By Glen Lewis
In the March 13th Harvard Business Review article “Digital Transformation Is Not About Technology,” the authors outlined “Five Key Lessons” that helped them lead their organizations through successful digital transformations. Lesson #2 stated:
“Organizations that seek transformations…frequently bring in an army of outside consultants who tend to apply one-size-fits-all solutions in the name of “best practices.” …our…organizations [approach was] to rely instead on insiders — staff who have intimate knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in their daily operations” (Behnam Tabrizi, 2019).
I would offer that using consultants is not a poor idea — using the WRONG consultants is. In fact, using a consultant has distinct benefits.
After 12 years of working with change management consultants partnering with domestic and international clients, the good consultants that I have seen hold one truth sacred in their engagements — their clients have unique cultures, with unique issues, and require solutions tailored to their unique needs. While these consultants will reference analogous past experiences, it is to help encourage clients to share details (Harvey, 2018) by reassuring them that they are not the only ones suffering from similar issues (Adamson, 2011). That is about as far as the “one-size” mentality goes with good consultants. The good consultants, through consistent engagement of “insiders,” subsequently updates those initial analogies as they come to understand and appreciate their client’s culture, governance, change readiness, etc. This produces a new unique view of the client, their gaps, and potential solutions. Finally, if good consultants do recommend that their clients consider a best practice, it should service only as a starting point, because those practices should evolve into a solution meeting the client’s unique needs.
Consultants also bring important benefits often overlooked in change management such as enabling clients to continue to run/operate their businesses unencumbered by having to manage an enterprise change initiative. For example; a regional dialysis provider recently switched their electronic health record (EHRs) systems. While the CIO highlighted how he had participated in EHR transitions before, he, along with his PMO or IT, did not have the expertise to manage such a daunting endeavor. As a solution, they brought in a consultancy who partnered with the organization’s key “insiders” to build and manage the following: (1) the layers of schedules, (2) the change communication plans, (3) the EHR transition training plan for almost 1000 staff members who were scattered over 2000 square miles.
This allowed the dialysis provider’s staff to remain focused on operating their 15+ clinics. Their training department could continue to focus on serving current and new employees, meeting federal regulations and their PMO could continue implementing the HR and logistics projects already in motion. Finally, the public affairs department could continue focusing on community outreach communications.
The issue is not the utilization of consultants to facilitate digital transformation, it is about utilizing the WRONG consultants to facilitate digital transformation. Good consultants establish partnerships with their clients, working with them to craft and implement solutions, while absorbing burdens that allow “insiders” to continue focusing on the daily run/operate of their businesses.