CHANGE CONSULTANTS  --  THREE TYPES

 

There are three broad ways in which a change consultant can relate to the client organization.  These approaches can be characterized by three metaphors:  Medical, Engineering, and Process. (Excerpted from Gibson, Ivancevich and Donnelly, Organizations, 1991)

 

Medical Approach.  The medical approach places the change agent in the role of advisor.  The organization asks the change agent to assist in clarifying the problems, diagnosing the causes, and recommending courses of action but retains responsibility for accepting or rejecting the change consultant’s recommendations.  The relationship is analogous to the physician-consultant arrangement; that is the physician may seek opinions from other experts, but the choice of therapy remains with the physician. 

 

Engineering Approach.  This approach is used when the organization has performed the diagnostic work and has decided on a specific solution.  For example, management desires to implement an MBO or job enrichment program, and it seeks the services of experts to aid in the implementation.

 

Process Approach.  This approach involves collaboration between the change agent and the organization.  The change agent avoids taking sole responsibility for either diagnosis or prescription.  Rather, the change agent’s emphasis is on enabling management to comprehend the problems and on teaching management how to diagnose and problem solve. 

 

Instructor’s Comment:  Some process consultants go further than simply facilitating diagnosis and selection of the change intervention.  They help the organization take the problem solving process through its full cycle by facilitating management through the implementation of the intervention and its evaluation and, in addition, recycling through the entire process if necessary as action learning takes place.  An excellent example of such a change consultant is Ralph Kilmann.  Brief commentary on his “Complete Program of Corporate Transformation” is provided below.

 

The following is a brief summary of Ralph Kilmann’s “Managing Beyond the Quick Fix: A Completely Integrated Program for Creating and Maintaining Organizational Success.”  Jossey-Bass, 1989

 

Initiating the Program.  Kilmann’s process begins with “initiating the program,” this involves the stage where the top management of a corporation recognizes that they have significant problems and need a consultant’s services and Kilmann is contacted.  Before Kilmann agrees to take the contract he assesses executive commitment to change.  A number of questions are asked:  Do executives acknowledge their role in the creation of the problem?  Are they willing to consider alternative perspectives and approaches?  Are they receptive to a full diagnosis by the consultant?  Do they recognize the scope of change necessary or are they looking for the quick fix?  If no, Kilmann terminates the project.  If yes, Kilmann takes the project and then objectives and expectations for change are shared more widely throughout the organization.  Kilmann believes that radical large scale systems change must be rooted in trust, liking, and mutual respect.

 

Diagnosing the Problem.  Next, Kilmann and his team of consultants work with managers throughout the organization to develop a plan to identify all problems across the organization.  Each level of the hierarchy, each division, each department is sampled and all persons in the top management group are interviewed.  Problems have to be recognized as complex and wholistic.  Executives tend to be attracted to the quick fix – that is, focusing change on one element of the organizational system in the mistaken belief that it will cure all the ills the organization.  For example executives easily get caught up in management fads such as “teams.”  What if the organization only focuses on teams?  The organization culture may encourage withholding of information affecting the quality of decisions teams can make.  The strategy of the organization may be rooted in false assumptions about key stakeholders (such as customers) that teams must interact  with.  The organization structure may not have integration mechanisms that encourage cross-functional collaboration.  The reward system may reward individual efforts instead of team efforts.  The point here is that if teams are believed to be a key mechanism for addressing the organizations problems, then the rest of the system (culture, strategy, structure, reward systems, as well as other facets of the organization) will need to be changed to support and reinforce the effective functioning of the teams that are implemented.  The diagnosis phase is complete when top managers accept the general diagnosis of the organization’s problems and it is shared with all organization members.

 

Scheduling the Tracks.  Kilmann’s next step is to determine which unit of the organization should be used for a "pilot project."  He argues that a primary business unit should be used.  It typically serves as the best example for later business units that must change.  Also, senior executives are more motivated to make the change succeed.  Next, a plan is made for scheduling diffusion of change to the other business units.  Lastly, five change tracks are scheduled (see below).

 

Implementing the Tracks.  Track 1, the Culture Track,  involves unlearning old unadaptive norms and moving to adaptive cultural norms.  Track 2, the Management Skills Track, involves conducting assumptional analysis from diverse perspectives that result in modified management assumptions about the all aspects of the firm and its external environment (its stakeholders).  Managers are also trained in what Kilmann calls “problem-management skills” so that they are knowledgeable in the processes necessary to engage in continuous organizational learning.  Changes in these first two tracks are initiated in a workshop environment where employees (Track 1) and managers (Tracks 1 & 2) are separated from each other.   Changes in later tracks are on-line when employees and managers return to their work units.  Track 3, the Team Building Track, involves operationalizing the new cultural norms and management assumptions (which are in the process of being changed) through intra-team building and inter-team building.  In Track 4, the Strategy-Structure Track, the teams, in conjunction with top management,  participate in determining what strategic and structural changes are necessary for organizational success.  Finally, in Track 5, the Reward System Track, teams, in conjunction with top management, determine what performance evaluation and reward systems must be put in place to reinforce the evolving new culture, management orientation, teams, strategic orientation, and organizational structure.  There is an additional track that is involved in this process called the “Shadow Track.”  This is an overseeing group that monitors the entire process, creates linkages between inside and outside parties, and adjusts and modifies the schedule as needed (the process needs flexibility) to ensure maximum learning. 

 

Evaluating the Results.  The shadow track collects information on the pilot project to enhance diffusion of change to the other business units.  As diffusion of change spreads throughout the organization information is collected that examines the impact of the entire transformation on organizational success.  Hard performance criteria are assessed and before-and-after comparisons are made.

 

Overview of key elements of the approach:  Kilmann encourages engaging in “systems change” and avoiding the “quick fix.”  He encourages taking a “learning orientation” – where adequate time is devoted to change, instead of a “performance orientation” – where results are expected to quickly show up in the bottom line.  He also ensures top management commitment to change right from the beginning of the process.  An absolutely key element of Kilmann’s approach is the phasing of change which involves creating social change before technical change.  Note that the “people” are the focus of the first three tracks – culture, management orientation, teams.  People’s assumptions, attitudes, values, beliefs, expectations, behaviors are modified (or at least are begun to be modified) before the technical changes are implemented in the last two tracks – strategy, structure, reward systems.   Finally, organization-wide participation is encouraged in the learning/change process.  This begins in the diagnosis phase and continues throughout each of the tracks.  In the first 3 tracks there is an evolving consideration of tentative system changes (especially cultural and management orientation changes) deemed necessary as a result of the diagnosis stage.  In the last 2 tracks there is formal consideration of and operationalization of changes in strategy, structure and evaluation/reward systems. 

 

The above method of organization change is indicative of what process consultants do best.  They facilitate managers and employees through a problem solving / learning process that promotes diagnosis / selection of organizational changes that are organization-determined and not consultant determined.  It is a process that allows the capture of dispersed tacit knowledge throughout the organization.  It is a process that encourages the development of a collective tacit appreciation of how to engage in ongoing organizational development and change.  As a result, the organization as a collective entity becomes more capable of self-directing its ongoing learning processes, it becomes more of a “learning organization.”