons why organizations rope in external consultants like McKinsey, BCG and Booze Allen group (among others) we find that they do so mainly because they need an independent and objective perspective on what needs to be changed and how it should be achieved.

For instance, companies like Jaguar, BP and Shell have all relied on external consultants to help them with their change management programs. And, they have been relatively successful in their efforts as can be seen in the way they have transformed themselves in the marketplace.

However, there have been notable failures as well. For instance, the Parry’s group failed spectacularly in its efforts to change its business processes and outlook towards the market. Despite taking the help of external consultants, the company could not transform itself. So, what is that differentiates whether external consultants succeed or fail to help companies in their change management programs. First, there needs to be cooperation with the consultant from the entire top management and not merely the CEO or a few directors/managers. The point is that the external consultants must not fall prey to the office politics and hence the entire leadership must stand solidly behind them.

Next, there cannot be any information that is withheld from the external consultants. The key to change is that complete information about the organization and its strengths and most importantly, its flaws must be visible and so the external consultants must have the full cooperation of the people who are responsible for implementing their recommendations. In fact, one of the reasons the CEO or the Board of Directors often take the help of consultants is that they need an objective view of the situation which is unbiased and not tinted by the prejudiced perspective of politicking employees.

The other aspect that makes organizations rely on external consultants is because these consultants have experience in dealing with companies in similar industries and hence can apply their expertise and experience to recommend specific changes. However, it is the case that consultants can get too close to the management to the point where they are compromised because of their proximity to the powers that be. Some examples of this include the Arthur Anderson and Enron saga where both the consultants (Anderson Consulting) and Enron became partners in swindling the employees and the people. Closer home, the way in which PWC or Price Waterhouse Coopers was a partner to the Satyam scandal shows that there are downsides to having consultants guide the companies.

In conclusion, consultants bring a fresh perspective to dealing with organizational issues and hence are vital to the change management program. However, there is a need to observe professional rules of conduct and there must be ethical behavior from both sides of the equation.


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Change Management