Could high quality internal consultancy be a short cut to developing a powerful organisational culture?
In recent years we have seen many roles transition from having traditional tightly focused job descriptions towards a consultancy model. Take for example the area of Human Resources where increasingly there is a desire to transform traditional HR teams into HR Business Partners – we see the same shift in many central or shared service functions such as IT and finance. Oftentimes, if not handled, correctly this change can seem like nothing more than a cosmetic re-branding of the same traditional functions however, at its heart is the desire to fundamentally transform both the relationship and working practices at the point of interface been these functions and their internal customers.
If not handled correctly this change can seem like nothing more than a cosmetic re-branding
In failing to make this transition successfully organisations are missing a huge opportunity. The idea of internal consultancy can have a significant impact on your culture AND your bottom line!
Six reasons why you should not to ignore this important area:
1) Its simply good practice. Consultancy is nothing more than understanding needs at great depth, therefore, if we operate as high quality internal consultants to colleagues and other departments it fosters a greater understanding of how the organisation works.
2) Think before you leap. So often it’s easy to make decisions which impact our own departments positively, but have negative impacts on our colleagues elsewhere – formal and informal internal consultation helps us to ensure that our changes are not someone else’s nightmare.
3) Silo smasher. In creating a culture of internal consultation, we help break down those invisible walls created by silo thinking, in the process opening up communication channels, and helping to understand deeply the challenges and functions of our colleagues.
4) Building relationships. When we get to better understand our colleagues professionally, it stands to reason we will get to know them more personally, turning another room full of people down the corridor into friends and colleagues.
5) Management harmony. While departmental leaders can benefit hugely from understanding the needs and challenges of their counterparts, they can also learn and share best practice too as part of the consultation process.
6) Culture. When we think about cultural development, we often think about top down, lengthy and complex processes to remove autocratic leadership styles. While this is absolutely correct in a traditional sense, there is no reason why a well-managed, solution-focused internal consultation between front line/interdepartmental leaders cannot be a hugely valuable process in improving organisational culture.
Picture this recent example – A team leader is having problems because the data he finds on the internal system is never accurate. He phones the IT help desk and asks them to look at the issue, the IT team look into the programming of the system, they guess it is human error and make some alterations to ensure the data is better presented.
Another department who also use this system now discover that the data they normally input has now moved around and is less easy to enter based on their ways of working. As a result, they start to make mistakes resulting in a further drop in data quality. Our original team leader calls the IT help desk again to say “thank you for the cosmetic changes but the system is still as bad as ever, maybe even worse now!”. The IT people feel unappreciated and that they have had their time wasted.
Now imagine scaling this behaviour to the level of a large complex organisation and think about the impact on your productivity and on your culture!
Let’s picture the same scenario with the mindset of internal consultancy. The initial team leader adopts a consultancy mindset, on discovering the issue with data quality they schedule some time with the department that enters the data, they sit with their counterpart and explore how the data is collated and how it is inputted. They discuss the reasons behind each step and the results that are expected; they explore ways that mistakes can be reduced and, together, create a wish list to give the IT team.
They contact the IT team and explain what they have discovered and what they would like to see happen, the IT team member explores what they mean, why they need what they are asking for and how they will be using the system in a practical hands-on way.
The IT team member makes amendments based on what they have been told and goes back to the two originators with a ‘draft’ system change. They both agree if it works for them. The system is put ‘live’ then after one week the two team members meet to discuss how the new setup is working, they are happy, they go and find the IT colleague to thank them for helping out.
What a different world! One that produced real changes in productivity and results.
Essential Checklist: How to be an effective Internal Consultant
- Listen…. a lot!
- Ask open questions, don’t suggest (i.e. is it, can you, do you…etc) to avoid making assumptions about what other people think or want
- Make the time to explore and understand what other people think or want BEFORE making any recommendations. Possibly separate the two stages so you come back with a considered proposal.
- Act collaboratively and ensure that both parties are equal stakeholders
- Be commercial, think about needs and results. Don’t let history tie you to tradition.
- Meet the true need not just the request – very often problems are only dealt with at a superficial level, have the courage to follow the trail to root cause. It may not be anything close to where you started!
Article first published in Business Leader Magazine: https://www.businessleader.co.uk/
Author: Chris Atkinson. Chris is an international business speaker, author of Corporate Energy: How to Engage and Inspire Audiences, and UK Managing Director of Strategic Leadership.