“Bonnie Osinski of Osinski Development Resources has been an agent of change in the non-profit sector for over 35 years. During that time she has been asked to effect change as a consultant by many CEOs, however, that work has not always been welcomed by the staff. Below are some of the lessons learned, which we apply.” – Ray Shah, founder, Think Design

Reading time: 3 min

Usually, the initiative to hire a consultant who will instigate change comes from the CEO, or possibly someone else in the C-suite; occasionally it comes from middle-management. Regardless of who hires you, ultimately you have to work with the people from the department(s) under review.

Like anyone facing change, those executive and staff will be mulling over at least one of these questions or statements:

  1. Hiring you makes my job harder. I have my day to day responsibilities but I now have to furnish you with material to do your job and field your questions.
  2. Are you going to cost me my job? There’s a chance that if you accomplish what you set out to do, many of my tasks will be streamlined or outsourced
  3. What the f*** are you doing? This is the likely outcome if you can’t explain the context of your engagement to someone you’ll be working with who did not hire you
  4. How does this help me? Finding a way to answer this reassuringly is critical to buy-in from any stakeholder

Generating buy-in

There are a couple of key questions you can ask: “How do we help you do your job better?” and “In the context of your current work, what can’t you do now that you would like to be able to do?”

Identify roadblocks and barriers for those you’re working with and consider their knock-on effects together. Be aware that when someone shares what is going wrong for them now, the fundamental issue will probably lie elsewhere and predate them.

You must take time to absorb the culture of the organization; in doing so you’ll learn organizational habits and the staff’s habits. Ideally, you’ll be able to nurture good habits and scale them.

Overcoming the resistance

Leaders seeking change can quickly create an “us versus them” feeling for the workers you deal with on a daily basis. It’s your greatest challenge and opportunity to pursue a process and deliver results that feel mutually beneficial.

Take a look at this video that identifies causes of resistance and offers clear metaphors:

The Elephant, The Rider, and the Path – A Tale of Behavior Change.

Change is difficult for most people, so a large part of your role is to define the client’s capacity for change. To overcome some of the resistance you’ll encounter, shrinking the scope of change to something manageable and deliverable is one tactic you can apply. For example, a client that wants sweeping changes to its outdated web-presence is distracted by all the tinsel available in web design. This is exciting for them, but you know through the time you have taken to absorb their culture that they are at heart a conservative (small c) organization that hasn’t changed for years and will balk at showing a radically transformed face to the world. You need to reign them in and keep the focus on their core value proposition. One way to address this is to first look at what to cut and not what to add. So, let’s start by getting rid of Flash (sorry, Adobe).

Inevitably, over a long contract, there will be a drop-off in the client’s attention. To keep the client motivated, paint the picture of what the outcome of the engagement will look like at the beginning and while doing so be as transparent as you can so that employees don’t paint their own false pictures. Revisit this frequently across the course of the contract.

In all we’ve addressed here, the main lesson is remembering to take the client with you on the journey. Ultimately, empathy, inclusion, and an ability to demonstrate progress provide the path to being a successful agent of change.