A closer look at the projects described here suggests that change management consulting is not one, but two things. Where they were working directly with employees, the consulting firms had to adopt an innovative approach:
They had to adopt a fresh approach to old problems. A major factor in changing the individual behaviour of store-based staff at Tesco was Trilogy's use of Brad Brown's ‘Choosing your Attitude': a programme that encourages people to take control of their lives and work and that was totally new to Tesco at the time. ‘This has been fantastic,' commented one employee who went on the programme. ‘Most important to me is that the skill of choosing my attitude has turned me from a grumpy, stressed-out guy into a dad who has rediscovered his spark.' It is the fact of using something new - as much as the actual technique - that is important here. A genuinely new approach can often break though the mental paralysis of which we are all guilty from time to time.
A different experience was offered. Trilogy's work at Tesco is also an illustration of how important it is to think through how those affected will feel during the consulting process. This is not usually a factor consultants - or clients - give much thought to. The last 10 years have seen a massive shift away from the more facilitative types of consulting (‘process consulting' as it used to be known), in favour of delivering quantifiable results within clearly defined timescales. But Trilogy's approach shows that the means is just as important - indeed, may be an integral part of - the end. If the local staff on whom the success of the project depended felt they were being told what to do, it would have defeated the object. Both the ‘Choosing Your Attitude' programme and the network of ‘firelighters' were designed, not so much to command, but to inspire - a word that perhaps does not come up enough in consulting circles.
New insights were gained. An important factor, in PA's work, both with the Department of Work and Pensions, and with Transport for London, was to be able to bring new data into emotionally charged debates. By using dynamic simulation models to forecast how different groups of customers would respond to the proposed changes, PA was able to help the Department assess the likely level of take-up and the resources it would require to deal with it. With Transport for London, the firm used a systems dynamics model to help those involved understand the impact that traffic flow and crime or the fear of crime had on the London bus network. PA also worked with niche consultancies from elsewhere, notably from initiatives to tackle urban crime in New York.
However, innovation is only one side - the public side - of change management consulting. Behind the scenes, these projects have to be marshalled with just as much discipline and attention to detail as large-scale IT work. Without the backbone of such discipline, the projects themselves might easily have been grounded by the amount of work and the number of people and organizations involved.
In this, the private face of change management consulting, the case studies highlight three factors critical to success:
Starting small. A corollary of managing the process of change so that it is not imposed on employees is that overt programme management techniques may be counter-productive, alienating those they are supposed to engage. It is therefore not surprising that successful change management consulting starts small: this is critical, as the cynics in an organization can see that a new idea works in practice. Trilogy trialled the Living Service Programme in pilot stores and encouraged the converts from this stage to become advocates in the next. The Transport Operational Command Unit was similarly piloted before agreement was reached for it to be rolled out.
Speed and the perception of speed. Change management projects are notoriously difficult to keep going as they combine complexity with largely intangible benefits. Unexpected issues inevitably arise and distract those whose involvement is essential. Even where they are not distracted, progress can appear slow. One of the most important roles of the consultants involved in all three projects was to keep things moving, bringing different stakeholders together to hammer out a consensus, orchestrating activity and ensuring that there are ‘quick wins'.
Understanding that no one size fits all. Another significant cause of failure among change management projects is that they are obviously imposed from above, those responsible assume that every business unit is the same and that the process for change can therefore be uniform across all those groups affected. Fundamental to the public communications strategy developed by PA with the Department of Work and Pensions was that it took into account the likely difference in reaction between, for example, pensioners and single parents. Similarly, one of the reasons why Trilogy's work with Tesco has had such a powerful effect was that the issues facing each store were assessed individually by the people working there. In the words of one store manager, the Living Service Programme has ‘encouraged [employees] to grab hold of a store and see it as theirs'.