What Happens When the Consultants Leave?

Judith H. Katz and Monica E. Biggs At one client site—on our very first visit—we were pleasantly surprised to see our 12 Inclusive Behaviors posters already displayed throughout the facility. Signs accompanying the posters urged people to “pick two behaviors and practice them.”

The site was clearly off to a good start. Yet we were reminded just how far it had to go to make the change last.

Sustainable change ranks among the most challenging dilemmas that consultants and organizations face. Many change efforts thrive when the consultants are onsite—partnering with leaders, coaching people, modeling the new state—only to founder when the consultants move on. So “what happens when the consultants leave?” is a common and legitimate question.

The optimal situation, we believe, is when no one asks—because no one needs to ask. In that state, the change effort has gone beyond posters, the focus on metrics, or even the practicing of new behaviors. Rather, inclusion has transformed people’s mindsets. In day-to-day interactions, they use inclusion to make problems visible and create solutions—in other words, to conduct their business. No longer just a “tool,” inclusion has become foundational to the way they operate. No one worries about “when the consultants leave” because the mindsets and behaviors have been adopted, institutionalized, and internalized.

How does this happen? At KJCG, we use a version of the Commitment Curve (developed by Daryl Conner) to illustrate the journey from “poster on the wall” to “the way we operate.” On their journey along the curve, people in the organization move from simple awareness of the behaviors to experimenting with those behaviors. As those experiments bear fruit, they adopt the behaviors, applying them to every facet of their work; leaders institutionalize them into policies, practices, and processes. At the top of the curve, each individual owns and has internalized the behaviors as her or his own; living them is as natural and automatic as breathing.

How do we facilitate this movement up the Commitment Curve, particularly in organizations with large numbers of people? Part of the answer is to develop internal capability with a core group of internal change leaders from all levels of the organization, who together develop a deep understanding of—and passion for—making inclusive behaviors a way of life. They must learn not only the day-to-day application, but also how inclusion connects to the organization’s strategy, mission, and goals.

By providing peer-to-peer coaching and leadership, these internal change leaders shift the focus of the work from the consultants to the internal capacity necessary to ensure that the organization has the support and knowledge it needs to change interactions daily. The change leaders understand how to leverage inclusion as an essential lever to transform the organization, as well as how to incorporate it into every facet of conducting the organization’s business.

If we can develop a core of people who have internalized inclusion—and they subsequently engage and coach others—no one will have to ask the question “what happens when the consultants leave?” In that state, the people of the organization are living and practicing the change, whether the consultants are there or not. Consultants can then leave knowing that the change has every chance of becoming the way the organization does business.