The Transformative Approach to Consulting

Photo by Daniel van den Berg on  Unsplash

Photo by Daniel van den Berg on Unsplash

A major source of organizational waste in companies today is that we tend to overlook the capabilities of the people we have all around us and rely too much on external resources. This then causes employees to be disenfranchised and resigned, which ultimately contributes to high turnover and a downward spiral of poor morale and sub-optimal results. All of this, in turn, just increases demand for external consultants to come in and fix things, which keep the whole vicious cycle going!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that it is never right to bring in a consultant! Consultants are indeed useful, and sometimes necessary, as people with deep expertise and experience who can save you time and money and guide your team to deliver extraordinary results. And in fact, it is very commendable when a leadership team is able to use their discernment and determine they do legitimately need outside help, and make the tough decision to allocate funds to enlisting the help of the right consultant. Sometimes it is more effective to have an external consultant brought in as a catalyst to jump start or guide an initiative, rather than attempting to do so yourself, but the point can never be to replace internal resources, but rather to build them up. 

I am committed to being one of those consultants to every one of my clients and I know many other coaches, trainers, and consultants who similarly produce a hundred-fold return for the fee they charge. However, there are some consultants who basically just swoop in with their credentials, prescribe a few token remedial measures, and are rarely seen or heard from again. They end up being lauded by the leadership team that hired them while making no significant contribution.

Although my short-term goal as a consultant is to cause a transformation, my ultimate goal is to give people the tools, skills, and mindset necessary to transform their organization for themselves.

I occasionally reassure my clients in the discovery phase, that before I became a consultant, I had a “real” job with “real” responsibilities for 31 years, so I know the aforementioned approach isn’t sustainable. This is not, by any means, intended to disrespect the profession of consulting and all who bring tremendous value, but to let the client know I am not one of the consultants who has been to six months of consulting school and is just going to dump some knowledge on them or bring in a rigid system that I learned about and leave. I want to assure them that, as someone who has experienced what it takes to create a sustainable shift in an organization and has actually been successful in doing so, I am committed to do the same for them.

I believe a big part of the role of an effective consultant is not only to affect change in the short-term, but to amplify and emphasize the voices of existing experts within the organization who would otherwise not be given much attention. Many times it is necessary and beneficial to have an external resource reinforce a certain perspective within the organization and give it more credibility, and even just doing that can cause a significant shift in the results and morale of a team. As a consultant, I am certainly responsible for bringing fresh perspective and new knowledge and methodologies to the table. But I know that it is just as important to magnify and empower the intrapreneurs who have been advocating for transformation even before I arrived, because they remain my partners in ensuring that whatever transformation we create becomes self-sustaining in the long-term. Although my short-term goal as a consultant is to cause a transformation, my ultimate goal is to give people the tools, skills, and mindset necessary to transform their organization for themselves.

Saying this as a consultant may seem counter-intuitive, since, after all, I am essentially arguing that my goal is to render myself obsolete, but this is because as a former intrapreneur myself, I know how frustrating the opposite approach can be. For years as an employee, I witnessed my employers bring in highly compensated consultants, one after another, only to have them tell us what we already knew! Not only that, but when we had brought up these same ideas or solutions in the past, our bosses totally ignored us, and yet, now they were paying tens of thousands of dollars for someone to say the exact same thing! In most cases, as you might imagine, no real change came about because shortly after these consultants left, everything would eventually drift back to the status quo because they had not equipped us to do what they did.

Instead of hiring external consultants to solve every problem we come up against, we could reinvest our resources into development and training efforts for the people on the inside who are closest to the action.

I saw many of my bosses listen to the consultants more than they ever did to the employees, even when they were saying the exact same thing. I’m not sure exactly why this was, but I have a few ideas. It might have been because they were paying big bucks for these external resources, and the cognitive dissonance convinced them that what they were saying must be valuable even if it made hardly any sense. Or it could have just been the human instinct that has us take what we have for granted and adapt to any new set of circumstances as unremarkable or boring after a certain period. It is very difficult to appreciate something you have never not had, and that applies just as much to things as it does to people. (For example, very few of us wake up being amazed and humbled everyday that we have access to indoor plumbing, electricity, the internet, flavorful food, clean water, climate controlled shelter, etc.) This tendency to take even the most transformative information for granted is even mentioned in the Bible. As it says in the book of Luke, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” and we might even paraphrase this to say that “no intrapreneur is ever accepted in their own organization.”

I believe we would all be better off if we paid closer attention to this dynamic. We would create thriving workplace cultures if we were intentional about making sure everyone’s unique contribution was valued regardless of their title or department. Instead of hiring external consultants to solve every problem we come up against, we could reinvest our resources into development and training efforts for the people on the inside who are closest to the action.

With regard to the above information, as a leader inside the organization you would benefit from considering the following questions:

·         Are you paying close attention to the skill inventory of the people around you?

·         Are you aware of the wealth of the skills and characteristics people bring from their past experiences?

·         Are you open to letting people contribute to projects and initiatives that fall outside of their normal job descriptions?

·         Are you certain that you have completely tapped out all the resources available to you before you argue that lack of time and resources is a constraint to how much you can get done?

As a consultant, consider how much more effective you could be if, in addition to bringing fresh ideas and expertise to the team, you facilitated the process of enabling and empowering the internal resources to do what they were being held back from doing before. What if you fired up the people in the organization to keep the momentum going long after you were done with your engagement? You might think that would mean less business for you, but my experience has been just the opposite. If you let go of your fears about scarcity of opportunities and truly focus on bringing value, you will see that the rate of return you produce for your clients goes up exponentially as you become a catalyst of transformation instead of presenting yourself as the magic bullet for it. By supplementing the internal resources of the organization—rather than attempting to become a substitute for them—you in fact increase the value you add to each engagement, as well as free yourself up from being the bottleneck preventing you from engaging multiple clients at once.

By supplementing the internal resources of the organization—rather than attempting to become a substitute for them—you increase the value you add to each engagement

As an example of how to practice this transformative approach to consulting, consider an exercise I have used to tap into people’s passion and skills during engagements in the past. After identifying the initiatives we need to focus on, I invite everyone in the organization or team to sign up to work on any of those they have an interest in tackling. This means they would still have their day jobs, but they would also be choosing to devote their discretionary time to this other work that may be outside of their “official” purview. This is perhaps the most direct and impactful way to strengthen the intrapreneurs already present in the organization.

At one company that I deployed this approach to, the response we got was amazing. We had people in maintenance roles volunteering to help with an HR initiative, and people in Accounting getting involved with a project in Operations, and so on, all in their discretionary time at no additional expense to the work and it lined up with their passion, they took greater ownership of these “side jobs” than many did with their “official” jobs, increasing their productivity and causing transformations in short order.

Another example of this transformative approach to consulting is that, during one of my regular visits to a new client’s location, one of the founders asked me how they would know, by the time our engagement was completed, that I had personally made an impact on their culture and leadership capability. He immediately assured me that, while he didn’t doubt my ability to make a difference, he wanted to know how the people on the front lines were going to know that bringing me in had indeed been worth it. My answer was probably not what he expected to hear, but the following is basically what I related to him. I told him that if I did my job right, the front line leaders would see a significant difference in their effectiveness and their results, but they wouldn’t necessarily attribute it to me. This is because I intended to work with them to bring out the best in what they already did everyday, rather than lead the way with a few brilliant, but forced ideas that would have my name on them. I reassured him that, once we completed our initial assessment and identified the priorities we were going after as a leadership team, we would get very clear on the fact that my success or failure would be measured by the exact same metrics as the rest of the top leaders who brought me in. In other words, there would never be a scenario in which we could say that I succeeded in doing my job as a consultant, while the team failed to produce breakthrough results, or vice versa.

The duty of any consultant, but especially a transformative leader, is not to just bring expertise, but to use their expertise to ensure that their clients are successful in creating a sustainable shift in their results as well as in their capabilities to produce those results in the future. And the only real way to do that is by empowering those already within the organization to transform it when the consultant is no longer around. And until and unless a consultant is successful in doing that, they have not really succeeded at all.

About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

Want to learn more about The Ghannad Group? Click here
Want to get in touch with Amir? Email

As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

Copyright © 2018 The Ghannad Group, LLC, All Rights Reserved.