Internal consultants are now well established in most large organisations, and I am often asked whether this poses a threat to external advisers such as Accenture.
The answer is not at all: in fact I welcome their presence and assistance.
The sad fact is that, through no fault of their own, internal consultants often struggle when it comes to making change happen.
Change can be a painful process, and sometimes it’s hard to deliver tough messages to the very people your own future depends on. As external consultants our stock in trade is independence and objectivity: it’s difficult for an internal consultant to go in and tell a chief executive that he is part of the problem, for instance.
I’ve known consultants who have ‘gone internal’ and found themselves uncomfortable with the new role. You’re an insider with an outsider’s perspective – or is it an outsider with an insider’s access? You can end up with quite a well-developed case of schizophrenia! As I’ve said, it’s not internal consultant’s fault that they often end up in a position as the ‘prophet without honour in his own country’.
Internal consultants can play a vital role as the first point of contact with external agents, and can be vital in getting a project going quickly, setting terms of reference, helping you navigate the organisation and avoid getting caught up in extraneous details.
But you have to be careful: as an external consultant you cannot allow yourself to see the whole organisation from one person’s perspective; you must be open to a diversity of views and opinions.
To use an analogy, an internal consultant can act like a guide to the local culture and customs: but sometimes it’s our role to shatter the myths, overturn the idols and slaughter the sacred cows.
It can be the case therefore that internal consultants get a bit sidelined once a project gets under way. But they can come back and play an important role at the later stages of implementation, as a trusted and acceptable face of change.
And it’s important to remember that change doesn’t stop just because the external consultants have gone away: internal consultants are needed to maintain a constant pressure of incremental change within an organisation.
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