By Dana Houston Jackson, CCMP, PMP, Graham Bode, PMP, and Nicole Chamoun, PE
There is a necessary and beneficial symbiotic relationship between a client and its contractor or consultant. But because organizational change is nuanced and complicated, it can be difficult to get the biggest bang for your company’s buck. Fortunately, there is a way.
The goal for change practitioners is to see that the value of the project or initiative to which they are assigned is realized by the client. As such, the value of their change work lies in the business value of the project’s or initiative’s successful completion. Because of this, if a project does not require people to change how they do their job, then the client has no need for change management. However, if it does require shifts in people’s mindsets, cultures, duties or locations, then the client will benefit from instituting change management practices.
People are complex, with an infinite number of mental and emotional variables. As shown in Figure 1, this requires certain knowledge to assist in moving people from their somewhat comfortable “current state” into this newly required “future state.”
FIGURE 1: Process of Change, adapted from a presentation by Daryl Conner, “Organizational Change: Installation vs. Realization."
If an organization lacks the in-house resources or simply requires additional team members to navigate its people through the complexity of people-change — ideally from someone already knowledgeable in your industry’s technology and vocabulary — then it will be necessary to hire outside help to supplement the effort. But what is the ideal team mix of resources?
Each change strategy and plan must be targeted and tailored to an organization or group. That strategy will determine a client’s resource needs, but most change teams will generally consist of a mix of the roles, as seen in Figure 2.
FIGURE 2: Change Management Team Role Definitions – Author: Graham Bode.
Change resources must possess the right blend of technical know-how and social intelligence to quickly assess an organization, build trust and deliver quality plans.
Critical to the success of the change manager, this unique combination of skills is difficult to find and even more difficult to retain.
Change management clients find the right supplemental support for a project and get that support up to speed quickly, allowing them to successfully operate within the project’s unique culture. This is how a client can maximize the value of its change consultants or change contractors.
The relationship between a client and a contractor or consultant is symbiotic. Half the value a consultant brings is the ability to leave at the end of the day, thus giving the consultant the power to say necessary things that may be career-limiting for full-time employees, but vitally important to an organization’s change success. Keep in mind that the current state for any individual or team is the current state for a reason — it is comfortable and understood. Leaving this haven can rock the boat. Having an outsider, who has a different perspective, can help coach management teams to an envisioned future state.
Typically, a Change Management Office (CMO) would act as the central source to manage the change team, seen min Figure 3. In the absence of an in-house CMO, an owner’s change representative can look out for the owner’s best interest but understand the work required mto achieve success.
FIGURE 3: Change Management Team Structure: “Little Change Management Experience” —Author: Graham Bode.
The change representative can help develop the change strategy, structure a change team, act as a conduit between internal and external resources, review submittals, and manage the execution of the change plans. With this key member in place, the owner can rest assured that the change is managed by a knowledgeable and neutral party with the resources to successfully effectuate change. Most importantly, the owner’s change representative will provide consistency and maintain engagement even when a contractor or consultant has left.
Projects that depend on people embracing, adopting and using the critical, technical solutions require the appropriate professional discipline. In the same way a car manufacturer does not teach a new driver how to drive, organizations should avoid relying on the same individuals who strictly deliver technical solutions to also implement them as it requires different skill sets and experience to coordinate, teach and implement successful, long-lasting changes throughout multiple teams at the same time. Simply put, the right people must be in place to garner success.
Change managers help capture the people-dependent return on investment, speed the pace of change, prevent loss of valuable employees and, most importantly, make sure the actual project objectives are achieved.
By looking through the lens of a change consultant and contractor, we can better see how each role operates. For one thing, a change consultant or change contractor cannot expect to remain on staff if its clients are not successful. Thus, a client gets a highly dedicated, built-in resource who wants nothing more than to deliver project or initiative success.
A consultant or contractor is inevitably motivated to sell their work to generate revenue and, hopefully, generate profits. There are numerous stories of unrealistic expectations set by a contractor or consultant during the selling process only to deliver subpar services once the project is acquired. To avoid the “overpromise and underdeliver” scenario, an owner must be cognizant of certain strategies to employ during the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage.
One way to do this is to provide clear-cut requirements for on-site contractors or consultants. Specifically:
Like the owner, consultants evaluate the opportunities presented through the RFP process to determine if the fit is proper and advantageous. Beyond the simple economics of an engagement, consultants want to make sure that success is possible, and that their reputational brand can be maintained long after the project concludes.
The evaluation process for RFPs is sometimes referred to as the “go/no-go” discussion. Though each consultant will have its own set of motivations, triggers, risks and desired outcomes, there are questions from consultants that can be anticipated. Understanding the thoughts behind these questions can help in the development of successful RFPs.
From the consultant’s or contractor’s perspective, there is a much higher risk to engaging in ambiguous projects over well-defined, firmly scoped efforts. The respondent needs to anticipate the level of effort and expectations from the client to develop a successful plan. As such, when the project approach is unknown or unclear, consider an approach with two distinct phases:
Phase 1: Assessment, findings and change strategy.
Phase 2: Execution and implementation with reinforcement.
The first step for any change specialist is to assess. The specialist must know the basic culture, stakeholder engagement levels, known issues, suspected issues and skeletons of past change failures — all in order to properly tailor the change strategy to a group. This step is crucial to developing the overall scope of work required, as well as allowing those participating to plan accordingly.
Only when the effort has been assessed, scoped and strategized can the team start to execute the plans. Thus, when there is uncertainty on options or confusion on which solution to embrace, the client must ask for an assessment(s), discuss the findings and develop a strategy prior to moving into the execution and implementation phase.
This may require a separate proposal once the “assessment, findings and strategy” phase has been completed, but will inevitably create clear expectations from both sides. Remember, general language that makes a client’s request ambiguous and difficult to qualify, quantify and thus put a dollar figure to is only going to create confusion for both sides.
Create a presentation to onboard a change manager quickly while also sharing potential roadblocks. Sharing these insights upfront will allow a change manager to navigate within the client’s culture and structure quickly and effectively. A client needs to share the challenges it knows about, not just the objectives. While normally a new hire might take months to fully learn the internal systems and culture, a consultant or contractor has days. Consider exploring methods to condense that knowledge transfer into a quick and effective mechanism.
In project management, KPIs are centered around delivering projects on time, on budget and on scope. These results look slightly different in change management. Clients should adopt metrics that show effective initial and continued adoption of the specific change initiative.
Some change management methodologies use a defined interactive dashboard to successfully track the change process. Most KPIs are homegrown and tailored to the specific project.
Like any temporary relationship, all parties should discuss the breakup before you start the work. Don’t neglect the imminent separation; instead, proactively plan for a smooth transition. Come to an agreement as to how that should come about and make sure you allow time for this transition.
Be sure that the proper tools and software to manage existing documents and continue producing new ones — such as graphics, surveys, reports, etc. — are in place. Document and outline the next steps for reinforcement and continued adoption.
The change manager should also host and conduct knowledge transfer sessions well before the planned departure date.
At the conclusion of the contract/project, the proper resources and internal knowledge should be in place. All too often, a void is exposed once external resources disengage and the proper individuals are not identified and made aware of the need to fill those voids. To minimize this risk, identify the internal transition team and integrate those individuals with the consultant well before its time expires. Attempt to fully understand the vision and tactics employed by the consultant and practice them under the guidance of the consultant. This lasting knowledge will be beneficial well beyond the completion of the project.
No one can fully control what happens during any change. This requires solutions that are a combination of sociology, psychology, philosophy, organizational development, adult learning and more.
High-performing employees may consider leaving amidst uncoordinated and miscommunicated change. Therefore, be willing to share challenges with those trusted to care for valuable assets. When preparing, equipping and supporting a client’s most valuable and variable asset through trying circumstances, there will be challenges. The sooner these challenges are shared, the better the strategy will be.
Uncover the motivating factors that are driving the project from the executives’ point of view. Likely, it’s the potential absence of whatever value the specific project or initiative is designed to bring. Prepare to share pain points on this subject and understand how the collective team will be able to move toward the finish line.
When discussing the project with senior executives, a contractor or consultant should do so from the executives’ point of view. Executives want to hear what is done and how it is delivered. They need their strategic initiatives done better, faster, and with less risk and resistance. A contractor or consultant should speak their language to make an impact.
Change management is a structured and formal discipline with a precise knowledge and experience base necessary for successful change implementation. This practice is centered on the belief that to gain the full return on a project’s investment, employees must be guided through the discomfort of change. Simply hoping that staff will accept a change is, in most cases, not effective.
Clients can increase the value of their change resources through proper onboarding, KPIs and team structure. Therefore, focus on hiring the right resource for the appropriate situation: a contractor when staff augmentation is needed; a consultant when technical experience is needed; a full-time employee when a change requires long-term enforcement. Clients should also consider a neutral owner’s change representative who can look out for its interests but also understand the work required to achieve success.
DANA HOUSTON JACKSON, CCMP, PMP, Prosci CCP, is a senior change consultant at Burns & McDonnell. With more than 25 years of experience in project and change management, she focuses on helping companies overcome the struggles associated with implementing new projects and technologies. Her experience has led her to academia and multiple industries, including utilities, technology, construction and manufacturing.
GRAHAM BODE, PMP, Prosci CCP, is a project manager at Burns & McDonnell, where he puts his experience as a professional engineer and electrical grid designer to use in his current role as a change manager. In this position, Graham helps clients in the utility, technology and construction industries successfully implement new projects. He is pursuing an MBA at the University of California, Berkeley.
NICOLE CHAMOUN, Prosci CCP, is a land use planner at Burns amp; McDonnell, where she works closely with internal and external stakeholders to overcome the challenging circumstances of change. She has developed her talents in planning, problem-solving and communications during her more than 10 years of professional experience and applies her skills to execute successful outcomes in the environmental, land use planning and public involvement fields.