PracticeConsultingCareers: Change drives demand for staff

Careers: Change drives demand for staff

Whether you focus on the "soft" skills or the "hard" stuff, change management is booming. And the demand is creating a wealth of opportunity for experienced people.

Says Chris Sale of recruitment consultancy Prism: “One of the biggest changes in the last few years is the rise of change management as a discipline in itself – and many firms look for it, whether it be strategy firms, Big Five, or niche players.”

Sale attributes the interest in the area to the realisation that projects have failed in the past because limited regard was taken of the importance of the people aspects.

But that is not the only reason. Tim Connolly, an ex-KPMG consultant who set up Partners for Change with colleague Mark Smith six years ago, has noticed an increase in work over the last nine months. “Organisations are facing a much higher ongoing level of change today, driven by the Internet, the growing use of technology, globalisation, mergers and acquisitions and the integration of them. And if they are not geared up to cope with constant change they will be left behind,” he says.

Clients’ realisation of this varies, however. “Some are more conscious of it than others,” he says. “What may not be obvious to all organisations, though, are the implications of change on the skillsets they require.”

For Connolly, change management is about making sure that a business gets something tangible, usable and of long-term value out of a big programme of change.

While the firm is doing a reasonable number of big IT projects, much of its work involves structural change, such as intelligent use of outsourcing, creating shared service centres and making better use of technology, he says.

Connolly has seen a growing resistance among clients to giving big consultancies carte blanche over a change programme. “Clients are becoming more insistent on building capability to change within their own people.” It is a move that he applauds. “The capability to change is then embedded in the organisation and its people rather than creating a long-term reliance on consultancies.

We would much rather help clients with what’s new and different than become part of the furniture, helping them with what has become day-to-day business.” Ian Faulkner of Catalyst Development, a firm specialising in helping businesses deliver customer value, agrees. “There has been a big shift in the market. Organisations now want to develop internal change agents. That is happening particularly in the telecoms, media and technology arenas and in financial services.”

The development fits well with the philosophies of both Partners for Change and Catalyst Development. “We are looking to put in catalysts to act as role models until replacements are grown within the business,” says Faulkner.

“We cover both the hard end of the spectrum, the strategic planning, programme management and implementation and the soft end – the winning of hearts and minds that is fundamental to making change succeed.” The latter includes communication, mentoring, coaching, training and leadership development, he adds.

Leadership is a critical factor for success, says Faulkner. “Many organisations don’t have the leadership capability to make change. Step one is not to provide a proxy for that but to give the skills and capability to the leadership.”

Susan Bloch, director of executive coaching at Hay Management Consultants, agrees. “We find that senior people will have made a decision on change and announce it to staff, automatically assuming that everyone will buy it. People are left to swim across the river which can sometimes be quite hard. Leaders need to become much more informal and communicative. Clients often tell me that they have been walking the floor and talking to people but I say ‘have you been listening?’.”

Bloch is very clear that a lot of M&As fail because people issues are not taken into account. “It is much easier to concentrate on the change process and structure,” she says.

Good change management consultants, adds Bloch, are people who have experienced change, are very comfortable with it and can provide energy and creativity for others, acting as a catalyst. “They must be organised – clients can be very chaotic and very demanding. In addition, they need to have emotional competencies – trust, empathy, self-awareness – and confidence that they know what they are doing.”

She looks for people with real line business experience and a business background such as an MBA. Familiarity with psychology or sociology is also useful, she says, because understanding people is an important part of change management.

Catalyst Development’s Faulkner looks for recruits who have started in consultancy and then moved into senior line roles, who have experienced change from both sides. “We want confidence with ambiguity, proactiveness, pragmatism, people with the ability to roll up their sleeves and make change happen visibly,” he says. There is a lot of competition for these people, adds Faulkner. “You have to strike while the iron is hot.”

Sale agrees. For those in large consultancies who want a change there are many niche firms looking for staff, he says.

Partners for Change is a case in point. The firm was created as a reaction to what its founders were uncomfortable with in a big consultancy firm.

It has minimal hierarchy and a remuneration system that allows its people to choose how much work they want to do, subject to client demands. Share options are used to reward those people who build business for the firm.

“We tend to recruit people who have run out of space in the Big Five,” says Connolly. “It is helpful but not essential if they have been close to a big IT project but the ability to identify the impact of a big change programme on a business is much more important than understanding the technologies behind it.”

Connolly looks for people with an entrepreneurial bent – the firm is launching three new consultancy ventures this autumn – heavyduty business builders who can sell and bring new clients on board, and people with good “doing” experience. “In the big firms one of the frustrations is that people can be promoted out of what they are good at, ending up as senior managers and partners when they just want to be consultants,” he adds.

Connolly believes there are many options for change management practitioners, ranging from corporate roles through consultancies, large and small, to independent contracting. And his view is endorsed by others in the market.

Porteur Keene is a recruitment consultant with Camron James, which specialises in recruiting change managers. “There has been a large increase in the level of recruitment since January 2000. Strategic HR skills, organisational design and development skills are highly in demand and there has been quite a surge in the need for people with management and leadership development skills,” he says. “This is not a market serviced only by the Big Five; there are a lot of niche players and everyone is looking for good quality people. The bigger consultancies like Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Andersen Consulting and Syntegra are having to go proactively to market.”

The stiffest competition, he says, is from banks and major corporations who are developing internal change teams. And the opportunities are not restricted to the UK, he adds. “It is an international market – we are asked to source people for the Middle East, Europe and Australia.”

Eighteen months ago, says Keene, firms were reluctant to look at people without external consultancy experience, particularly for senior roles.

“Such people have no selling experience, they are not competing with other firms to deliver to their clients. But now the competition is such that firms are willing to take people with internal change experience straight from the big corporations.”

There is also a big associate market, he says. Connolly agrees. People for Change uses a steady stream of contractors, he says, and some have joined the firm as employees. “Contracting is less lucrative than it used to be and is made more difficult by the advent of IR35. And independents have to work a lot harder at networking than someone in a consultancy firm,” says Connolly.

It is not difficult to get back into the mainstream, however. Says Keene: “We are starting to deal with independents who want to get back into large consultancies. And with the current market that is not hard to do.”

BG drills down with SAP system

A reassessment of IT systems in the light of its growing commercialisation led BG Technology to re-implement SAP to provide its 900 staff with web-enabled access to a wide range of applications. Previously, SAP R/3 had been used at a fairly basic level for back office processes.

The company, which provides technologies to support energy, utility and engineering firms, chose Origin to help in the 10-month project, which went live in October 1999, on time and to budget, using the Accelerated SAP approach.

A project team with a wide range of expertise was drawn from Origin, SAP and BG. Origin consultant Stuart Beech focused on the cultural and BPR aspects of the project. He cites awareness and buy-in at senior levels, and communication during roll-out as key factors. “The hardest challenge,” he says, “was maintaining senior management buy-in.”

BG’s project manager, Bill Barnes, cites three key change areas: identifying and mitigating major HR and organisational risks; ensuring line management and ownership of the change management issues; and identifying appropriate structures to optimise the system post-implementation.

For Barnes, the most difficult aspect was getting employees to understand what was going to hit them in terms of changes to working processes: “We did a lot to brief staff, managers and directors but until it happens they can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. The project process is a white-knuckle ride, like white water rafting. Then once it has gone live you are out in the open sea, reacting to events, such as 400 users ringing up for help on day one.”

Once the teething problems were over, though, BG began to see benefits. “Previously, managers spent a lot of time reconciling spreadsheets. Now they can quickly drill down to query variances, accessing the right data when they need it.” This has freed up their time to build the business under BG’s aggressive growth plan. ?:

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