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Internal Consultancy

Internal Consultancy


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Published by John Evans
An investigation of the extent to which an internal consultancy approach to people and organisational development offers benefits in harnessing and developing knowledge and expertise to improve organisational performance.
An investigation of the extent to which an internal consultancy approach to people and organisational development offers benefits in harnessing and developing knowledge and expertise to improve organisational performance.

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Published by: John Evans on Jul 29, 2009
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Peter Block (who is primarily concerned with the internal consultant) suggests that the

consultant needs three types of skill to function effectively: technical skill, interpersonal

skill and consulting skill. Each is essential. Calvert Markham, in "The Top


takes a somewhat different view about the trinity of skills needed.

Markham agrees that technical and consultancy skills are essential but he replaces

interpersonal skills with "applications skills": experience or knowledge of the

application of the specialist skill to a specific area.

These differences between the types of skills required are a clear indicator of

consultancy style. Markham takes an approach to consultancy that is readily identified

as being of the "expert" type. (At the other end of this spectrum there lies the

"process" type of consultancy). Markham, therefore, sees the consultant's power

deriving primarily from the knowledge, skill, experience and know-how that gain them

admission to the organisation. Markham writes from the power base of the expert, well

illustrated by two quotations:

•"If you do not have the expertise, then you cannot act as an expert."

•"If you are not credited with any expertise, you will have no expert power."49

I note here the strong emphasis on power.

However, even a highly relevant technical expertise may not be sufficient to operate

successfully as an internal consultant, as the writings of RG Harrison suggest. Harrison

has a background in management services and consultancy experience in both the

public and the private sector. Writing in 1981 in "Management Services"50

he argues

that the professional expertise of the management services practitioner is rarely

sufficient to enable him/her to function effectively as an internal consultant. Harrison's

paper is particularly helpful because in the early 1980's management services

practitioners in the public sector, especially, were engaged in the process of re-

evaluating their contribution to the effectiveness of organisations. Harrison argues that,

in two of the functions of management consultancy the MS expert performed well but

in a final functional area the MS expert was most often notable for his/her absence.

The Management Services Practitioner's Scorecard in 1981 – marked by R G


1 Identifying a problem

2 Recommending a solution

3 Helping with implementation


Harrison claims that MS practitioners were good at identifying the problem, getting

beneath symptoms to unearth root causes and the consequences of the problem. He

believes that MS practitioners were good at exploring the costs and consequences of


Developing and recommending a solution was also well within the capability of the MS

practitioner. Indeed, "their technical training and professional orientation are geared

towards competent diagnosis followed by the design of technically elegant solutions,"51

he writes.

What Harrison recognised was that the MS practitioner often departed the scene at this

point. MS practitioners, at this time, were offering sophisticated diagnosis followed by

elaborate technical solutions delivered in a beautifully produced report that ignored the

political, cultural and emotional aspects of the change process. Moreover, the MS

practitioner, according to Harrison, invariably abandoned the client "precisely at the

point where he must begin to take the difficult yet decisive steps towards action and


Little wonder that MS practitioners were not, according to

Harrison, particularly successful as consultants, at this time.

Though Harrison does not advance this view personally, I wonder if the skill-set of the

MS practitioner/internal consultant was deficient in respect of some of the soft (or


skills that I discuss later in this Chapter.

The parallels here with some training practice today impressed me forcibly. How often

do trainers provide the analysis and the models in a vacuum but then fail to support the

process of change as the manager implements what they have learnt?

How often does the trainer follow the delegate back to work from the course and see

to what extent they actually use any of the skills that have been taught? Would that not

be a way of deciding if anything had been learnt? Trainers who wish to follow the

pathway to consulting, which Keri Phillips and Patricia Shaw claim to be characterised

by a movement from the left to the right on any of the five dimensions set out below,

are probably going to be at least this creative.


Organisational Perspective



Degree of influence



Timescale of Projects



Levels of Working





Figure 4.153

Just as MS practitioners needed, in Harrison's view, to be aware that previous

experience might only take them so far in internal consultancy, so the trainer (in the

view of Phillips and Shaw) needs to be wary of certain learnt behaviours that may be a

barrier to effective consultancy. Trainers who seek to become consultants may need,

they say, to learn to let go of "performing" before groups; learn to let go of control and

learn to let go of predictability and what comes next. They say:

“Since as a consultant he is not there to teach or train people but to help them learn,

problem-solve and develop, his skills in helping people memorise things will not be

sufficient. Providing instant understanding, making sense of everything for everyone,

may not help everyone learn, least of all himself."54

I notice here that the trainer who functions as facilitator of adult learning (rather than

as didact) will have the advantage, if we wholly accept Phillips and Shaw's argument,

in the transition to consultancy.

Harrison also recognised that the MS practitioner who wanted to act as internal

consultant needed to "engage and manage the client's commitment to solving the

problem and develop a suitable strategy for implementing the proposed solution, which

will cope with the resource constraints and political obstacles which so often inhibit

change. Developing client commitment and planning for implementation call for other

skills beyond sheer technical/analytical ability. Interpersonal competence and political

judgement are essential ingredients."55

Thomas and Elbeik suggest56

a number of key skills of critical importance to the

internal consultant. These include:

•The ability to supply fresh and independent analysis.

•The ability to provide top quality advice, in the right manner and at the right time.

•The facility to empower teams to develop their own solutions.

•The knowledge and the confidence to think outside the immediate, or the personal

functional "box", and help clients develop solutions that display a strategic

business perspective.

•The confidence to cope with considerable personal and organisational ambiguity

and still retain credibility.

•The competence (and willingness) to challenge and confront senior colleagues

without appearing rude, arrogant or patronizing.

•Marketing skills.

•The ability to manage a number of client assignments coterminously.

•The ability to listen (really listen) to the client, communicate understanding and

suggest to the client that they [italics supplied] are the central focus of your

work now.

•The capacity to negotiate and agree terms of reference in a constrained, internal


•Desk and field research skills.

•Interview, questionnaire design and analysis, process mapping and organisational

analysis skills.

•Challenging and probing skills.

•Project management skills.

•Report writing and presentation skills.♣

In larger scale projects there may also be the need to manage the input from a range of

internal consultancy staff.

Considering this discussion about key skills for process consulting, it appears to me,

that there are other skills that will assist the consultant – mostly in the area of

establishing effective, quality relationships with clients. These would seem to include

the following types of skills often developed through counselling and psychotherapy

training and practice:

•Having a strong base of self esteem

•Really listening to clients

•Refusing to be rushed through the contracting stage

•Expressing consultant’s wants for the project as well as finding out what the client

wants - negotiating wants and offers

•Paying attention to any feelings of unease experienced in early meetings

•Being willing to ask direct questions

•Giving and receiving feedback on the progress of the relationship.

The process consultant, Edgar Schein, produces a rich list of factors that, he says,

affect an individual's ability to "build, maintain, improve and, if need be, repair face to

face relationships" which are so critical to success in all forms of consultancy. These

are nine-fold and summarised as:

•"Self-insight and a sense of one's own identity;

•Cross-cultural sensitivity – the ability to decipher other people's values;

•Cultural/moral humility – the ability to see one's own value system as not

necessarily better or worse than another's values;

•A proactive problem solving orientation – the conviction that interpersonal and

cross-cultural problems can be solved;

•Personal flexibility – the ability to adopt different responses and approaches as

needed by situational contingencies;

•Negotiation skills – the ability to explore differences creatively, to locate some

common ground and to solve the problem;

•Interpersonal and cross-cultural tact – the ability to solve problems with people

without insulting them, demeaning them, or destroying their face;

•Repair strategies and skills – the ability to resurrect, to revitalize and to rebuild

damaged or broken face to face relationships; and,


Of course, the nature of the internal consultancy business and the strategic objectives

of the internal consultant will affect the type of skills that are considered most critical.

A consultant with an action learning or process consulting practice to develop will be

more interested in honing the skills that Schein highlights. If the business is centred,

say, on the design and development of knowledge management systems the skills base

will be different.

Margaret Neal and Christine Lloyd (who have specialised in organisational

development) highlight the importance of "extremely well developed systems thinking

and awareness of organisational dynamics"58

combined with "a deep awareness of

[personal] biases and values in the consulting processes"59

and the "ability to think

conceptually, extracting simple patterns from the internal complexities of


Like Thomas and Elbeik they put a premium on the ability to

"confront" which they describe as the "courage to challenge internal direction and

decisions while still sustaining effective working relationships"61

and Neal and Lloyd

also assert that internal consultants need to be able to "coach, share best practice and

transfer skills across the organisation."62

Sharing best practice and transferring skills

across the organisation is a role that the internal consultant can perform. [Insert

quotation from first interview with NT here] Neal and Lloyd also recognise this,

writing: "One of the key roles of the internal is to enhance internal capabilities over a

prolonged period of time."63

The internal capabilities of organisations may, of course, relate to intellectual capital,

process management expertise, managerial effectiveness, corporate governance

capability, releasing and promoting corporate vision, quality management – indeed, any

of these areas where external consultants may contribute.

In a series of reported case studies, Neal and Lloyd highlight the need for the internal

consultant to:

•"Stay objective

•[Be] independent

•[Be] scrupulously honest in not playing people off against each other ot trying

to gain favour by siding with the senior manager

•Not be intimidated by the seniority of the clients

•Preserve confidentiality of any of the one to one discussions with individuals

unless there is expressed permission to do so†

•Listen carefully and summarise accurately in the diagnosis of the situation

•Create opportunities for clients to reach their own solutions rather than telling

them what's best for them."64

… and …

•"Be prepared for a multi-faceted role: coach, support, counsellor, "sheep dog"

(at times!), cheerleader, challenger, adviser to senior managers, and be ready to

tolerate the ambiguity and manage the potential stress in that."65

In my research I interviewed one trainer offering internal consultancy who described

his initial meetings with clients as simply 'frightening' in their ambiguity.

Meaning, unless the individual gives the internal consultant permission to break the code of
confidentiality surrounding the one to one discussion.

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