There is an increasing demand on learning professionals today to be a performance consultant to the business stakeholders. While this elevates the level at which enabling functions operate, it also presents the classic challenge of being treated with skepticism and suspicion by various stakeholders.
Resistance from colleagues and stakeholders is typical while driving a significant change in approach. From L&D’s perspective, this means transitioning from an order taker to a supply chain manager of knowledge. Here are some things to watch out for as you progress on this journey.
Don’t start with any assumptions
As consultants, what we are trying to get our colleagues to do may indeed be a wise move for the organisation, but that does not always translate in immediate acceptance.
You can’t assume people will want to do the right thing for the company, even if (or especially even if) they hold middle management positions. We typically start with certain assumptions about how people might react to change and base our entire implementation approach on it.
Focus on personal interests
It’s natural for colleagues to first filter any proposed changes through questions about what’s good for them personally. They may never say it out loud, but that’s what they are thinking — always ‘what’s in it for me?’
One of the first things consultants have to figure out is whether or not the proposed changes your (top-level) client wants to make actually are in the personal best interests of the people you are working with.
If the answer to that is “yes”, then your job is to earn the trust of the colleagues and work with them to help them see why the change is (potentially) good for them.
Most colleagues have an inner voice that states “you better not be faking it. If you really want me to buy into your solution, you’ve got to convince me you’re trying to help me as well as the company – not just the company”. Get colleagues to talk about their jobs and what the changes would mean to them personally.
Trust is the foundation on which you can build new behaviours, attitudes and changes within the organisation. There are times when your colleagues have genuine and relevant concerns about the changes and/or strategy in question.
As a consultant, by working carefully to feed these views back into the stakeholders’ planning, you can be seen to be impartial, which creates a helpful level of trust.
Another important thing is the counter pressure as a result of the feeling your colleagues may have that their attitude and behaviour in the past was wrong. In these situations, try and link their old behaviour to the old situation. Don’t blame their ‘old’ behaviour. That behaviour was a good match with the old situation. Let the colleagues describe the new situation and ask them “does your ‘old’ behaviour fit with this new situation?” In most cases, the answer is ‘no’ and most of the counter pressure is lost.
As a consultant, you will always encounter colleagues who lack the flexibility needed for a changing environment. However that’s what being a change agent is all about and doing it well means being able to be an honest broker and understanding changes from the perspective of all the parties involved.
What has your experience been of being an internal consultant and working through these challenges?