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Beyond the Conference Room Solution

May 24, 2013

What Steve Cantrell and Sharol Henry Can Teach Us About Change (part 2)

Why are these “not so best after all practices” so widely accepted and practiced?

Most contemporary change management approaches were either invented by, or are further propagated by what we call “conventional consultants”.  By “conventional consultants”, we mean people who are far more expert in the CONTENT of the change – the end state (for example, they know the leading-edge industry issues, and winning business strategies, and predominant successful operational models for how to do business), than in the PROCESS of making the change happen and happen well!  But they really aren’t very good at the PROCESS of helping their clients put these changes in place (and we argue that it probably isn’t great for their bottom lines to BE very good at this, or else they would teach things to their clients that would reduce clients’ dependence on them as consultants!).  Think on a time when you worked with one of the major consulting firms:  did you ever feel like you worked for THEM, rather than the other way around?   If so, it is because they were NOT bringing a process to the table to harness the collective wisdom and energy of you and your teammates…they were using your energy to feed their so-called wisdom!  -- their diagnostic and recommendations process versus your transition process.

A closely related issue is that most “internal consultants” in most organizations, who are key drivers in the change initiatives of their organizations, have shaped themselves in the image of the globally recognized major consulting firms…the McKinseys, Accentures and Deloittes of the world.  (And by the way, Cohen is a Principal at Deloitte.)  Don’t be thrown by our use of the term “internal consultants” to thinking of “them”…we are more than likely talking about YOU!  If you have any role in your organization related to helping your business work better and produce better results, rather than just executing day-to-day operations of the business, YOU ARE an internal consultant of one flavor or another!

Most internal consultants copy what they think are the best practices for consulting and managing change.  Furthermore, most managers have strong, and incorrect in our view, paradigms about what kind of help they should seek from “consultants”, whether internal or external.  Managers are usually looking for ideas on WHAT to do differently, or what we refer to as new knowledge or ideas, that is, CONTENT…when they should be looking for HOW to better do the real work of business performance improvement, or what we refer to as the PROCESS.  We mean the PROCESS for harnessing their own people’s knowledge and ideas, which we call “wisdom”…and as importantly, harnessing their energy!

A close cousin to separation of “change management work” from the “real work” of making changes happen, is the separation of “design work” from “implementation work.”

Robert Schaffer wrote a very powerful book called High-Impact Consulting:  How Clients and Consultants Can Work Together to Achieve Extraordinary Results.  (By the way, Schaffer cites Doug Smith’s work for having the highest impact of all consultants described in this book.)  Schaffer argues, and we agree, that “it is typically expected that the consultants are accountable for creating the best possible solutions and tools (which we are calling “design”), while the clients are accountable for using those solutions and tools to produce the improved results (which we are calling “implementation”)…mismatching occurs very frequently and at enormous cost to clients and consultants alike.”   Separation again!  Think 3-ring binder on a shelf…with the “consultant” blaming the client for not implementing all the great stuff, and the client blaming the consultant for not coming up with totally workable stuff and plans that are sufficiently detailed and executable to put the stuff into operation.  (Or, as Schaffer alludes, think Sunday sermons, parental advice, diet books and doctor’s admonitions.)  (Schaffer also points out that there is very little data available on the performance and success rates of the major consulting firms…and you can bet your grandmother that they not only want it this way, but have staffs of people to continually scrub away unflattering information wherever possible!) 

Another strong argument for eliminating the separation between coming up with changes and getting the changes into operation is made by Edgar Schein in his book Process Consultation:  Its Role in Organizational Development, Volume I:  “…unless remedies are worked out jointly with members of the organization who do know what will and will not work in their culture, such remedies are likely either to be wrong or to be resisted, because they come from an outsider.” (And we add, even if the “outsider” is from another group inside the organization.)  We would add to this that joint diagnosis, design and implementation (what we also referred to earlier as the “high-engagement approach” to the real work) is even MORE CRITICAL when people who will ultimately lead and execute the new way of doing business need to learn new concepts and principles, change thinking and behavior and build emotional connection and commitment to the change coming.  In other words, when learning and personal change are critical elements, joint work, or the high-engagement approach, is absolutely essential! 

Doug Smith emphasized LEARNING in his “10 Principles for Managing People and Performance”.  Principle #1 and Principle #4, taken together, argue strongly for the PROCESS for doing the real work of driving change and higher performance to be conducted in a high-engagement way:
• Principle #1, cited earlier, was:  “Keep performance results the primary objective of behavior and skill change.” 
• Principle #4 is:  “Put people in a position to learn by doing and provide them the information and support needed just in time to perform.”

The magic formula is this:  Personal engagement and learning…in a challenging performance context…(i.e. the “real work” – the operational changes -- we mention)…drives personal commitment and behavior change…which together drives broader change and capability in how the organization does certain work…which in turn drives improved business performance!

Contemporary change management approaches do not explain how to fundamentally change the PROCESS for how the real work gets done in order to drive engagement, learning, and personal change, and thereby minimize people-related issues…these contemporary approaches create new, separate, extra work to be done in parallel with the real work.  And when the people experience these “add-ons”, they readily know they are disconnected and react unfavorably to the lack of personal relevance.  They inherently know that “they are being worked over” while someone else has or will design the changes they will have to live with – who wouldn’t be skeptical?   Those who try to build the relevance bridge for themselves ask a lot of “how” questions seeking the direct linkage and application into their real work.

What does this all mean?
Here is our plain English way of saying all this, and again we draw heavily on Doug Smith’s work, most notably in Taking Charge of Change.  Most if not all of the easy problems in business have already been solved.  What is left are really thorny, hairy, complex problems, and opportunities, that require GROUPS of people to think and work TOGETHER in ways they never have before, to BOTH come up with new solutions and to put them into operation.  This all requires new skills, new knowledge and new working relationships…and most importantly a fundamentally different PROCESS for harnessing all the wisdom and energy of the people who do the real work together, and be able to do it fast and economically, …NOT an arsenal of separate tools for managing change, which is more like doing it TO them and getting them to play nice while not disrupting “progress”!

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Let’s start with an explanation of the title, Beyond The Conference Room Solution. In all of my workshops and in many of my lectures, I refer to the phrase, The Conference Room Solution as a far too common approach used by organizations use to solve many of their most challenging issues.

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The Q-Loop by Brian Klapper

How does an established organization filled with long-time employees, a deeply entrenched culture, and a history of drawn-out planning and development cycles become nimble, innovative, and responsive in today’s challenging business climate? Published by Bibliomotion, The Q-Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change delivers an actionable strategy to help your company rapidly achieve lasting transformational change.

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