Insights

The Path to Acceptance

Management Consulting

Author: Robert Sunker

How to Use External Advice When Not Everyone’s Asking for It

If you’re looking for help, you’re not alone. Most organizations eventually seek outside help for a myriad of reasons:

  • To obtain extra bandwidth because their team is out of capacity
  • To get specific subject matter expertise the team is missing
  • To acquire an unbiased perspective on a sensitive or strategic topic

Whether your organization is underperforming or highly mature, if you bring in outside consultants you introduce a ‘foreign body’ to your ecosystem. The acceptance or rejection of the consultants determines whether you get maximum value from the engagement and drive your objectives forward or maintain the status quo.

What Is an Accepting Environment?

One’s personal motivations and fears tend to drive his or her actions and behaviors in a business context. Therefore, the acceptance or rejection of advice depends on an employee’s personal perception and expectations of an engagement.

Let’s start with an environment that encourages acceptance. These environments tend to:

  • Acknowledge the need for outside help at an employee level. Some might say, ‘Yes, I know we aren’t performing well’; ‘Yes, we HAVE to upgrade that system’; and ‘Yes, we have to hit that product launch date.’
  • Realize that the company lacks the time or expertise. Be careful: Individuals are often reluctant to acknowledge that they lack skills or abilities.
  • Show a willingness to learn from subject matter experts. Some might say, ‘I want to learn what we don’t know.’
  • Make sure to align the work with an employee’s personal motivation. Some might say, ‘Will this make me more successful or make me look good?’

Avoid Roadblocks That Can Lead to Rejection

Even a team that has accepted the need for outside help can reject the assistance of consultants if proper care is not taken. You can avoid encouraging an environment of non-acceptance by:

  • Clearly define the scope and approach of the task. Individuals should not be asking, ‘What exactly are they doing’?
  • Openly talk about and mitigate the possible results of the work. Individuals should not be asking, ‘Could I get fired because of this?’
  • Recognizing when employees have had bad experiences in the past and preempting the resistance.
  • Helping ensure that the outside is credible or has experience in the given area. Individuals should not be asking, ‘‘Why should I listen to them?’
  • Communicating this information to your employees proactively. Individuals should not be asking, ‘Why am I just hearing about this?’

Creating an Accepting Environment

From experience we know that the roadblocks to acceptance are always present and typically outnumber the positive drivers to acceptance. Therefore, there’s a good chance that your organization is risking its ability to capture value before an engagement even starts. We consultants strive to create an accepting environment on every engagement and have found the following approach increases the odds of a success.

Our Approach to Creating Acceptance

  • Create a clear problem and opportunity statement.
    Owner: Client Sponsor (with support from Consultant if healthy partnership)
  • Identify impacted stakeholders (e.g., supporters, neutrals, and resistors), and list the potential benefits and negative impacts.
    Owner: Client Sponsor (with support from Consultant if healthy partnership)
  • Socialize internally with all impacted parties and discuss expected outcomes and impacts.
    Owner: Client Sponsor (with support from Consultant if healthy partnership)
  • Solicit input from the team on potential consultants with a track record of success not just specific skills.
    Owner: Client Sponsor (with support from Consultant if healthy partnership)
  • Have an open and honest conversation with the consultant about the goals, scope, readiness, and obstacles of success.
    Owner: Client Sponsor (with support from Consultant if healthy partnership)
  • Allow key stakeholders (supporters and resistors) to participate in the consultant interview process.
    Owner: Client Sponsor (with support from Consultant if healthy partnership)
  • Structure the engagement to reflect the true need (e.g., staff augmentation, project team addition, or an advisory role).
    Owner: Consultant
  • Build an engagement approach that includes activities for communications, stakeholder management, user adoption, change management, and knowledge transfer.
    Owner: Consultant
  • Conduct a formal project kickoff that reiterates the goals and task at hand, and have the Executive Sponsor conduct targeted, direct communications with resistors and champions.
    Owner: Client Sponsor & Consultant

If you following these guidelines, you’ll be able to prepare an engagement for success and mitigate common concerns and fears before the work begins.


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