How To Select The Right Culture Consultant For Your Business.

culture consultant

Many organisations hire, or borrow talent when required, especially during periods of transition or transformation. Often talent required on a more permanent basis may not suit times of change. Or projects need specific talent to help get them set up but then very different skills to maintain them. So what options do businesses have? A culture consultant is someone who professionally provides expert guidance or expertise to businesses. Worryingly, many managers do not find the time or have the expertise, to effectively select culture consultants to deliver projects. This often results in businesses making decisions by ‘putting their finger in the air‘ to decide who feels right. But what are the risks of this?

Firstly, financial risks.

Many businesses pay culture consultants for services that do not yield results. Multiple research sources show that at least 70% of large projects fail (McKinsey, 2019). Whilst this failure may be complete, or partial, this is costing businesses money. Both in terms of unrealised ROI (return on investment), and wasted resources which have indirect implications. Despite large investments in effective project management less than 36% of organisational projects are delivered within budget (PM Survey, 2019). So even businesses with large project teams are not immune to this risk, the larger the project the greater the risk.

Secondly, operational disruption.

Can be caused through misguided strategies. Many culture consultants offer a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Historically, this worked at least to some extent. However, business is different today.

Faster, more complex, hybrid, new technology and change is the new normal. This leads to operational disruption when culture consultants join businesses with misguided strategies. Businesses, and many culture consultants, need to think differently.

Communication which is reactive or poorly managed can incite confusion, further fuelling an increase in change resistance. Employees who are not bought in make initiatives significantly harder (if not impossible!) to implement. Humans like change in many ways, especially when they perceive they are in control which is when understanding the science of human behaviour can be so invaluable.

Emotional turmoil risks further reducing productivity, guarantees resources are used ineffectively and can also result in a lower health and wellbeing of employees.

Thirdly, talent drain.

Occurs when employee engagement starts to decline. Culture consultants who fail to engage with employees across a business, or don’t see the value in this activity, can quickly alienate your talented employees.

Unfortunately, high-performing employees tend to be more likely to join competitors or move onto pastures new. Disillusioned employees can become toxic, absorbing managers’ time and effort, as they focus on the negative elements of the change or transformation. In reality, this is a normal human reaction. It is also a predictable reaction, as it is how humans have survived successfully for years. Unfortunately, in the business setting this innate unconscious psychological process can be detrimental to both the business, the teams and the individuals involved.

Fourthly, reputation or brand damage.

Negative stories, disgruntled employees, unhappy customers are just some of the results which an unsuccessful transformation can deliver. Often organisations go public with their changes, promoting and marketing their plans, which when they fail or don’t deliver the promised north star, stakeholders become disgruntled.

Think about when you have been promised something, which failed to materialise.

How did you feel? What did you think?

This is something which many culture consultants fail to prioritise. Either through time or resource constraints or through a gap in their skills and expertise. Often organisations get tarnished by investing significant sums of money in projects and consultants, which fail to deliver, further infuriating shareholders. On the other side, if the transformation was critical (e.g. when BHS tried to reinvent itself) then the brand can continue a decline as consultants fail to deliver the transformation or promises promoted.

So what is the solution to recruiting the right culture consultant?

The first is to measure the current culture of your organisation. Is it hierarchical? Is it democratic? Is it inclusive? Is it open or closed? What three words would you use to describe your organisational culture? Are these descriptions consistent across teams, employees and levels of management? This is important as it allows a consultant to understand the real elements of the business they are working with. Organisations are very different in terms of what they say they do, versus how they do things in reality.

Unwritten rules, shortcuts and more effective ways of working are what keep organisations functioning. These are never written down. Whilst structures, employee engagement scores and focus groups give some insight it is observing, analysing and understanding the true culture which sets up transformation projects for success.

The second is to engage in an effective procurement search for the right consultant. Many businesses are attracted to consultants who are like them, or who they know. People they have worked with before. The majority of SMEs fail to get a broad range of consultants to tender for the work. Or when they do they focus on price, as opposed to outcomes and ROI as selection criteria. Collaboratively designing the transformation, engaging with stakeholders and listening to what is really required are fundamental to success. In reality, as McKinsey’s extensive research shows many transformations start to fail from day one (McKinsey, 2021).

The third is to ensure your consultant has the skills and expertise to deliver. The following questions can help with this:

Questions to help recruit the right culture consultant.

  • What are your educational and professional qualifications?
  • Can you provide details of how your qualifications or certifications relate to cultural transformation?
  • Can you please talk us through similar projects you have delivered?
    • On a scale of 0-10, how successful would the clients have said the project was?
    • What would you have done differently on these projects?
  • Do you have any client references or clients we can speak to?
  • How do you customise your approach to fit the specific needs of an organisation?
  • What tools and techniques do you use for cultural assessment?
  • How do you ensure sustainable change is delivered and continues after the project concludes?
  • How do you handle resistance to change within an organisation?
  • Can you describe your approach, and experience, to facilitating workshops or training?
  • How will you ensure buy-in for cultural change initiatives with employees?
  • What are the key milestones and deliverables for this project?
  • What do you think the biggest risk is for this project? How will you help us overcome this?
  • How do you measure the success of your cultural change initiatives? What metrics and KPIs do you use? What if we don’t have them today?
  • Can you please explain your fee structure and talk us through the cost breakdown?
  • Are there any additional costs we should anticipate beyond your quoted fees?
  • What are your proposed timelines for this project, and what could potentially derail this?
  • How many clients are you currently working with, and how will you meet our needs and manage your time?
  • What business continuity do you have in place in case you cannot complete our project?
  • How will you ensure compliance with regulatory, industry standards and legislation?
  • Can you please give us some examples of how you have demonstrated your ethical credentials in previous projects?
  • How do you adapt your strategies to suit situations which may arise?
  • What potential risks do you foresee with this project? How would you mitigate them?
  • How will you engage with our stakeholders and ensure buy-in?
  • How will you blend the diverse needs and requirements of our stakeholders?
  • What digital tools will you use, or do you recommend we use?
  • How will you leverage data and information as part of this project?
  • What do you think we have missed or need to consider before we start this project?
  • What do you believe sets you apart from other consultants in your field?
  • What additional value will you bring to our organisation that we may not have considered?

With decades of experience working across over 30 industries, the team at Think Organisation have extensive expertise in transforming cultures. We also provide independent advice and support to businesses to help ensure they make effective decisions. To learn more please book a free consultation with us or email [email protected].

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact.

Check our Insights page for more valuable information.

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact. 

Check our Insights page for more valuable information.

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