Organizational Change and Consultancy SkillsLet us start with another definition: consultancy is a process involving a consultant who is invited to help a client with a work-related issue. The client can be an individual, a group, or an organization. The essential issue is one of responsibility for the process, and this may help to clarify the difference between consultancy and other activities, such as supervision, therapy, teaching, and management. The responsibility for fulfilling the task of the organization in the consultancy process lies with the client, whereas the responsibility for the consultancy process lies with the consultant.
The consultant uses his or her skills and knowledge about the process of change to enter into a mutual exploration towards an understanding of the meaning of the problem for the organization as a whole. The consultant's position within the system offers a different perspective from that of the client. From this perspective, the consultant can offer new ideas that may create a new set of meanings in the organization and allow the problem to be seen in a different way, leading to new behaviours and new relationships.
These may allow the organization to move forward in its development (Miller 2007). The consultant may work with many different kinds of problem, from working with nurses on how to manage bereavement to helping a community care team to develop an operational policy. The consultant may act in different roles at various stages of the process -- for example, as teacher, advisor, facilitator, researcher, trouble-shooter, salesperson -- without letting go of the locus of responsibility. As well as being able to take on a variety of roles to suit the overall task, the consultant needs to be able to move quickly between them, whilst maintaining a bird's eye view of both the primary task to be accomplished and the whole system involved in the project.
The consultant working within a systemic framework will use specific techniques such as hypothesizing, circular questioning, and the use of feedback and reflective discussion. The aim is to create a context in which new ideas can be owned -- in the sense of feeling a commitment towards -- by the client, whose responsibility it is to implement any resulting actions.
External and Internal Consultancy External consultancy involves consultancy to individuals, groups, or organizations outside the organization of which the consultant is a member. Internal consultancy, on the other hand, involves consultancy to individuals, groups, or the whole organization of which the consultant is also a member. Requests for consultancy from one's own organization are likely to become increasingly common in the public sector of the 1990s. For some professionals in the public sector, this kind of work is already an integral part of the job.
What the internal consultant can offer is local knowledge and "coming in at the ground floor". This means the possibility of spotting the need for consultancy early on. This can allow the consultant to facilitate the growth of a broad base of support for change, which in turn can help the organization own the consequences of a change effort. Many attempts at external consultancy fail at this implementation stage, when the organization needs to own an intervention sufficiently to be able to put it into daily practice.
Could it be that the act of hiring an external consultant is a way for the organization to distance itself from the need to change? Certainly, it seems that the fact that public sector organizations now allow and encourage staff to offer internal consultancy services suggests an ownership of the need for the organization to change itself rather than a reliance on others to do it from outside. This can be said to be one of the distinctiveness of the healthy organization. In any case, where the consultancy is conducted from within, the implementation of any changes has a better chance of succeeding as the need for change has been owned by the organization from the start by employing an internal consultant and requesting help from that person.