I have been puzzling recently over this issue: the difference in having one’s opinions and expertise valued as an internal employee/consultant vs. as an external consultant. In some organizations or in some contexts, an external consultant’s expertise is perceived as valuable and something to pay attention to – whereas for an internal, his/her expertise may not be as highly valued, and not heeded. For external consultants considering returning to work as an employee, how do you deal with this issue?
To me, this is about being able to influence the system, which I think this is a large part of our work as change agents – to find ways to influence, using different modes of influencing: expertise, relationship, persuasion. We also need to try to educate the system, to offer other ways of seeing a problem, providing other perspectives and suggesting alternate solutions.
Mike Halperin (Halperin Consulting) shared his wisdom on this issue with me: when you go into an organization, you have a honeymoon period, during which time it’s useful to establish yourself and the value of your contributions. It’s the time to build relationships with people who are well-placed or well-connected in the company, so that you build a foundation for being able to influence the system. If you squander that period, you will likely have less influence going forward. As a new employee, ask your manager to identify the ten most influential or well-connected people in the company so that you can seek them out and begin to build a relationship with them.
We OD (Organizational Development) consultants bring the gift of our ability to put forward different or unpopular ideas, or to raise undiscussables, in a spirit of curiosity and collaboration, which can gain us credibility – and I know that Mike would agree with that!