Most companies struggle with change because they fail to communicate effectively. If the leadership, employees, and clients aren’t on the same page about what’s happening, conflicts will inevitably arise. Worse yet, they may not get resolved because no one understands one another. They’re not united on the goal.
Without clear objectives, teams become fractured and unproductive. Implementing new initiatives proves extremely difficult when employees feel they’ve been kept in the dark or that their voices have been ignored. These breaks within the company ranks always end up affecting customers as well. Service and productivity suffer, and therefore retention and revenue do, too.
The Consultant’s Role
Oftentimes, managers don’t realize the potential obstacles to new ideas because they’re so enmeshed in the day-to-day workings of the company. When you’re accustomed to the way things are, you become blind to the problems — and the potential for how things could be.
Fortunately, consultants don’t have that issue. As outsiders, we’re able to spot communication gaps, volatile power dynamics, and chaotic operating processes. Our jobs are to correct those problems and help our clients enact new policies and programs. Of course, we can only do that if we equip ourselves with the tools and strategies needed for each situation. I’ve witnessed the good and bad ways in which consultants affect their client companies, and it’s not pretty when things go awry.
I once worked with a company that was suffering from declining sales, had embarrassing customer approval ratings, and was hemorrhaging talent. The new CEO had hired a consultant to whip the company into shape, but the process took far longer than expected and led to increased losses. The consultant never aligned key power groups and made critical mistakes in her strategies. The company eventually sold at a fraction of its true value.
But a good consultant can make a world of positive difference. Another client of mine hired a consultant to help actualize his bold new vision for his company. The consultant immediately organized employees into cross-functional teams and gave them three months to come up with proposals for reducing costs and developing the business. Her strategy gave everyone a chance to offer input, and it generated many useful ideas.
By involving employees at all levels, the consultant drummed up universal support for the leader’s ideas. That’s no easy feat, since we all know major changes often provoke anxiety and suspicion. But the consultant was skilled at bringing all of the stakeholders into the conversation and ensuring everyone felt heard throughout the transition.
Turning Clients’ Ideas Into Reality
People hire consultants because they have notions of where they want to go, but they’re unsure how to get there. Consultants ensure that clients not only reach their targets, but they also thrive in the process. Our roles vary based on our clients’ needs — we can be strategists, confidants, mediators, and coaches. But our ultimate goals are always to provide clear paths forward so our clients can achieve their goals.
Here’s how consultants can ensure we’re approaching our clients’ needs appropriately every time:
1. Collaborate with internal team members. Internal consultants may not have objective perspectives on the company’s problems, but they have intimate knowledge of key dynamics and concerns. They’ll have valuable insights on how to initiate changes sensitively and in a way that’s palatable to employees across the organization. Make sure you connect with them early and often.
Talk with associates at different levels of the company as well. The C-suite takes one view of a problem, but the marketing or sales or administrative teams will have their own unique perspectives. Schedule time with members from all departments, and invite them to share their thoughts and concerns. When possible, involve a range of employees in your implementation strategies so they’ll become change advocates to their peers.
2. Assert your role. Once you’ve signed on to help a client, you become part of the team. You may not be an employee, but you are just as invested in the organization’s success as anyone else. Make yourself visible within the office, and get to know the people around you. This helps create trust between you and employees, which is essential to bringing ideas to fruition. They need to see you’re on their side.
Let people know exactly what your role is within the organization. If you’re there to mediate conflicts during transition, explain how people can approach you with a dispute. If you’re serving as a strategist, tell employees when you’re available to hear ideas or sit in on brainstorming strategies.
3. Create personalized plans for every client. Maybe you’ve been a consultant for years and think you’ve seen every client problem in the book. That’s still no reason to take a lax attitude toward your client strategies. Every company presents unique problems and personalities, so come to each prepared for a fresh start. Draw on your previous experiences, of course. But make sure you’re tailoring that knowledge to every client’s circumstances and needs.
For example, a client may have employees with varying degrees of tech savvy. Millennials might be eager to adopt new digital tools, while older team members might need more training and assurance on those systems. Identify the nuances within the organization, and then develop a plan that addresses them in relevant ways.
Change isn’t easy, but it’s certainly not impossible—especially with the right consultant. We have the opportunity to shape companies and make them better, more dynamic organizations. By establishing the right relationship with the businesses we serve, we have the power to help them completely transform from the inside out.
Business leaders rely on us to help them steer their companies, and that’s a pretty incredible position to hold. How many other business professionals get to spend their days turning abstract concepts into exciting realities?
Sona Jepsen is the global head of sales enablement at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her team empowers FIS’s global sales teams with sales content, strategic insights, and world-class learning and development opportunities.