In an environment where margins of error in decisions are narrow and risks are real and costly, the know-how to come up with right solutions at the right time and place is invaluable. Fast-paced dynamic and discontinuous environments present firms with unprecedented opportunities for success and threats to achieving their goals. These new forces can be disruptive and fatal to an organization’s core competencies or they can provide opportunities for innovation and advancement. Real-time consultant roles are important for generating dynamic strategies and actions that achieve effective results involving diverse parties. Social dialogue and fast information processing are critical to those processes. Social dialogue is a critical capability for people to respectfully listen, collaborate, and generate productive courses of action that address concerns and aspirations.
Integrative consultancy roles provide real time content competencies, social dialogue, and guided involvement to help generate fast solutions by engaging employees, customers, and relevant stakeholders. Integrative consultants are both content and process driven and expand organization development (OD) efforts to generate timely strategies and solutions in complex fast moving environments and across the organization (Table 1). They create and use relevant local and distant knowledge to help generate viable strategies. For example, it is necessary for a consultant facilitating social dialogue in a strategic planning effort to have content expertise in strategic planning concepts and to understand the nature of real world strategic issues facing the client. Integrating content expertise and process skills creates a valuable impetus facilitating robust strategy development and execution.
Table 1 – Some aspects of Legacy and Integrative consulting practices
Networking is commonly used for marketing and selling consulting services. In transorganization settings, networking can be adopted both inside the organization and across clusters of interacting organizations to facilitate issue-focused real time social dialogue for opportunity capturing, problem solving, and solution innovation. Transorganization consulting (TOC) expands legacy consulting by integrating the dual roles of a participant-observer process facilitation and content expertise in real time—both within and across clusters of interacting organizations. Social dialogue is an essential consulting competency for establishing trustful relationships and furthering business progress in fast-changing, knowledge intensive settings. Integrative consulting roles are expanding and disrupting the legacy consulting practices.
The legacy consultant role has been the dominant practice of many consulting practices. It is comprised of two contrasting approaches to consulting. First, conventional consulting is based on the assumption that the consultant is an expert and the client is the passive recipient of the consultant’s advice and guidance. The consultant is viewed as an expert guided by pre-established theories and methodologies specific to a specialization.
The second type is organization development (OD)/human resource (HR) consulting. OD/HR consulting follows established protocols and processes such as entry, contracting, data collection, diagnosis, and intervention. It often facilitates organization change interventions such as team building, leadership development, and involvement in decision making that bring about improvements in performance and quality of work life.
Conventional consultants favor the content/expert consulting models. They generate their revenues through billing for time spent on projects. Sometimes the rate is adjusted for perceived value to the client. Conventional strategy consulting firms typically supplement their extensive data-gathering and analyses using their own in-house distinct models, offering solutions and best practices that are tried and true from their previous projects. For example, strategy consulting would be guided by established protocols and methodologies focused on large-scale projects, intensive data-gathering, analytic studies, and followed by recommendations. The consultant provides solutions for the client to consider and implement.
Conventional consultants single-handedly conduct the analysis, explore opportunities and generate recommendations. Although these consultants may claim teamwork by working closely with the clients, the approach is dictated by each consultant’s’ own specialized and pre-determined consulting model, methodology, and approach. Their task is to uncover opportunities and find solutions consistent with their models that will deliver winning competitive positions to achieve superior returns. Often, each strategic challenge is portrayed as being special and each response unique. The approach is bounded by traditional research, analysis, and recommendations.
Conventional strategy consultants, driven by their own model, engage in time consuming data-gathering and preparing reports that are largely formal—treating clients as an audience. Their methods do not actively involve the focal organization’s personnel, customers, and/or stakeholders. Employee participation is limited to being selectively interviewed as a small sample, receiving interim feedback presentations and attending final meetings at which they hear recommendations. The study content is controlled by the consultants causing their findings, conclusions, and reports to be created externally from the organization. The biggest downside is that the client does not learn the skills that will allow them to self-diagnose in the future. Here is a verbatim statement from a consulting firm:
Our consultants reviewed the client’s existing distribution capabilities, marketing efforts and competitive position. They found that while the client’s marketing managers closely monitored the needs of customers, the sales and channel processes were less well understood. Our recommendations ….
Conventional strategy studies can be helpful as informational input to strategy-making, marketing, and dealing with operational and other organizational issues. They bring new facts, insights, and recommendations that enlighten clients and challenge their preconceived views. These studies can have useful input if the client is willing to wait for the recommendations and then acquire the know-how and resources to implement the recommendations in view of changing conditions.
Organization Development and Human Resource (OD/HR) Consultants
OD/HR consultants focus on the consulting process and address such issues as change management. They use retreats and exercises to help clients to discuss issues at hand. They emphasize identifying the firm’s strengths through questions like, “What do we do well?” combined with future-oriented questions like “What should the organization look like in five years?” The language and concepts are largely behavioral and organizational, usually not about competitors, markets, economics, global, and technological changes and innovations. Here is an example from an OD/HR consulting firm in the U.K.
We don’t believe in providing our clients with definitive answers. Rather, we prefer to show their people how to come up with the right solution themselves—by applying the power of their own intuition. That way they really believe in the strategy. And, they won’t let anything get in the way of its execution. Then, things start to happen. And, one small success inspires an even bigger one.
OD/HR consulting models are more real-time than conventional consulting. They closely follow behavioral, organizational and team issues. They are less interested in the content and specificity in any particular organizational area such as strategy, marketing, or sales and more interested in management of change and organizational dynamics and issues.
Integrative consulting expands beyond legacy consulting practices and focuses on both content and process. It attempts to generate relevant and real time data, decisions and actions in view of changing industry conditions, technological innovations and global dynamics. Two types of integrative consulting roles are emerging to add real time value to organizations to revitalize their strategy and performance in a changing environment. Real time consulting (RTC) builds on social dialogue and integrates both content and facilitation.
Transorganization consulting (TOC) extends farther beyond single organization thinking. It integrates social dialogue and facilitation with content development involving the organization’s internal and external stakeholders and constituents. TOC deals with broad, contextual, strategic, and implementation issues that impact the organization and its cluster of interactive organizations and networks. Through the social dialogue of multiple stakeholders and concept development, it facilitates processes that lead to identifying and addressing opportunities and threats, and building and renewing core competencies and action initiatives. The many dimensions of legacy and integrative consulting models are depicted in Figure 1 and Table 1.
Figure 1 – Legacy Consulting (Conventional & OD/HR) and Integrative Consulting (Real Time & Transorganization)
Real Time Consulting (RTC)
RTC consulting model provides a dynamic approach to synthesizing process and content. It requires balancing facilitation processes with inclusion of content expertise. While facilitation has traditionally meant a neutral stance to enhance safety for all, the new version requires integrating and synthesizing both expertise and providing an organized, guided environment for inclusion of people and ideas. This consulting model relies both on influence and expertness. It focuses on useful and usable content through social dialogue and avoids becoming too “married” to consultants’ own ideas, methodologies, and predetermined models. RTC requires guided involvement and participation of stakeholders from the outset for strategy-making and its implementation. It emphasizes and builds on management of role boundaries (consultant, client, facilitator, expert), creative ways to involve multiple contents and perspectives, and attention to creating collaborative relationships within the organization for strategic action.
From a process perspective, real-time consulting (RTC) involves a good deal of sense-making and attention to social construction of the reality of the situation. Organization participants and stakeholders are led to arrive at sufficient consensus about the meaning of reality, including lots of agreement or disagreement about the issues and solutions. The sense-making occurs through social dialogue in which members intervene and interact to share their expertise and views about the organization and its environment, listen to each other, and reflect on the conclusions and possible outcomes. Guided involvement facilitates positive and productive cognitive processes and content embedded social dialogue among key participants. It promotes “open” sharing of views, “active” listening to members’ thoughts, expertise, ideas and opinions, and “joint” reflection on what has been said and discussed. Guided involvement organizes members’ discussions and helps participants interact and reflect rapidly. The thinking is “nothing constructive will happen without productive cognitive social dialogue, which reveals what everyone views and where expertise stands.”
Social dialogue is both intellectual and emotional. Ideas and emotions serve to engage and stimulate differences, common grounds, and resolve hidden and obvious conflicts that stop the dialogue. Because emotions, such as fear, anger, relief, and enthusiasm, can make or break a solution, guided involvement promotes skillful listening and respect for each other’s ideas and expertise. It helps participants feel secure and courageous enough to speak up and engage each other with their facts, ideas, and opinions; it even helps them have a “good discussion and even fight” while respecting each other in doing so.
Transorganization Consulting (TOC)
Networks of members, constituents, and stakeholders—both internal and external to the organization—have significant impact on organizational success. Transorganization consulting (TOC) provides a system perspective to identify, involve, and mobilize stakeholder networks through social dialogue to examine collective opportunities for the client organization and collectives of organizations. Many discontinuance innovations are outcomes of networks of seemingly related and unrelated enterprises working together to create new paradigm shifts and create novel success. Planned engagement of real and virtual networks using social dialogue is a powerful model to explore new discoveries and innovations beyond any one organization’s knowledge, competence, and reach. Consultants often find that networking is essential to selling. However, TOC extends networking to engage stakeholders’ relationships inside and outside organizations that have a real or a possible future impact on an organization’s long and short-term success. TOC builds on contents and social dialogue to surface new concepts and build toward processes and designs that achieve future aspirations beyond any single organization. Successful innovation develops within the exchange of ideas, trustful relationships of motivated people, stakeholders, and through professional dialogues. Successful global TOC fosters ways of thinking within and across organizations and industries. Transorganizational network competence includes social dialogue and global-minded expertise for creating precious advantages in a global setting.
Success factors for value-added transorganizational networks and collectives of multiple enterprises and stakeholders would require new ways of learning to cooperate by bringing together and collectively optimizing core competences of multiple enterprises through process consulting, expert cooperation, social dialogue, process design, multiple-view scenario building, scenario analysis, cluster steering, etc. For example, Uber’s multi-billion dollar success as a company is predicated on the ability to engage multi-stakeholders and win local, global, political, social, and economic support all over the world.
Transorganization consulting for jointly optimizing disparate stakeholder strategies may require finding new ways of collaboration of affected stakeholders and even adversaries. It brings together a network of stakeholders to share information, hopes, and concerns, to design and to implement processes that would pave the way and lead to reframing beliefs and build win-win relations through informed networking and positive outcomes. The success of new technological innovations necessitates involvement and engagement of affected parties and stakeholders. Transorganization consulting requires new consulting concepts, skills, processes that expand and extend legacy consulting into new era of real time changes.
Open discussion and clear communication rules regarding internal and external nets would be necessary to avoid unfocused complexities. Transorganizational designs build for successful relations, effective social dialogue, trust, territorial diversity, expert competences, and boundary respect. Social dialogue is important to create conditions for open mindedness and collective learning. By examining the hopes, resources concerns, and issues facing internal and external stakeholders new opportunities are discovered and concerns are addressed. Effective transorganizational consulting provides gainful opportunities for learning, experimenting, and breakthrough innovations as seen in many successful local and global organizations.
Summary and Conclusion
This article discusses some aspects of integrative consulting and suggests that legacy consulting may not be appropriate for empowering organizations to learn to effectively deal with their own circumstances in fast-changing complex environments. It proposes that integrative consulting models provide a more robust decision action in fast-changing environments.
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