My role as a consultant is to help clients get from their current operations to become best in class (or at least better). The problem, however, seems to be that improvements don't stick. After a period of improved performance, improvements seem to slip away as staff turn over and markets change. How can I help my clients extend the period of performance improvement?
Several years ago William Bridges made the distinction between change and transition. He said that too many companies are focused on change, which is an activity-based concept, and too few are focused on transition, which is a more continuous concept. The latter includes the transformation of culture required to sustain improved performance. As a consultant, part of your job is to determine to what extent your client needs support in each of these areas, given that both are needed.
Be clear with your client about the scope of their intended improvement effort and to what extent you can help them. Change activities such as new hires or training, improved technology, financial restructuring, or a new marketing plan are straightforward, although not necessarily easy. These are typical areas for which companies ask consultants for help. What is harder is the transition of the culture, the concept of operations, and embedding strategy into the organization. These latter outcomes are seen as softer and indirect foci of consulting and for which too few clients appreciate the need. However, without them, the "change" is temporary and performance improvement dissipates. The ability to carry a client through transition can be at least as important as traditional change activities.
Tip: Explain to your client the difference between change and transition and the role o each in where they want to take the organization. Perhaps both of you might read Bridges' book Managing Transitions and discuss how you can help with each aspect. This is a good opportunity to use your network to assemble a complete consulting team to provide skills in whichever area (change or transition) in which you lack skills.
© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA