Joining—the First Step in Internal Consulting

Hugh MacDonald

How do you change a tire on a moving vehicle? If that moving vehicle is a complex human system and the tire is a productivity or organization development problem, it involves designing and implementing a performance improvement strategy. A strategy that allows us to join the system, move along with it as we complete our analysis, do our diagnosis and implement a helpful intervention before our eventual exit.

The first step, joining, is especially important. Think of joining as the act of jumping on board the moving vehicle mentioned above. Not everyone can do it. You’ve got to have the necessary speed and agility; you’ve got to wait for the right time. And there is no point to jumping on board at all if it’s not a vehicle with which you’re familiar. Joining a human system is like that.

My joining model takes the form of a triangle. We are at one point, the client is at another and the human resources toolkit is represented by the third point. This triangle is meant to convey the idea that these three elements are interdependent. Not all human resources consultants can work with every client. When I manage a consulting practice, for example, I have to match my team with the clients in the portfolio. While there is some resiliency, the reality is that normal differences in world view, experience, knowledge and personal attributes mean that some people work better together. This is bi-directional. My experience is that I can’t assign just any human resources consultant to some clients, and I couldn’t assign just any client to some human resources consultants. Some liaisons work better than others.

A big variable is the toolkit. Some consultants have the skills to use some of the tools in the human resources toolkit. For example, some may be qualified to use psychometric instruments or tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Some have a command of certain management models. Other are able to interview in French or Chinese. Still others are experts in process mapping or M&A processes, while others have experience with a specific body of knowledge. No one, however, knows every tool. And not all of our tools are appropriate for all clients. Some clients are, for example, very unwilling to use psychometric instruments; others disdain the use of certain management models or training techniques. Still others are very uncomfortable with 360 Degree tools and survey instruments. In the end, the job involves matching the right client, the right consultant and the right set of tools to produce an effective result.

Joining, therefore, involves keeping these three interdependent relationships in mind…and in balance. If a problem in the workplace is getting in the way of high performance and a consulting intervention—joining—is needed, are we the right people for the job? Can we join with the workplace system to help fix it? And, if we can join the system, do we have the requisite skills and tools? We need to make an honest assessment of our abilities. Can we do what needs to be done? If not, who can? It is neither effective nor ethical to use tools we are not trained or skilled at using. We must ask: If we’re not the right people to "join" the system, who is? Should we engage another party? Should it be a colleague, a member of our staff or an independent third party?

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