Consultants, particularly those who are proficient in their respective disciplines, can be hugely helpful to their clients and business as a whole if they don’t only focus on the one issue that needs fixing, but also apply their minds to all the people factors that influence the effectiveness of the companies for whom they consult. Problems, like production issues, low levels of customer satisfaction, supply chain management ineptitude, product defects, or the slow adoption of enterprise changes, are typically not present just because of complexity or system inadequacies – they also exist on account of constraining factors in the people environment.
If effective change in a company is to be realised, system and people issues need to be addressed. The wise consultant, therefore, needs to be circumspect. There must be a comprehension of and the ability to find solutions for the following people concerns:
- Company culture – is there an overall sense of employee wellbeing, trust, and subsequent loyalty towards the brand? Do the staff feel valued, respected, included, and do they feel that they have an important role to play?
- Leadership style – is the management style authoritarian (do what I tell you to do) or is it collaborative (how do you think that we should solve this issue?)?
- Reward system – does this system develop silos and individualism, thus driving dysfunctional behaviour, or is it inclusive of rewarding achievement at all levels, especially team performance?
- Communication system – are these communication efforts inclusive, supportive, visionary, direction-setting, understanding and compassionate?
- Performance management system – does this system drive fear or does it encourage improvement? Are there sufficient training and coaching interventions in place for ongoing employee development?
- Recruitment and succession planning systems – are they fair, forward-looking, and do they express the sentiment of valuing diversity?
- Company leadership focus – do managers focus on weaknesses and seek to fix them or do they focus on strengths and find ways of utilising them?
If any of the above people concerns are questionable, any envisaged change intervention will struggle to find traction and will ultimately fail on account of resistance by employees. The consultant thus has to work with the leadership team to align all systems and processes, including leadership intent and example, to the required outcomes. Circumspection regarding these people issues is the tough part of consulting – slowing down and being transparent and honest enough to address any perceived leadership limitations, even though you only have been appointed to fix a system or service issue. Change management attempts must be aligned to a set of agreed values, the company vision and mission, and the change management efforts need to start at the top.
Circumspect consulting, for any proposed solutions to be effectively implemented, requires a deep dive into company people issues – the consultant, together with the leadership team, needs to ensure that the employees are ready to co-create and adopt the intended change because all staff see its necessity and long-term benefits.