A good investment

The public sector is regularly berated for spending literally billions of pounds on management consultants. Why are consultants used and how can we be sure they are worth the money spent on them? As public sector spending becomes ever more scrutinised, those using consultants will be in the spotlight, having to justify expenditure and prove value. With this in mind, I present an eight point plan to ensure you drive value from your consultancy investment.

Clarify the need

What is the added value you are looking for that cannot be found internally? Consultants can be used for many reasons, accelerating change, driving better performance, building improved service, operational improvement, supporting reorganisation and restructuring, developing and supporting the delivery of strategy and change, advising on brand and reputation, and supporting cultural transformation. That’s quite a list, and there are many others too. Be clear about the specific deliverables you are looking for from consultancy support, ensure you are confident that this expertise is not available within your organisation.
Consultants add value where they bring experience, insight and proven results from addressing similar challenges across a range of organisations and when they are able to transfer the knowledge, skills and capability they can bring to the recipient organisation in a way that will enable the in house team to sustain the improvement that has been invested in. Sometimes consultants are useful in breaking through internal politics or in bringing insight into the board room that otherwise might not find a ready access route. Whatever the intent, be sure to clarify expectations with your selected consultant in advance but also be ready to have preconceptions challenged – there just might be some further value to be gained that was not previously identified.

Purchase with knowledge
Be clear about the range of consultant expertise and the breadth of service proposition on offer. When considering using a consultant be sure to consider the nature of the support being sought in order to more clearly define the nature of the consultancy organisation to invite to help. The larger, well-known consultancy firms will have specialist areas dealing with a range of areas. Alternatively there are smaller, boutique firms that will specialise in specific disciplines. Some consultancies will sport large teams, others much smaller ones. Some will be respected for particular individuals who are recognised leaders in their field.
Expertise, approach and fit should all be determinants of your selection approach. Where liaison with senior representatives of your organisation is likely as a key part of the consulting assignment, or where negotiating with or convincing the senior leadership team is a likely pre-requisite to success, you will want to be sure that the personalities in the consulting team have skills, confidence and experience to manoeuvre a successful path. The consultant is your ambassador. Ultimately whether they succeed to transform or fail to convince, will reflect back on you as the champion of their appointment.  

Target the investment
Specify the objectives sought and be clear about measures to test attainment. You might well assume this is standard good practice, but it’s compelling just how many assignments can be either misdirected or shift off track. Clear objectives, specific outcomes, measurable targets and distinct milestones set against a clear project timetable will help to maintain focus and discipline.
A steering group of representatives from the various functions or teams with an interest in the end result of the project will be a good discipline for effective governance and, depending on the nature of your organisation, a range of project teams from areas with more specific interest in the outcome of the project, reporting into the steering group, will add further depth to input and insight as well as greater opportunity for managing the output and enabling effective take up of conclusions.

Work close & collaboratively
Integrate the consultant and the consulting team with the internal team. Avoid a sense of external expertise creating solutions to be adopted by the indigenous staff who receive the guidance as spectators. The closer your partnership with the consultant, the better the insight they will be able to develop, the  more effective the consultant’s rapport with you and the organisation the greater the likelihood of skills and knowledge transfer.             

Work on the partnership, establish an effective collaborative working relationship and integrate the consulting team with your own.

Focus on results

Research, insight and plans are essential to the consultants toolkit. Indeed these are all part of the process you are paying for to ensure proposals are well informed and effectively calibrated. At the end of the day, however, your success as a leader will be evaluated on what has been achieved, what has changed, how value has been delivered or whether service has radically improved. This means a focus on outcomes, on actions and forward process more than a review of circumstances, conditions and opinions
Ensure your consultancy insight and input is well balanced towards the future, towards ensuring how recommendations will be applied, how behaviours will change and how progress can be sustained. Research insights are useful guides, but they are not essential navigators of future progress. Making change happen is where the challenge lies, keep the pressure on your consultant to ensure delivery of practical programmes that will enable change to happen and enhance performance in measurable ways.

Enable engagement

Plans which are not applied are ideas that are simply pie in the sky. Effective employee engagement is the driver of value of your consultancy investment. Transferring the consultants proposals to practical activities which staff enjoy participating in, is the single biggest challenge to driving value and providing proof of the benefits of investment in your consultancy spend. Effective engagement requires more than good communication, although communication is a key ingredient. Engagement is not something we can demand of anyone. People elect to be engaged – they cannot be coerced into doing so. Successful application of the outcome of your consultancy investment will require colleagues at all levels to have a real opportunity to explore, and understand why the consultants have arrived at the conclusions they have. Methods of implementation are therefore key. Directions and instructions demanding change will never lead to enduring value or sustained success. Personal exploration, learning and deduction supported with clear information about purpose and impact is the route to success.

Dive, don’t drive
People are not good at responding positively to instructions other than in crises situations. Driving instruction from the top will lead to a wide mass of employee spectators who have little sense of connection to the vision looking to be achieved and perhaps only temporary conviction to the process or approach proposed to deliver the desired result. Diving deep will, however, lead to more energy, wider ownership and, most likely, greater insight.
Diving deep requires seeking input on solutions from staff deep down in the organisation and licensing them to take responsibility to initiate change where they work. Some consultants adopt an external expert advisory type role others adopt a more facilitative, coaching approach. You will need to decide which approach is likely to lead to more sustainable added value in your organisation but, ultimately, it is employee ownership that will determine the long-term impact of your consultancy investment.

Align and refine
A systemic approach is required if consultancy assignments are to deliver wide benefit. Many organisations are presently aiming to break down barriers between different parts of the structure, looking for ways to encourage and improve innovation and hoping to gain the benefits of collaboration across different parts of the organisation. Consultancy assignments which enable reflection across organisation divides and which are licensed to impact cross-organisational systems or procedures will lead to greater and more sustainable successes than those which, for whatever reason, are stuck in a single part of the structure. Look to expand horizons and do so by creating cross-organisation steering groups and working parties to seek input in a collaborative fashion.
The alignment challenge comes in many forms. Another common consultancy blind spot can be the fit of the consultancy project with other programmes or initiatives impacting the organisation, either at the time of the consultancy programme delivery or previously that staff will recall and reference as a reason why this new programme is likely to fail. Use communication to ensure a clear understanding of the link between one initiative and another as well as between the suite of initiatives and the organisation’s overall Vision and strategic goals. Use collaboration to ensure that the impact of programmes are aligned, rather than competing and that their introduction to the organisation is practical, pragmatic and realistic.

Engaging for performance
Organisations with engaging leaders and engaged staff outperform less engaged competitors. Our research clearly shows that engaged leaders and employees deliver better performance, faster change and more attractive workplaces.
Employee engagement is a cross generation driver of oganisation performance. Engaging organisations attract and retain the most talented people and their people are creative, productive, challenging and committed.
How can you spot an engaged organisation? First there will be laughter, enthusiasm and determination pouring from the people. It will be a place you come away from as a visitor thinking: “I would like to spend some time there too.”  
From our latest research we believe that engaged organisations demonstrate ten engagement tell tale signs:

  • Devolved leadership
  • Devolved accountability
  • Devolved strategy
  • Devolved structures
  • Devolved processes
  • Shared purpose
  • Shared vision
  • Shared responsibility
  • Shared learning
  • Shared innovation

We have drawn these insights from our work and writing. CEOs talk to us about the challenge of engaging their leaders and people as being about devolving absolutely as much as possible but sharing purpose, vision and crucially responsibility for performance, social obligation and compliance with regulatory requirements.
The key to this balance between devolvement and sharing is being clear about what is not negotiable – the givens – and the invitation to others to share power.
In moving to become an organisation that engages its people, the thrust of leadership shifts from control and supervision to guidance, freeing leaders up for more creative work and the encouragement of others.
Engaging leaders and employees is largely a question of leadership philosophy. What practical process can be followed to create such a way of working? We think there are six:

  • Engaging foundations: Organisations with vision, strategy, values & brand that clearly differentiate
  • Engaging leaders: Leaders who are clear, believable and trusted; inclusive and appreciative; known and generous with their presence; connected; respected and standard bearers of ethics and reputation
  • Engaging for change: change is managed in an inclusive way with the hierarchy being turned upside down to drive performance bottom up
  • Engagement capability for the line: leaders at every level who are tuned into their impact on others and who have competences which enable those around them to contribute, be listened to and make a difference
  • Engaging communications: communications which are inclusive and themselves a role model and a visible sign of the engaging organisation
  • ROE – return on engagement: Clearly agreed expectations of engagement, how to recognise where it exist and the drivers which contribute to it that are specifically measured and reported on.

Engage for Change is the most focused advisor on engaging leaders and employees to drive performance, change and creating compelling places to work. We can help you define your engagement challenge and navigate you through these six steps to create a more engaging, better performing organisation.
To help move your organisation up an engagement gear, contact us via lynetteproctor@engageforchange.com

For more information
E-mail: jeromereback@engageforchange.com