6 Ways Consultants Can Impact Organizational Change

Organizational Change
Improving Organizational Change

Ask any random business people what first comes to mind when they think of the word “consultant.” Some will tell you that they steal your watch to tell you the time. You might hear that they train their people on one client in order to charge higher rates at the next client. But some may utter a single word and most people will know what they are talking about: shelfware.

What is shelfware?

Shelfware is a term that many clients – and some consultants – use to describe what consultants often leave behind. Consultants come in. They use up the client’s time asking questions. They write up binder after binder of documentation. They may have even left behind a software system that nobody knew how to use. They charged inflated fees for their time. Then they left.

The client doesn’t know what to do with it all. So the binders, software manuals, and reports are put on a shelf to gather dust. Thus, it is known as shelfware.

The consultant’s view

From the consultant’s point of view, they did what they were told. They performed their study. They did their analysis. They documented a solution. They may have even implemented a software system to make the company more productive.

Most often, there is no mention in the contract that stipulates that the consultant must verify compliance and adoption of any of their deliverables by the client’s employees.

Most consulting firms wouldn’t allow a clause like that, because it is essentially out of their control. Occasionally, clients will include some hours for training by the consulting firm. But training is one of the first things cut from the negotiated cost. Even if training is included, there is no guarantee that the clients will adopt the system.

It is human nature to resist change. When client employees are forced into a new system, far different from one they have become accustomed to, they will often resist.

The resistance will range from passive, minimal involvement to outright refusal to use a system.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Facilitating organizational change

A consulting firm may not have a contractual obligation to ensure that anything they leave behind is actually used. But they should take steps to improve the chances that their work does not done in vein.

In order to reduce the chances of your efforts becoming shelfware, there are a number of things a consulting firm should do as part of an implementation.

See my related post: Consultants Give Clients a Kick in the Seat of the Pants

Involve client senior management.

Regardless of the contractual agreement, a consulting firm cannot facilitate organizational change without the commitment of the client management team.

Client management should be involved from the beginning of the project touting the benefits of the system, ensuring that people are adopting the system, and monitoring for non-compliance.

Develop a sense of urgency

Consultants should educate the client employees on why the company needs to move to a new system. This is often called the “burning platform”, an analogy to an oil rig explosion at sea. Workers had the choice of remaining on the platform and burning, or jumping into the ocean.

Few people would willingly adopt the change of jumping into the ocean, but it was a better option than burning. If you can convince the client team that the new option is better than the existing situation, they may be more willing to “jump” to the new system.

What’s in it for them?

Perhaps the new system will allow them to work more efficiently or reduce mundane manual work. If you show them the benefits that they will receive personally, you will increase the chances of acceptance.

What’s in it for the organization?

Related to the burning platform, demonstrate to the employees that this is the best solution for the organization to be successful in the long term. Appeal to their sense of team spirit. If everyone believes this is the best thing for everyone involved, they will be more likely to work as a team to bring it across the finish line.

Create a vision

When architects plan to build a new building, they show artist’s renderings and models of what the final product will look like. Create a vivid picture in everyone’s mind of what the future will look like when all the dust has cleared and the new system is in place.

Assail any fears

You may convince the employees that the company will be more successful. You may convince them that everyone will be more productive. But they may start to connect the dots and wonder if the organization will need all of their current employees.

Employees almost naturally connect change and improved efficiency with layoffs and cost savings. Consultants should work with client management to honestly and diplomatically allay any fears the employees may have.

If the organization plans layoffs, they should not indicate that there won’t be any. If they can guarantee no reduction in force, they should. They should also communicate any detailed plan they have for retention and reassignment. The fewer questions in the employees’ heads, the better.


Promoting organizational change is almost always difficult. It can be made more challenging when trying to implement it as an outsider. Consultants should work closely with client management to create a communication plan to ensure company-wide adoption of any new system.

Have you ever had a project fail because of poor organizational change?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.