Client-Consultant Relationships: Designing Service to Bridge the Gap

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Change is hard. And at their essence, innovation consultancies are agents of change. However, as more and more client companies struggle with consistently implementing innovation, many have asked: can external consultants actually affect change?   By maintaining their outsider status, consultants bring external expertise and perspective that leads to potential innovation, but

Change is hard. And at their essence, innovation consultancies are agents of change. However, as more and more client companies struggle with consistently implementing innovation, many have asked: can external consultants actually affect change?

 

By maintaining their outsider status, consultants bring external expertise and perspective that leads to potential innovation, but this content is not enough to make actually relevant change happen. The often-misaligned communication, expectations and capabilities between consultants and their corporate clients frequently stops implementation in its tracks.

 

Many innovation and organisational change experts have been exploring the potential for change, and have often found problematic results. In their book The Other Side of Innovation, Govindarajan and Trimble call large companies ‘Performance Engines’, stating: Organisations are not designed for Innovation. Quite the contrary, they are designed for ongoing operations…To satisfy investors, companies strive for productivity and efficiency.” Similarly, Skovgaard and Smith note in Client-Consultant Collaboration: Coping with Complexity and Change that organisations have a distinct focus on tasks rather than probing forward for innovative initiatives. In Want Collaboration? from Weiss and Hughs And Kotter’s Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail (2008), both works highlight that regardless of incentives and success stories, change efforts ultimately fail if they are not anchored in a corporation’s culture.

 

With all these inherent barriers to change, how can consultants turn real insights into action from the ‘outside’? Rather than bemoaning initiatives that end up on the cutting room floor, my research in the field indicates that consultants can actually use these barriers as a brief to redesign their service. By taking into account the nature of these deep structures, their issues with dispersing insights across silos, and the need to help clients develop the skills and capacity to use innovation resources, consultants can reinvent the way they serve their clients. By presenting both process and content, while helping their clients balance their need for stability with the search for new initiatives, this type of service becomes a bridge between what works now and what will work in the future.

 

As process and client relationships gain equal footing with research content, consultants and clients can build deeper, more effective relationships that allow consulted innovation to take a foothold in organisations. By understanding the client’s internal barriers and utilising these traits in new ways, innovation can move beyond mere conversation, and can turn real insights into innovative action.