8 Things to Find Out:

  1. Can they provide coaching for your people to run the transformation?
  2. What evidence is there that they will challenge your assumptions?
  3. Do they have transformation experience across a wide variety of businesses and sectors?
  4. Can they demonstrate great skill at problem analysis?
  5. Are they just pushing their own method?
  6. How will they help minimise the costs?
  7. What project planning methods do they use?
  8. How are they going to deliver certainty?

Why Do You Need Help?

It’s a good place to start by asking this question. For some people and organisations it is about tapping into expertise. For others it is lack of time or resource with their existing team(s). So what is the reason you are looking for help with business transformation? Be clear about your answer. Don’t just say it is because you don’t know what to do.

Actually asking yourself repeated questions should help to get to the real reasons why you need help. Test your answers with a colleague if you aren’t certain – it’s a no-risk way of getting a better understanding.

There is a very good reason why doing this exercise is going to make a big difference – it will help you to benchmark alternatives against what you have identified as missing from your own organisational toolbox.

Some Common Answers

Here are a few of the common reasons why people say they need external consultants to help with business transformation. Of course these may not be the real reasons but they do give a flavour of what others are looking for and why.

WE :-

  • haven’t got the expertise to run a transformation programme
  • have never done this before (or at least not with the people we currently have in place)
  • are worried about getting it wrong and the whole thing failing
  • can’t spare our existing people, we are already at full-stretch
  • want to catch up with our competitors and need someone who has done this particular transformation in our type of business
  • want to do it quickly and it seems like external consultants will help
  • are not sure exactly what transformation we should be aiming for and hope that external consultants can help us get it right
  • know what our target solution looks like, we just want someone to help us get there fast
  • simply want someone who has done this lots of times to show us the way
  • know what results we want – we just want someone to help us deliver them
  • know of at least one competitor who did something similar and they used consultants to get there
  • have read that transformation consultants have methods we don’t know much about to make these things work
  • can see there’s lots of information available about consultancies who have expertise – so they must be experts, which we aren’t
  • have heard of methods, processes, frameworks and so we think we are going to need help from an expert with getting them to work for us
  • think it’s bound to be cheaper in the long run to hire experts

I’m pretty sure that your own answers tick one or more of those but how is that going to influence how you select the right help?

Is It Skills Or Resources That You Are Short Of?

Let’s be honest, when you start working on a major change in your organisation it is going to take some resources away from business as usual. So how much slack do you currently have that might be diverted to work on this? If the answer is virtually none, then that puts you in a different frame. Also think about what the skills gaps might be and where in the organisation they are likely to be needed. Is it leadership or operational? Technical areas or more general skills in managing change?

We don’t have the resources

Assuming this is the case, you need not only technical expertise but also manpower to do the things that are going to be required. However beware of asking a third-party organisation to do everything for you. Experience says that is almost certainly doomed to failure because no matter how good they may be – the change they are going to be working on has to embed in your organisation.

In these circumstances the best solution is to ask for help with the technical guidance and train up some of your own people to do the work alongside getting that mentoring. Meanwhile backfill their posts with temporary staff or contractors. This runs counter to the way most large organisations work. Instead they fill the project team with contractors – then wonder why the results don’t stick.

We don’t have the skills

Skills can be transferred from a small team more easily if they are guiding your own people in running the change. No matter what your organisation actually does – whether it is manufacturing widgets or providing some form of service – the people in the operational roles have to learn on the job and they develop their own skills and confidence along the way.

So if you have identified absence of change/transformation management skill as the key reason for seeking external help then be crystal clear that is what you want them to advise and help with. Don’t just hand over total responsibility for delivery. More to the point be clear that they are going to be mentoring and coaching and you are going to measure their effectiveness accordingly.

We Need To Do It Fast

Really? How fast? Why? To be honest if time is really that crucial then you are starting from a business turnaround position rather than aiming for a more refined transformation. If things are very time-critical that tends to indicate some form of disaster is looming. That could be in response to any number of things that may have a big negative effect on cashflow, technology changes, regulation, competitor activity, customers buying strategies changing, loss of a major customer – you get the idea?

In these circumstances you should forget about a measured approach to transformation and instead should be looking for turnaround expertise. In itself that may be focused on one particular area that is identified as being the source of the problem. This approach will help you to buy time to do the longer-term stuff. However it requires a different skillset and the person at the top of a turnaround is ideally going to be the CEO who grips everything very tightly and controls what is done. You’d be surprised at how many people try and run a transformation when they should be running a turnaround. Then when the former doesn’t work fast enough it can get very messy or even terminal. There have been lots of instances in the retail world where precisely this has happened and the results have been pretty disastrous for everyone involved. So learn from those very public and obvious mistakes and don’t confuse what you are trying to do or why.

We Want Someone Who Has Done This Lots Of Times

This is probably the most heard reason given for buying external resource to help out with a project or programme. It is also the weakest excuse there is. The reason is simple. It predicates the idea that out there somewhere is someone who has done this type of thing with lots of other clients. What it ignores is the outcomes that your own organisation wants to deliver AND doesn’t share the rationale with the provider before they engage them. If your Consultant/Interim Manager is appointed and they don’t actually understand the reason for the programme in the first place (which is solving a very specific set of problems) then it is like hiring a train driver to pilot an aircraft based on asking for someone who has steered thousands of passengers from A to B without an accident.

It’s utterly useless going to a Contractor or Interim Management Agency and specifying that you want a manager who has done this type of transformation at least 5 times beforehand. You are automatically shutting the door on people who can bring highly relevant expertise from another field and transfer that to your own situation. This idea that only people who have worked in your industry or specialism can possibly know how to help is nonsense. So ask for people with relevant expertise in dealing with the type of challenge, not the industry-specifics.

You should be looking for a consultancy that can demonstrate an ability to analyse problems before moving along with their preferred method or process to deliver a standard solution. That means that you want a consultancy that has expertise in asking the right questions NOT in knowing how to manufacture exquisite widgets! They also have to be able to communicate with not only your management but also the operations or logistics or sales teams. So in your selection process make communications and questioning a key part of the criteria.

We Know Our Target Solution – We Just Want Help To Get There Quickly

Then you should be looking for a consultant that is going to challenge your initial thinking and rationale. Why? Because unless you do that you are (a) constraining them from helping you to do the right thing; and (b) potentially paying expensive fees to build the wrong solution. To overcome this you should ask the candidates how they are going to validate what you are intending to do.

When they explain the rationale and their analysis – LISTEN TO THEM. If you don’t like what they say, then ask why is it that their view is so different from your own? You cannot possibly make a good selection of external consultants if you start by dismissing that expertise to drill down into why things are being proposed.

As the saying goes – more haste less speed. If the candidates aren’t cautioning you on this point then somehow they are allowing your optimism to get carried away. The number of times that clients insist on charging ahead regardless is in inverse ratio to the ultimate success.

We Like The Sound Of The Method They Use

It may sound great but be aware that almost all change methods rely on pretty much the same fundamentals. So hearing that a consultancy has devised an especially effective method is window-dressing.

Would you trust your teenage son or daughter to have driving lessons with an instructor who has some special system that will get them a Test Pass with minimum effort? Or would you rather have one that teaches the basics really well and by so doing helps them understand how to use those to handle a car in tricky situations like snow and ice – something they will have to do at some point later when the Learner plates are off? Which one is likely to turn out the more competent new drivers?

How Are They Going To Help Minimise The Costs?

It’s all very well assuming that using experts will be cheaper in the long-run but get them to explain how they are going to help you achieve that goal. Be suspicious of those that insist on bringing in a large team “to get things done quickly” because inevitably this means that your own people have less exposure to the What? Why? and How? and will not own the outcome. That is likely to lead to recurrent problems later on that can be very expensive to address.

Let’s Talk

Selecting transformation consultants is a minefield for the uninitiated so get some good advice. We know a lot about selecting expert advice and the pitfalls that can arise. Beyond that we’re there to help our clients take control and master their own transformations. So contact us to get the conversation started.

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The author Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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