When your clients hire you, it’s because they want something to change. Just as no one hires a personal trainer because they are 100% happy with their workout routine, organizations rarely spend time and money to bring in a consultant or coach because everything is going perfectly. They bring you on to help them become better equipped to handle challenges, adopt the behaviors that will allow them to thrive in the future, and to guide them through the process of becoming better leaders, teams, and individuals.
Organizations are worried about the future. Agility is a critical concern, and yet represents a troubling gap—as the Deloitte Human Capital Report claims, “nearly all surveyed companies (94 percent) report that “agility and collaboration” are critical to their organization’s success, yet only 6 percent say they are highly agile today.” The pace of technology development is astoundingly fast, and organizations are struggling to keep up. That same Deloitte report claims that 90% of CEOs believe their company is facing disruptive change driven by digital technologies, and yet 70% say that their organization is lacking the skills required to adapt. There are also urgent concerns about organizational culture:
“…we believe it is critical to have a long-term focus on building a respectful and transparent culture within the organization. This view appears to be shared by CEOs in our survey, three in four of whom (74 percent) say they are placing greater importance on trust, values and culture in order to sustain their future.” KPMG’s 2017 CEO Outlook Survey
Part of the challenge is accurately diagnosing the problem. “Agility,” “technology,” and “culture” are great words to use as a starting point, but are far too vague and nebulous to really dig into. Take agility as an example: a client organization wants to be more agile. Great starting point. But what are the behaviors that they want to see happening at an individual or team level that will let them know that they are moving toward increased agility? And how will they measure if those behaviors are actually happening?
In the case of agility, those behaviors could be iterative approaches to working, increased collaboration and cross-functional teams, embracing a minimum viable product mindset, or other new behaviors that are grounded in learning a new concept or skill within the context of work activities, and adopting a new behavior, process, or action.
Within a team or organization, there will be innovators and early adopters—people who take new ideas and run with them enthusiastically. However, the largest percentage of people will fall within the early/late majority, or be laggards in adopting new behaviors.
We’ve written in the past about the value of creating a digital learning architecture for your clients—as defined by Josh Bersin, a learning architecture “embraces many types of content, it collects data on interactions and activities, it uses intelligent systems to promote content and monitor employee usage, and it is personalized for everyone.” A critical component of this architecture is the capacity for data collection—giving you as a consultant or coach insight into what stage of the adoption curve individuals within the team are on, and the ability to identify and amplify the influence of early adopters, help the late majority get on board faster, and have targeted coaching conversations with the laggards.
A recent article by McKinsey & Co examines the components that are most common in effective leadership development programs:
“statistically speaking, four sets of interventions appear to matter most: contextualizing the program based on the organization’s position and strategy, ensuring sufficient reach across the organization, designing the program for the transfer of learning, and using system reinforcement to lock in change.”
While the McKinsey article refers specifically to leadership development, I believe that these four components can be applied to creating effective change for a whole host of organizational challenges, whether it’s executing a strategic plan, onboarding new employees, shifting organizational culture, improving customer service, revamping a sales process, or preparing for whatever is concerning your clients about the future.
For you, as a consultant or coach working with organizations—whether you’re being brought in to help them create a strategic plan, run a half-day sales training seminar, or anything in between—achieving the kind of meaningful and sustained change they bring you into create will be much more effective if you keep these four components in mind.
The systemic reinforcement to lock in change is where your digital learning architecture comes in—being able to relay back to your client the insights you can see about what’s happening within the organization, at both a team and individual level, will help you to drive change more effectively, and become a trusted advisor to your clients, as they work to embrace the behaviors that will allow them to thrive in change.
In order to achieve the results that your clients seeking, I suggest that you begin with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey famously recommends. Get clear on the change that your client is hoping for, figure out what success looks like, and then determine the specific behaviors that will help them get there. One solution will not fit every need. Just as a personal trainer will recommend different plans to the client who wants to run a marathon and the client who wants to become a powerlifter, you will need to recommend different behaviors and plans to clients with different goals. Understanding the desired end state will allow you to focus your efforts on creating the behaviors that will result in success.