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Most large organizations don't keep a permanent 'change management' team on staff all the time - it just doesn't make economic sense.  When they need to make a change, they engage a third-party consulting firm to come in with a team of change consultants, project managers, trainers and facilitators.

External change consultants can be a great idea: They can bring an unbiased eye to a situation; they don't come with organizational baggage; and as experts they probably have an arsenal of tips and tricks that can make the process easier.

However, when organizations rely too heavily on external consultants, the change process can end up feeling like an external initiative - which means the changes walk out the door when the consultants do.

disconnected from consultants

Change must be rooted in employees

A change initiative may be designed to deliver short- or long-term results, but whatever the schedule, the key to success is sustainability.  There's nothing more frustrating - or demoralizing - for organizations than to invest in a change project that doesn't 'stick'.

That's why it's so important for employees to be invested in the change process.  Employees must:

- Understand why the change is taking place

- Engage in the change process

- Invest in the success of the change initiative

When the team understands, engages and invests in change, they begin to live the changes in their day-to-day activities - which is the only way the organization reaps the benefits of the change process.

Ensuring employees are part of the change

1.  Communicate, communicate, communicate

Well before the initiative starts, make sure your external consultant has created a comprehensive communication plan for your team and the project team.  It's critical that everyone on both teams understand, and clearly communicate, what the change is all about, why it's important, and how it will affect employees.  Communicate early, often, and make sure the entire leadership team is communicating a consistent message.  This helps employees feel that they're 'in the loop' and starts the engagement process.  Ensure the communication comes from inside: Having a change management consultant stand up in front of your people to announce a change confuses employees and diminishes the leadership's credibility.

2.  Make key internal stakeholders part of the change team

There's nothing worse for employees than watching consultants they don't know continually going into secret boardroom meetings with C-suite executives, and wondering what decisions are being made that will affect their careers.  So make sure that your change team is sponsored from within and includes more employees than consultants.  A consultant can be an advisor to the team leader, or, if that isn't possible, the team leader him/herself.  The work of change, however, is best done by employees.

3.  Make employees part of the knowledge transfer process

Instead of relying on external trainers to teach employees about the changes, train internal managers to train their teams.  This has two benefits: Managers become invested and engaged in the transition, and employees feel the change is coming from within, not imposed from without.

4.  Consider a gradual transition

I've been involved in change projects where the external consultants all arrive on a Monday morning, work feverishly for X number of weeks, then all suddenly depart at once on a Friday afternoon, leaving employees wondering what the heck just happened to them.  In large-scale change initiatives, with large staffs of external consultants, it's better to plan for a gradual exit, with key change facilitators staying on-site after the change process is 'officially' complete.  Remember to make sure that any tasks which are transitioning to internal employees are covered and that the appropriate knowledge transfer occurs.


Utilize change consultants to enhance and expand your capabilities during a major change, but don't ever forget that you and your team will be responsible for sustaining it.  Laying the groundwork internally, engaging employees along the way, and investing in the long term will ultimately lead to success.





Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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ChangeSmart™ Advantage

Change is a fact of life today in business, but that doesn’t make it any easier to carry out successfully. ChangeSmart™ is a framework, a way to approach change. It is a roadmap for success.
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