How outside consultants can become internal culture change makers

February 6, 2017 Kia Davis

Winston Churchill said ‘to improve is to change; to perfect is to change often’. While many executives might agree, change programmes can be a gruelling process that take months or years to implement. But time isn’t the only constraint- at most companies a change programme will affect the lives of hundreds or thousands of employees.

Of the many elements of a change programme, culture change is the most critical as well as challenging. Failure in this area can put the entire programme at risk. Yet ‘getting the elephant to dance’ requires not just clever thinking and planning but also careful implementation and buy-in. New processes need to be in place and well-understood. New behaviours need to be modelled at the top and by ambassadors at many levels. New values need to be agreed and shared. Considered the ‘toughest task a manager will face’, culture change is the single biggest driver of success or failure of a change programme.

That’s where outside consultants are especially valuable. According to Wharton management professor Larry Hrebiniak, effective culture change requires “fresh blood and thinking”. Outside consultants can interpret and support the kinds of behaviour change required for full implementation of a change programme, demonstrating what’s expected as well as supporting managers who are implementing changes. 

One step at a time

The first step to achieving culture change is identifying who the key change-makers will be. In their book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne cite the importance of managers focusing on institutional politics and finding change ambassadors to trigger culture change. With a professional, independent workforce that has deep experience in change programmes, this process can get fast-tracked. 

Seeing is believing

In other instances, the visibility of independent consultants is their asset. Arriving early, staying late, being proactive, sharing ideas, taking responsibility and reporting problems are just some of the ways that independent consultants can visibly demonstrate desired behaviours. Being the ones to ‘go first’ can send a signal to the rest of the organisation.

The new normal

Culture is both a cause and result of behaviour change. As employees see new behaviours and interactions in place and achieving results, the culture gradually shifts to make this the norm. Similarly, as a new set of values is shared and agreed, behaviours that reflect this gradually follow. But for this to happen effectively, other elements in the corporate environment that impact culture need to be monitored. These typically include incentives, structures, reporting lines, and restrictions. Independent consultants are skilled at identifying parts of the organisation that are at odds with its strategic purpose, such as incentives that encourage competition rather than collaboration.  

Allied forces

As internal allies to senior team, independent consultants can act as both supporters and ambassadors of culture change, helping to make sure that culture change happens in line with expectations. With these types of professionals in the company, employees benefit from having a resource to guide them through uncertain times. 

To discover more about how independent consultants can help implement change in your business get in touch with Talmix today.

 “How to Change Your Organisation’s Culture”. Wall Street Journal, adapted from The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business
 “Culture as Culprit: Four Steps to Effective Change”. Wharton@Work. September 2011.
 W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make The Competition Irrelevant. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2005.
 “Culture as Culprit: Four Steps to Effective Change”. Wharton @Work. September 2011.

About the Author

Kia Davis

Kia has over 15 years in corporate and small business strategy, working closely with CEOs, business owners, investors, government agencies, and NGOs around the world on high-impact growth projects. With a focus on customer-centric strategy and innovative growth, Kia has published thought pieces on the role of disruptive technology in the future, and recently authored the strategy book Flashpoint 100: Radical Business Growth in 100 Days. Kia holds a BA in consumer psychology from Yale University and an MBA from Insead.

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