External and internal consultants need each other.

Developing performance improvement systems is almost always part of the broader aim of creating an environment that lends itself to continuous performance improvement. This can sometimes be a very complex issue. A part of any solution will be the interrelationships between managers, supervisors and the workforce, systems processes and procedures, the satisfaction of critical training needs, and the development of a total team approach to performance improvement.

The ambitions contained within these aims and the wide scope of a typical performance improvement project are only two of the many reasons for using an external consultant. Their role is not to run courses or perform other activities that internal people could do, but rather to make the overall project work.

The external consultant should be selling sustained bottom-line improvement, not pre-packaged solutions, programs or training courses. The role of the external consultant is simply to add the expertise and experience necessary to make the whole project work. Other essential ingredients, such as technical expertise, company knowledge and time are provided by the internal facilitators.

The external and internal consultants should work together in an open and consultative style to provide problem-solving capacity in excess of what either party could deliver alone.

Developing performance improvement systems usually involves an installation phase and an anchoring phase. Installation involves a complete review, and usually a change or improvement in the design of the performance system. Anchoring involves continuously modifying and improving the system through implementing lessons learned on the job.

An external consultant generally has a great deal of installation experience. Furthermore, external consultants are not handicapped by being a prophet in their own town, as are internal consultants. Most people in organizations today are struggling just to survive in their business on a day-to-day basis. The internal person may also be struggling to get the attention needed from senior management to work on their environment, be it on improving their performance system or anything else.

The external consultant, paid for a limited time only, is experienced in installing performance systems in various companies. He or she has dealt with similar problems before, and has less trouble getting the right people’s attention.

The external consultant does not, however, understand the company’s culture, its politics and its people, the way they relate to each other, and where there are pockets of resistance in the organization.

The best combination is external and internal consultants, or facilitators, working together. The external consultant concentrates on the installation phase, providing a firm basis to pass on expertise to the internal consultant, who concentrates on the anchoring phase.

This external-internal combination provides problem-solving capacity in excess of what either party could deliver alone and without which the installation of a team performance system fails, making this one of the most common pitfalls. 

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