The Commoditization of Consulting was round one.
That was June of 2012. I would say it has gotten worse since then.
The Source from Consulting.com with “The Three Stages of Commoditization”, puts the process in to three steps:
- Clients believe consultants are all offering the same thing.
- Clients think if that is the case then they can probably do it themselves.
- The thing (say a specific service) becomes ingrained internally and so is no longer needed as an external service (except in a contracting scenario-contractors usually deliver commodities).
Contrast that process to Ben Broeckx’s Exploring the Black Box Blog, “From the Other Side of the Table- the (de)Commoditization of Consulting”. Ben, a consultant turned client, has a refreshing take on the need to de-commoditize certain kinds of consulting. He thinks commoditization erodes quality. Agreement from this consultant (thankfully I have gained revenue as a result). He also thinks consultants force commoditization on themselves (in contrast to the other blog post which pins the process on the client).
Ben’s best line:
“… because as a consultant you may not understand this, but hard selling profiles a business as a commodity.”
There is a LOT of hard sell of models out there. The “consultant” (those are commoditization bunny ears) is just the vessel to check the boxes.
- The clients are right. Many “consultants” (darn those bunny ears if you are one of these) ARE offering the same thing. If there is a model attached and the firm/person offering is excited you asked- sniff, smell commodity?
- If the clients just intended to check some boxes, yes they could do it themselves. If learning, introspection and experience are neccesary then NO they likely CAN’T do it themselves. (Been there, seen that, helped correct and make up for the internal commoditization of consulting).
- Let’s use CM as an example: been around for a good 10+ years, plus it was OD before and there is probably some new name for it in the future. Lots of things make it virtually impossible to truly have the right competencies within. Which is why some version of CM will be around for a long time.
In general a consultant who works hard to avoid commoditization will be available and able to consult. They will be more expensive and should be. But the hidden savings they bring are worth the upfront cost (versus the actual longer term cost of bad quality delivery and service that you get with the Cheap Commodity Consultant [there took away the bunny ears by giving those people a title]).
Most of those Commodity Consultants come in packs. Just because there are more bodies does not mean it is more efficient, longer lasting or effective.
In the middle of this mix there is a distinct spot(s) for independent consultants. Clients, with that choice you avoid number 1, get help with number 2 and come as close as is possible to number 3. (You can always bring that consultant back for the next program when you see 3 is very hard to attain).
Commoditization is not happening with ALL consultants and all consulting. But the more clients and “consultants” force commoditization the tougher it is going to be to find the TRUE consultants.
Change is complicated.
Change tends to take longer than wanted or expected.
Change involves people and people are hard to figure out.
So how do some practitioners, project managers (and their peer organizations), mid-level leaders and anyone trying to profit from change deal with this?
They try to make Change an event.
How to Make Change an Event
- Advocate the tool over the practitioner.
- Define distinct beginnings and endings.
- Create defining borders.
- Layer change efforts over a project approach.
The best way to turn change into an event is to make the tool appear to be the solution.
A tool you can sell to anyone. A service? Not so much.
Those trying to make change an event (the most guilty being potential clients for those service providers) will spend a lot of time talking about and pushing the tool- as if that was the only way to approach change.
If they have a winning (selling) argument then practitioners and stakeholders can be made subordinate to the tool.
(PS you can facilitate change with Word and Excel or with pen and paper).
Starts and Stops
Distinct starting and stopping spots sells (in both senses of the word, as in- buy this and buy into this) for change.
It is comforting to know that this scary change thing will come to an end at some point.
It is comforting to be able to pinpoint when it starts, so everyone can be ready.
Things with beginnings and endings sell easier than stuff with vague timelines.
(PS change is pretty much constant and never-ending and the instant the first person with the change idea talks to someone else change has started).
A false start (pun intended) and stop is only the first level in containing this change thing so it seems manageable and is sellable.
Making a box can create clear edges to this ephemeral change thing.
Assessing (and selling assessing “tools”) can help create some more lines around the change.
Groups can be contained or pushed out; people can be included or not; costs can be “controlled when boundaries are set.
That has the added bonus of looking and feeling just like project management which is something everyone is comfortable with.
(PS Change Management is not project management, nor does it fall under that umbrella, and it flows past boundaries like water to rocks in a downhill stream).
To make this change as an event thing really work you need to layer the approach right over the project/program process of the organization.
If you are selling into organizational change this is perfect. Project processes within organizations are littered with phases, steps and tasks that need a change component right? What better way to add work and effort than layering over each one of those requirements!
(My nicer take on Layering Change).
When change management is layered it automatically takes on the first three items in our list.
(PS Thanks to the global nature of most organizations Layered Change tends to quickly break free of its bounds and touch something outside predefined limits).
Make change an event if you choose- rely on tools, mark starts and finishes, draw out boundaries and layer your approach over existing project management parameters. Be forewarned though- tools are not solutions, change starts as soon as two people discuss it, change boundaries are always subjective and project management is usually the smallest box you can put change into.
This must be some sort of mid career evaluation, or the change practitioner in me refusing to be silent when a voice needs to be heard. I am on a string of posts that question consulting, a little on the practice and a LOT on the environment.
Here is the current run if you want the lead in:
- The latest in the Wonderfully Disillusioned Series- Consulting
- 5 Things That Have Ruined Consulting
Why Consulting will (actually) NEVER die:
- We all have a lot to learn. Executives and leaders (who hire and receive advice from consultants) are part of that “We”.
- With Change consulting there are some things internals just cannot do. Which brings up an interesting thing to think of: Can an employee “consult”?
- True consultants are tenacious. We know we have experience, advice and perspective that is valuable, is needed and should be marketable. We will always find ways to illustrate that to owners and leaders.
- Consulting can always just be a scapegoat .
- Symbiosis and Parasitism. Consulting can be both. The first one might die, but the second will always live on.
- It can be unbelievable how different the inside is from the outside. As a consultant I often ask myself, “how to they NOT know this?” (I meant one particular thing, but this applies to my statement too).
- The big firms will always find a way to insert themselves (see #5).
- There will always be “backs to be scratched” (see #5 again).
- Everyone wants to (and usually tries) be a consultant.
- Consulting works. Anytime one person takes and translates the advice of another with more experience and utilizes that help to change things, there is a chance for geometric improvement and success.
Consulting will never die because it is at times parasitic, symbiotic, a scapegoat, a learning process, the outside in, the insertion of tenacious practitioners, the trail left by revenue grabbing big firms or something that..wait for this…can actually WORK.
Huge Kudos go out to Jennifer Frahm for her post, “70% of change projects fail: Bollocks!”.
The time has come to topple this change management sacred cow.
I won’t steal her thunder. Go read the post, see how she even has the guts to tackle Kotter converting-observation-into-assumed-fact.
Here is why that “statistic” has been used (use this to weed out poor consultants clients):
You are already fearful of your change. If I REALLY scare you do death maybe you will pick me as your savior (and pay me lots and begin to depend on me to salve your fear…maybe for years and years!).
If I bring up the dreaded number you will automatically think I am in the 30% category. Always go with a winner, right?
- A little Erudite mixed in
If I whip out that 70 number with no hesitation it must mean I have really studied this change thing. No way would I drop a number that has absolutely no scientific basis.
- Science based Change
If I can show you there is a way to approach this change thing step by step in a scientific way with “numbers” to show how well we are doing (we not you or I- no practitioner actually wants to OWN a number like that) then I am a shoo-in for the role.
That number has been a crutch and lever for practitioners and “Thought Leaders” for years. No one dares touch it. It is- was thank you Jennifer- a sacred cow. The perfect thing to keep going back to if it turns out you as a practitioner are in the 70 area. (Hint we all are AND we are in the 30 area because the number is bogus).
- Tool Setup
This is a post on its own. If I knock off those first five things then I can introduce you to my set of tools. ‘Cause we all know not every hammer or saw is the same or works for building a house…Change without just the right tool is what has caused those many “failures”. (I have had a couple of huge initiatives that, if the power went off permanently, I could have accomplished with pen and paper).
Don’t buy the snake oil clients.
If ANYONE quotes the 70% statistic either walk away or have fun and toy with them- ask them to cite the study with reliability and validity (just mentioning those last two words will likely make a 70% ’ers head swim).
Clients-topple the 70% change statistic now and stop its use for fear, competition, false knowledge, false science, distraction and a set up for emptying your budget. Change Practitioners don’t embarrass yourself (or set yourself up) by talking about failure that can’t really be measured.
As with any career there are lots of hidden things that degree, that “intro to _” class and those templated CM “certifications” will not tell you or show you.
- Leave your ego at the door.
This is not a career to run into with your feathers fluffed looking to be seen.
The best of us do our work behind the scenes. When we take the limelight it is with strategic (and tactical) intent. Our egos are best transferred to others. Asserting your ego (especially if you are an external) can be a fast way to the door. There is no food on the table on the other side of that door. Asserting your ego as an internal does not make for good change management.
- Think about your own end state.
What will you be and what will your environment look like close to retirement?
Will you be a thought leader, transformational or huge engagement consultant? Or will you have perfected the tactics and tactical implementation of small to medium-sized projects/programs. The first means you should be external the second internal.
- Never get locked in to one environment.
Move, either to different companies, different places or at least different jobs within a company.
I snicker (and, yes, cringe) when I look at profiles on LinkedIn of people who call themselves change management consultants (or some similar term) who have only worked at one or two places. As a comparison I personally have worked inside 70+ companies (add some numbers for different environments since some of those were Fortune 100). Any chance I might understand a ton of things about change and corporate change compared to a one trick pony “CM”?
- Don’t stay too long.
Politics and protecting your own interest will sand down your change capability and motivation. Two years will make you an employee- legally and figuratively. This tip is different from the last one, because this one says at two years leave, “no matter what”(I can smell the smoke from potential blogging flames…).
Not so much the latest fad (“brain research” will run its course as did all the other OD and CM fads).
Learn the things and learn to use the tools that facilitate this role. Become a wiz at the full Adobe Suite, brush up on Excel (please do not become a wiz unless you plan on switching to the PM role), grab a grammar book, start a blog to practice, volunteer somewhere and do change management in a safer environment, grab a mentor (before the un-“certified” ones retire), learn about business structure/org design, find an executive or two to have coffee with and field CM questions and do the same with sample stakeholders for the full length of your career.
Thinking about Change Management as a career or just getting started? Leave that ego at the door, start seeing the future- including your own, don’t get locked in or stay too long and learn. Oh and take a big breath this career is much more difficult than it sounds- you have to be made of armor.
First day of school for kids has to be the best example of instant energy.
The roads are busier (really busy that day with all the parents rearranging their schedules to get in late), the schools themselves are buzzing and, at least here, where there are countless places to walk to and hang out, the first half day makes our main street a landing-place for amped up activity.
You hear lots of voices laughing, talking, sharing experiences and switching gears from relaxed to excited to (tomorrow) intensity.
The Change Segue
Translate all that into the scenario that leaders, practitioners, consultants that think change is a marketing exercise and the adult cheerleaders in organizations try (emphasis on try here) to create. They look to big town hall announcements, splashy videos and talking heads “shorts” of executives working on their happy faces to get the same kind of thing we see on the first day of school every year.
And let’s face it every school year is a transformation for a child.
Why are these two environments so different?
Look at what the first day of school has to offer and see if you can think of ways to have, get or create that for corporate change.
Or maybe look at why corporate change does not have these things…
- A new beginning
- A promise of the next step
- An acknowledgment of success
- A traditional social event
- A little mystery and a little of the unknown
While sometimes scary and always a huge challenge, each grade in school is a new beginning.
But that is not really true.
Each grade is part of a ladder and a process to get to an end state. Every grade builds on the next.
Why does it seem like a new beginning?
Kids get new friends. Yes but they also have some of last years friends in their classes.
Kids get to do some things their older siblings got to do.
Kids get to be older, better, more mature at each new level.
Kids get to move up to the next step.
Kids get to leverage the things they learned from previous teachers with tougher, more challenging work.
Kids, after the school year moves on a little, get peeks and glimpses of what the next, next step is.
Kids know they will get to try new things with the yearly change.
Kids also know they will get new kinds of reinforcement, accolades and kudos (more like the kind adults get- with each passing grade).
Kids know they will be good at new things.
They also quickly see how much they DO know already. Previous success (from hard work) get revisited at the start of every year). My fourth grader blazed through flash cards at the speed of light last night, with a smile and a snicker on her face the whole time.
Success and acknowledgment of achievement (even if it is only internal to the individual) carries a TON of energy with it.
The first day of school puts millions of versions of that in the collocated environments.
That first day, every year, certainly is a social event.
It is for the kids. It is for the parents (judging by the number of combinations of supporting adults I saw today- parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, partners and neighbors). It is for the teachers too (we have one in our house- this day is always happy).
It is important to realize that the first day is a repeated event around the world that has happened since the first time learning was organized into a group. Imagine the millions of different versions of tradition that happen on this day.
Just stand in the halls of a school and listen to those supporting parents tell of….” I remember when I…”, “My dad used to… on the first day of school”, “My family on the first day always…”.
Each year, I bet, thousands more traditions are started. My seventh grader got up early (with a schedule in 15 minute increments) to be ready so that she could cook the family breakfast.
Bring on some more new traditions!
OK. So if the first day of school is so scary- you know CHANGE, new faces, new challenges, concern about teachers, lots of rules to have to follow, new processes and procedures, a distinct system of measurement for success- then how come it is so exciting and fun?
It almost feels like the kids are looking FORWARD to the unknown…
The first day of school is nothing like environments of corporate change. Not the new beginning, the chance to move to next steps, the acknowledgment of success, the social event component or the excitement of the unknown. Nope not the same at all…Right?
Where Others Failed: Top 10 Management Fads by Lucy Kellaway has me smiling.
I love it when anyone calls out the strange junk that is created and marketed to feckless clients and executives.
- Emotional Intelligence
- Management by Walking Around
- Six Sigma
- Core Competency
- No “I” in team
- Embracing Mistakes
- Business Process Re-Engineering
- Run by Fiat
- Matrix Organization
- Authentic Leadership
These are all goofy pinpoint focuses on much more complicated scenarios and environments. I for one snicker when I see someone intently and adamantly following any one of them.
Does CM have a list?
Watch while I make everyone ready for change (and at the same time tell you people always resist).
- As Is
Everything I do to help you with change will be based on the present (you know your totally messed up situation-rather than some better version).
- Change under a Project Umbrella
Change Management is just a transactional element of Project Management (thanks to power grabbing this fad will only get worse).
- Change based on Templates
With my tools you will change (and/or you will use up a lot of server space).
Do exactly as we proscribe (after paying us for the stuff) to change (PMI is ramping-up to seriously compete with Prosci).
I can show you how to make this change last (which is easy to say since I won’t be here at that point).
- Enterprise Change Management
We help with change that touches the whole organization (this was, I think the fad might have died, a term to describe IT implementations. So many changes really DO touch the whole organizations the term [and fad] have lost punch).
- Change layered over Process
We can help “integrate” change management into your current processes (despite the fact the processes may be the root cause for needing change).
- Change Management Office (or group or whatever)
We can create a group that will manage all of your organizations change (Disclosure I have helped with these, but it basically put all of the fads in one box… maybe where they can do little harm).
- Magic Change
Just pay me I will make it happen (The last is saved for all those magic elixir solutions from wanna-be practitioners).
Ten change Fads: readiness, “as is”, project umbrellas, templates, Prosci, sustainability, ECM, change over process, CMO, Magic change. Try them out quick before they fade away to be replaced by the next futile buzz.
A vacation (without preloading blog posts) and a more disillusioned than wonderful (Wonderfully Disillusioned Wednesday’s posts reference for new readers) couple of days has created a writer’s block funk.
Being an eternal optimist (admittedly hardened as I get older), roadblocks, setbacks and obstacles take a while to build up enough for numbing “funks”. It happens once in a while though. I have come up with a strategy to get past and overcome this personal version of quicksand. Do something I really like that always works to make me feel better: DREAM.
When I make things up, when I ask why and what if questions about things I always perk up over possibility.
This works for big remodeling projects at home, it works with career development and it works at client sites for change big and small.
The key is to realize you are dreaming. (Few of these big fantasies every become reality).
Dreaming About Change Management
This latest funk has a lot to do with change management as a specialty/industry/practice.
Here is the CM funk list:
- Third parties in the way
- Status quo that is consistent from organization to organization
- Packaged template based, heavily marketed, approaches
- Tactics over strategy
- The Plexiglas ceiling (my new term for the inability for anyone woman or man to rise to executive levels)
- Ridiculous fixation with “resistance” and so resistance-fighting
- Constant homage to guru’s of the past
- Contracting from the middle of the organization
- Invisible or non-existent owners
- Review processes that slow change to a snails crawl
OK I’ll stop (there is a lot more though…).
Because people are people.
Even for dreamers like me it is often easier to just do things the way you always have. When everyone starts to operate that way, one place looks like another. And one person acts like another. And we get “human nature”.
While this frustrates and irritates me I get it. I also get the underlying structure that people-who-become-the-same tend to create.
But what if there was an organization with one person or filled with people who understood the why answer and wanted to do something about it? Just What if…
Let’s make this dream sequence easy (and practical) by matching the previous funk list:
- Consultants especially, contractors probably, would be sourced by internal resources.
Why is it that organizations are so intent on making project management, change management, strategy and planning internal, but are willing to divvy up the acquisition of outside resources? That is arguably the most important role in the process of change. And you outsource it? Direct contracting is in the dream. Practically is has to be cheaper. It certainly ties the organization together tightly with outside influence. Thanks to LinkedIn sourcing is easy these days (those outside recruiters have no secret hiding places for resources).
- This dream organization would work to constantly tweak status quo.
Maybe in the big dream they would actually start from scratch. They would look at their performance management process (and in many ways eliminate it). They would look at the way they communicate (start-up screen comms., a useful well designed portal, a system of one step editing and approval, cascade and direct to stakeholder processes, etc.). Creating this organization from scratch is my own ULTIMATE dream. This is the one I use when I am depressingly “funked”. If I ever get to help create this dream I will be able to say I made it, officially, in this career. Anyone else share this dream?
- Templates would be for recording information not guiding process.
Enough said about that funky and pesky-like-a-mosquito-at-night problem.
- Strategy first.
There are organizations that mostly just do tactics. They say they have a strategy, but it is more strategic implementation. Quarter to quarter to the next quarter with no one realizing four quarters make a year and a couple of years make a strategy. In this dream place high level talk would be about 3-5 years from now. Later conversations would be about what that means for today and tomorrow.
- Actual hierarchy.
I never thought I would say this, since I am not a fan of directive organizations, but companies really need to go back to old-fashioned org charts (that get published, that people can see and use). That status quo, group think thing creates a LOT of buck passing. The nature of business and society here in the US at least over the last 15 years or so is lots to the top few and little to the others. Anyone notice the org charts started disappearing at the point this started happening? Org charts are one way to have accountability. I like my dreams to be free-flowing and open. In this one category my dream would have some rigidity, structure and accountability. And it would have a clear way for people to rise to higher levels.
Resistance is an active force against something. People often hesitate and consider and evaluate change. They often get a little nervous about new things (if they learn to dream the nervousness is the kind you get before a great performance). In my mind (or dream) resistance is sabotage- active, on purpose and meant to hold something back. And of course it doesn’t exist in my dream (or in the real world).
- No reading.
I would like to say this is kidding. You can read my stuff… One of my funk items is that people read one or two things, usually the most available and most heavily marketed (and written at a 7th grade level), and then become change experts by the end of the weekend. It shocks me that so many people just parrot from the past- nothing original from them. And then they suck everyone around them into their guru initiated low-level approach and perspective. In my dream people read with a discerning eye and they act having read A LOT (from every angle). OK maybe in my dream we have to go all the way back to the education system and teach discernment (Note: the new teaching standards, because of the internet and opinion over fact, have this built-in to the new approach-Kudos to whoever pushed that).
- Contractors contracted in the middle.
It makes sense for specialist resources to be contracted in the middle. These are the people who do the work of an employee. They are needed because the organization does not have that capability, because that expertise is only needed for a short period of time and/or because the organization wants to learn that talent. (That is the spot where contractor starts to cross with consultant). In my dream middle of the organization leaders do what they do well-tactical approaches to strategy.
- Visible, existent (and accountable) owners.
In my dream world senior leaders know how to create long-term strategy. They know what those creations mean to them and their peers personally. They care about both the organization and the people (and they are rewarded for that [and rewarded realistically], not personal gain). When they have that mix-we have moved to the dream stage now-they own the results. They are active. They follow through. They actually DO some of the hands on work. Lately my dream has looped in the Board of Directors. Because in the grand dream they were once these dream owners. Now they oversee that process. They OWN accountability and results. Through others yes, but they have the leverage to make it work.
- One stop exchange.
My answer, in my dream and the real world, to the question, “If you could do one thing at every place you assist what would that be?”. The easy answer is reduce decision-making around exchange to one stop (OK maybe two to compromise). In the dream people are good at talking, interacting, keeping up with information inside and outside their organization (you know like consultants). Because they do this, are like this, when it comes to deciding things and interacting they have thought things through. When you think through you do not need quite as much editing and review. (and no the permission process is not “extra” thinking).
So there you go. It took close to 1400 words and my longest post to break the funk. Funk broken though!
The, my, change management dream has: direct contracting in the right place, flexible status quo, templates as data, strategy first, Org Charts, possibility, discernment, active Owners and one stop review. To see even one of these happen would be a dream come true.
When social media and advanced technology (going to space is high on the advanced list) come together we have Space Fast Change Around Us. Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, has created a video series to help answer all those living in space questions. I am not one to go to videos (I would rather search text and picture based- videos seem too slow and are too time consuming). But…
This series makes me understand how people can get completely absorbed in videos and burn an incredible amount of time. We have permission for this series though because we are learning right?
We all need to know how to:
Brush our teeth in space
Sleep in space
Wash our hands in space
Cook spinach in space (to have Popeye energy for all those spacewalks)
Make a peanut butter & honey sandwich in space
Because I know you are curious: How to use the toilet in space
This is Fast Change Around Us: the ability to look at a long list of videos of people living in space. What’s next, virtually accompanying a group of astronauts on a Martian picnic?
I set up a search notification on Google for “change management”.
The results are strange.
The smallest little changes for organizations show up (likely because of press release SEO).
Big changes show up, but the links have nothing to do with how that change will be approached.
If I go straight to Google and type in “change management” I actually get some things that have to do with CM.
(And how cool is this, I make the first page… just):
Change management is appearing in just about every job description now.
My second most popular post is about CM career building. Five to ten people look at it a day, every day. This is, apparently, a career that interests a lot of people. As a senior practitioner I’m not sure if that is wonderful or the opposite. If the next clicks are posts that teach a future oriented perspective and show you must have empathy AND thick skin then the interest is wonderful. If they slide away and hit a few of those other links that show up with the CM search then I am very disillusioned.
Change management is everywhere which is wonderful. Because change management is everywhere often the wrong things and the wrong approaches are being signaled, that is disillusionary. In order to explain anything you have to get people’s attention. So the ubiquity of change management makes me Wonderfully Disillusioned.