Last month I wrote an article about the critical importance of putting people first when managing and implementing an organisational transformation or change program.
As a consultant guiding my clients through these periods, I have seen firsthand the power that individual engagement can have. Whether it is to generate excitement, enthusiasm and ultimately influence behaviour for the adoption of change, this engagement approach can be just as transformational as the new systems and processes we help to implement.
Recognising the influence that this can have, the same applies for my role as a consultant. Working hand in hand with clients across Asia and Australia to help them achieve sustainable change, I bring the same lessons and insights to my own role.
Today, good consultancy that helps clients achieve the results they are looking for, needs three factors – people, processing and enabling systems. Doing all three concurrently is key.
So, what can we, as consultants, do to help our clients see the results they want while becoming a trusted and integral partner?
1. Personalised engagement to build relationships
Just as individual engagement is crucial for any change management program, the same goes for building effective relationships with clients. Putting the client and the people within the organisation first is what builds trusted relationships for the long term.
This is particularly the case in Asia. In my experience, making an active effort to put people first and gaining an in-depth understanding of the client, is what builds trust and successful partnerships. It is also about being available to them and being present regardless of what our contracts might expect – and this has worked particularly well for me in Vietnam. This can mean spending time in their office or always being on the other end of a phone call to provide advice and insight.
It is easy to just focus on the mechanistic and material outcomes that we want to deliver for our clients. However, it is also important to note that at the end of the day, we will be remembered not only for the work we deliver, but also how we were as consultants throughout the process.
Ultimately, trust-based relationships are what anchors our ability to advise. Only then can we bring our expertise to the table and see meaningful change within the organisations we support.
2. Understand the stakeholders on the journey
Before we put people first, we need to know who those people are.
You can do the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, but if you’re missing the ‘who’ then it’s not sustainable.
We should not fall into the trap of only thinking about our direct connections within an organisation. Rather, we need to think about those who will be influenced by our work. This can include the senior executives needing to be engaged in the vision of the change and be sponsors of the journey, or the people who will be implementing it at different stages along the way.
Once we understand who these people are, we must consult. Be receptive and listen to what they have to say; pick up on nuances and behaviours; and play back what they share to get full clarity and understanding and be clear in our communications with them. In order for our work to be truly impactful for the organisation, we must understand what helps set these stakeholders up for success in their roles.
This is what the partnership model should look like. It involves finding the sweet spot, between the key client within an organisation and the others who will drive the vision and journey forward.
All too often I have seen this partnership model fall away when the focus lies only on the process and the tools for change, but not on the ‘who’.
3. Connecting on a human level
Finally, know how the organisations want their partners to operate.
In Southeast Asia, this means bringing humility to the table. Yes, we are the experts on certain matters and topics, but we also need to be humble. For those trusted relationships to last, you need to respect the client’s level of work, where they have come from, and where they want to go.
It means working one-on-one with clients, and constantly checking in with them – not engaging at either end of a project.
Collaborating on a personal level – that is, a two-way knowledge sharing exercise with respect to each perspective and view – is what enables us to establish that bond between client and consultant.
If done correctly, it can become a point of difference. We can convince clients that while we are different, we still understand them. We can show them that our knowledge, expertise, and background, provides them what they need to be successful.
This has been particularly important in my work in Vietnam. While I may not be from here, I am able to showcase that I know and understand the local context to help them. We have worked here, and we know what it is to be successful.