What to do on the first day of an engagement?
I have learned the most important thing is to do “no harm”… yet.
It used to be the change management person was an insertion into something gone wrong. It still is, but that insertion is typically (thanks to more knowledge about CM) welcomed now.
The do no harm in the past was to make sure that at some point you would be welcomed by as many stakeholders as possible. The do no harm now is to move slowly actually doing things, but fast in figuring out what needs to be done.
For me (who can’t wait to start addressing root causes to build solutions) PATIENCE is key.
Here is a list to fill the patience void:
- Where have you been placed?
First, where is this change on the timeline? Rarely is it at the beginning- Front Loaded. It is likely at the beginning of the project phase. Which means some early work either did not happen or did not happen in the right way. That becomes the first mental note- to what extent will these omissions need to be addressed? Second, where are you placed in the organization? In the middle with little leverage? With the owner? Inside a function doing Enterprise change? The patience void is easily filled with chart making about politics, your role and the nature of this change for the organization and the individuals involved.
- What is the culture of the organization?
By the first day I have already done a lot of research into the company, its history, the people involved, its external reputation (I often know much much more than the average employee about the place they are working in), etc. That gives assumptions about culture. Those assumptions have to be put aside and open eyes and ears must figure out cultural reality in that organization.
- What are your available tools?
I always have top notch technology for my work (a mobile studio for executive head shots, the most current graphics software, a screaming fast laptop, etc.). To a company clients do not. It is no wonder they have a hard time getting things done. There is nothing worse than being hamstrung by technology when you really just want to get out and interact with stakeholders to pull them to end states. How much lack of tools will slow you down needs to be part of time estimations.
- Who are you working with initially?
Hopefully it is the owner. Not likely though. That initial day is the time for first impressions. The second day and on is the time to adjust those first impressions or correct them if you were right and that will get in the way of change. As you can see with our list of four so far change is about people and business. Are the people close to you going to give the leverage needed to describe and get to end states? If so great. If not later days will be spent finding out who those people are and making connections.
- How long is the leash?
Change Management consultants are a real threat to a lot of people. Strange that would be the case, but people are people after all. Have you been given permission to contact anyone necessary to accomplish things? Do you have to be “approved” or introduced first (not really a problem especially when the people you are working with are sponges for change learning)? Have they really just brought you in to do their work? (With the nasty procurement/contingent worker arrangements that exist now this is VERY common). The best case scenario is an unlimited leash barely held by the owner of the change. Sometimes it takes patience to get as close to that as possible.
- How much time do you have?
I have learned as an external that you NEVER know the answer to this. Clients break contracts like kids on the playground break promises. Any day could be the last. Stated time frames in contracts mean absolutely nothing. So how much time you have has a vague answer. Initially you have the length of the contract. You may need to get that quick win going right away though-clients, especially those in the middle of the organization, usually have a different idea of effectiveness (at least early on) than experienced consultants do. If you want to have a chance to play the whole change process out you have to cater to the early whims of the client.
- What about you?
It used to be consultants were valued for their experience, contracted with (the old kind of contracting not contingent work) for the leverage they bring and rewarded for years of acquiring what they have. Not so much anymore. There are a lot of middle people in the way of solid consulting relationships (and so results and solutions, but that is a different post). More than ever external consultants have to take care of themselves. That could be a long list. For me it is short. I am incredibly impatient to get people to do the things that make change smooth with expected solutions. My pace is entirely different than even the most impatient owner. I have learned taking care of me means being in the present and going just a little faster than the clients pace, which is turtle slow for me. The interactions I get with stakeholders who are new acquaintances for me makes that impatience gap enjoyable.