Hi gg. I hope you don’t mind me throwing a response into your conversation. Everyone within the spectrum of soft and programmatic change will give you a different answer to those questions. If you’re looking at careers in change consulting, one of the first questions you ask needs to be “what is your perspective on change?” For example, my practice used to be called “strategy and organisation” before it was renamed to “change” – that is reflected to some extent in my perspective. Here are a few thoughts.
> what do you enjoy most about the work?
* The variety of projects, across all industries and functions and at all levels. For example, in the last quarter I have been working with an oil major on BPR for SOx compliance; designing the structure and drafting the five year strategy for a new quango; planning an M&A bid with an Australian mining company; and facilitating strategic planning with a Swiss bank.
* International projects
* An environment of constant change
* Meaningful projects and client interaction – you have their attention even if it’s because they disagree with the change and hate you by association
* Intellectual challenge – my job demands whole-brain thinking
> Do you find it as mentally challenging as say strategy work?
* Personally I do, because I’m working on projects that include not only strategy work but also operational and implementation work. Having spent my early career in left-brain disciplines in finance and ending up in financial services strategy, I find that change work is more mentally stimulating because my brain is stretched in more directions. For example, my firm often get called in to help the client because they are struggling to implement a strategic change. It sometimes turns out that the original strategic analysis was flawed so I end up re-visiting all the analysis; we revise the strategic plan with the client and then help implement it.
* In the sense that the strategy has to be workable not just pretty, it is more challenging than when I was “simply” consulting on strategy. That’s not to detract from the value that my strategy colleagues add – I would say that pure play strategy consulting is more focussed on deliberate strategy whereas change consulting is more focussed on emergent strategy.
* There are a fair number of projects where we’re brought in because the client gets to the point where things are going wrong and they simply feel that “something needs to change”, but they don’t know what needs to change, or how, or sometimes even why. I never fail to find those projects exhilarating and it comes back to why I joined consulting – the whole creative challenge.
* The programmatic aspects (i.e. the project management) of change are very challenging. As implied above, there is usually massive scope creep on a change project. Effective change is systemic and touches everything from strategy to practice. There is massive scope creep. The scope, deliverables, milestones etc. can all be up in the air until you’re a fair way through the project. As a project manager I have to be able, when I stop juggling and everything lands, to have them lined up well enough that we have a workable plan (i.e. it suits the client’s needs and we can deliver it at a profit).
> What are the key challenges/issues? opps?
* Change projects tend to be premised on globalisation, outsourcing, the war for talent, etc. even if this a little simplistic.
* In honesty, the challenges of each client are different. If I had to identify a list for you, I would recommend the strategy+business “issues for business strategy into the future”/”10 most enduring ideas”, or the HBR list of “breakthrough ideas”.
* Within change consulting itself, the big challenges are in getting people who can bridge the hard-soft skills gap. Ergo the opportunities are there for people who are credible strategists but also can demonstrate the ability to put their
* Change consulting has tended to be a luxury consulting market – it’s particularly sensitive to the economy. However I see it becoming more established in the mainstream. There is demand from operational projects (especially the big IT programmes) to bring in specialist change experts to look after the soft side of change and the client relationship. At the same time, there is demand from strategic projects to bring in change specialists who can ensure the strategy is implementable. With fee pressure on all sides, clients are increasingly recognising that effective change is the key to avoiding white elephants.
* In practical terms, a lot of solutions come back to very clever people at the top of the company doing very silly things. The hardest but most recurrent challenge in my work is changing people or helping people change each other. Rather than changing what they do, how they do it or what they do it with, the biggest challenge is to change why they do it.