Mick Holly: Welcome to Change and Sustain the podcast where we take you on a journey of organizational transformation, exploring the power of people, process, systems, and technology. I’m your host, Mick Holly, and today we have a controversial topic to discuss the value of internal continuous improvement teams and how they work with external consultants. With me about such esoteric topics. Brian Smith. Good morning, Brian.
Brian Smith: Good morning, Mick. How are you on this? Fine morning?
Mick Holly: I’m glad you asked. I’m pretty, pretty good, apart from the fact I’ve got very sore arms today.
Brian Smith: Oh, did you just fly in?
Mick Holly: No. I’m you won’t believe this, but I am training to swim the English channel. I like big goals. But now I begin to understand why so few people have done it.
Brian Smith: Sales expertise, podcasting, mountaineering, channel, swimming. You’re truly a Renaissance man, Mick.
Mick Holly: That’s one of my favorite hotels, Brian. Anyway, look, another this banter. Let’s get down to business, internal continuous improvement teams. How do we get the best out of them? Particularly how can they work with external consultants and should they indeed work with external consultants at all?
Brian Smith: Yeah I Recognize the situation you’re talking about from my own experience and I’ve struggled with it a little bit over the years myself. I have to say as of today, I’m of the opinion that internal teams where they exist, ’cause obviously not they don’t exist in every organization. I’d guess it’s 60 or 70%, something like that.
They can be of great value, obviously, I think external consultants or of great value too, or I wouldn’t have spent my life being one. But the real power in my mind is getting external and internal consultants working together on. BS or big hairy audacious goals, as it says in the book we’re often put on calls with internal folks as a starting point to a relationship with a client, and they’ll start asking us maybe technical questions.
What does the MAIK stand for? Or How many green belts have you trained? Or other such things. And then they go back to their leadership team and they say things like we don’t need the help. We’ve got all that covered. We can do all that sort of stuff ourselves. In reality though, I think sometimes that’s not because that’s really what they believe.
I think that’s sometimes because it’s a very human behavior of being a little bit concerned about allowing somebody else to playing their sandbox. Are these guys gonna tear down what we’ve already built,
Mick Holly: I’m with you there, Brian. I see this a lot as we go on, calls together and talk to people. They seem to be very fearful of people coming in from the outside.
Brian Smith: Yeah, I think it’s a natural, it’s a natural human reaction to a potential threat to their job. Are they gonna expose me as being unworthy? Am I gonna end up working for them instead of with them? Is my job gonna be eliminated? These are all very natural things, so there’s no wonder that.
These folks, internal consultants, act as gatekeepers. I don’t blame them one little bit, but it just keeps them from recognizing what is ultimately a huge opportunity.
Mick Holly: I think one of the ways to think about it is, bringing in some expertise from the outside allows you to infuse your team with new ideas, new thoughts, new practices. To me, bringing in external help, having some mentoring and coaching from outside it’s a conduit for building and your skill base, your capabilities and your leadership.
I do see it as a very positive. Device for upgrading, for continuously improving the continuous improvement teams.
Brian Smith: Yeah. I think make the, everybody brings something to the table whether it’s the internal or the external that compliment each other. So let’s talk about a sort of typical scenario that we see quite often. What are the external consultants bringing to the table?
Since they’re generally not cheap and they’re generally bought in by the senior folks, this is vice presidents or C-suite folks, they have a mandate right from the top and they’re therefore granted access to everybody and everything. Which is very handy for moving quickly and cross-pollinating across various functions.
And they’re usually respected, even if it’s grudgingly, and therefore they’re listened to. In fact, that’s often a complaint by internal CI guys. That they have the same ideas, but they haven’t been listened to, but getting them listened to is pretty important. I would imagine.
Mick Holly: It is and they have great ideas, but sometimes, as you say the organization has lost interest or appetite to hear what they’re saying. And one of the values that we bring often is, Turning up the volume on their ideas, sharing their ideas, adding to them, and bringing them to the table.
And they’re eminently grateful for that because it allows them to do things that has taken them a long time and they feel they can’t get there. And all of a sudden you consultant puts it on a PowerPoint slide in front of the C-suite and the C-suite. That’s a good idea. We should do that. It’s quite fascinating when that happens.
Brian Smith: Absolutely great ideas should win regardless of where they come from. Sometimes those great ideas get caught up in the sort of political infighting, if you like, and things don’t get done just because the wrong person said it. And we can cut right across that. We can espouse points of view that are not necessarily popular or they’re in limbo because of those warring political factions we talked about.
We can cut straight to the heart of the matter without any political constraints, and that’s very useful. And. Apart from bringing ideas from the outside that may not have been tried or tested, we can play bad cop, right? We can take the blame for some of the less glamorous aspects of managing a business, such as things like reductions in force, which, nobody’s too keen on.
But that does happen from time to time. Sometimes if you forgive my language, you just need a-hole to get things done.
Mick Holly: And how often is it unlike the audience to think about this when somebody says, Hey, we should try this or we should do that. 90% of the time, the first question is, whose idea was that? And if the person who’s they attribute the idea to is not somebody in their, high orbit. They tend to. Lessen the power of that idea because it’s associated with that individual. But the idea itself is so powerful.
It needs to be separated from the person who’s delivering it. And again, that’s one of the challenges in the internal teams. Oh yeah, that’s never gonna work. But it’s a great idea.
Brian Smith: Yes, we have had so many great ideas that have been promoted internally and failed, which we’ve picked up. And brought to fruition just because we had the ability to do. I can tell you from experience that it’s great to work with these internal teams and having them work alongside you for start.
They know the language, and I don’t mean Spanish or Hungarian and that kind of thing. They know the language of the host organization, the terms that people use to convey ideas. They know those things and they can convey those ideas quickly. Do they understand lean terms or do they despise ’em?
Should we lean, use lean terms or should we not? All these kinds of things, people can immediately tell us and help us to convey messages more quickly than we would be able to do otherwise by ourselves. Do we have to speak openly? Or do we have to be polite? Do we have to, rub the right backs, et cetera, et cetera.
They, these folks know those kinds of things. It sounds trivial, but it’s really not. Speaking the language of a host organization is really important. Getting an inside track on the culture saves us precious time. That’s really important. If we don’t have to mess around learning all of these things, we can go quickly, which saves time in the implementation and gets us to the point where things are actually moving really quickly.
In a similar vein, internal resources know everybody. They know if you want to who to talk to when you wanna get things done. They know which admin assistant to speak to. They know which engineers you should speak to, to get that special knowledge on a piece of equipment and how to extract it.
They’re fantastic guides to culture and the external consultants take time to appreciate that because it’s very valuable. So working alongside internal resources makes projects go faster and easier. And I’ve always believed that change management or project delivery is a little bit like snow skiing.
And this is a bit counterintuitive, but you get better control when you’re moving at speed. If you go too slowly with an implementation. You can’t steer properly. So sometimes we get a little bit criticized for that. Oh, you mo, you’re moving really quickly. Yes, because that’s how best we move the project forward.
Speed is a factor, and internal consultants help us move quickly. I.
Mick Holly: And one of the points prior to that you made Brian around how they can help us navigate the organization. Often internally, when you’re trying to embrace change, you tend to operate within your functional challenges, within your standard reporting lines. If you cross those lines, it sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable or it’s deemed inappropriate, but the current head of the maintenance department might’ve only been there five years, but the guy that now runs production, he was in maintenance for 14 years prior to that and has tremendous insights. So being able to cross those. Organizational boundaries easily and at pace is something that’s really advantageous because the tribal knowledge that sits in these people’s heads it’s gold. And what we do jointly when you’ve got the internal and external working together is we go and mine that, find those best practices and make sure that we propagate them.
Brian Smith: Absolutely. We’ve gotta get over our biases. Everybody’s gotta get over their biases and work together. Something else I’ll say about this, Mick, is that internal consultants Often have been doing what they’re doing for years, they’ve been chipping away at particular problems. And it’s the scenario’s developed into something that’s akin to trench warfare.
They’re making incremental gains each year, these tiny little gains, but they’re not making any breakthroughs. It’s often the case that these internal consultants have just become part of the furniture. They’ve become part of the way the organization runs. They’ve become known to everybody.
And so when they come up with that new idea, as we were discussing earlier, it’s ignored because that’s just Fred. Fred’s always coming up with these crazy ideas and. Business as usual Will, will just get onto it. They don’t necessarily command the same respect that they used to.
They’ve tried to implement some major changes. They’ve run into political resistance and they can’t break the stalemate, so they settle for those incremental gains that we were talking about. The skilled improvement warriors, but they don’t have the air cover or the resources or the political capital to get more done more quickly.
So they resort to that trench warfare and they become enured to it. I, in this scenario, if I can make a little bit of a historical reference, what you need is Blitz Creek. What you need is to go over the trenches in your tanks and go right to the rear in a huge strike. That’s the difference between breakthrough performance improvement and the incremental performance improvement that we often espouse and internal teams often espouse to.
It’s messy. It’s difficult. You leave chaos in your wake often, but you’ll make huge gains for the organization and I think that’s pretty important.
Mick Holly: I agree with you. Continuous improvement versus discontinuous improvement. It’s that incremental change versus that step change. And what I like about the internal continuous improvement capability. It can enroll the entire organization. It’s a cultural mechanism for everybody to be aware of and to participate in improvement.
So I think it is an incredibly valuable thing, but when you are all inclusive like that you gotta move everybody forward, in a, a stepwise. Fashion, a breakthrough kind of program as you’ve outlined. A Blitzkrieg, it needs special assets. It needs structure. It’s much more focused.
It involves Probably fewer people in the beginning to execute it at speed. But that’s how you find the big nuggets. And then, The internal and external confuse that breakthrough with the culture, so then it becomes systemic and sustainable.
Brian Smith: There’s a bigger picture here, m and we’re just getting to the, we’re just getting to the meat of it. I’ve heard this a couple of times from some fairly senior folks that I’ve interacted with over the years. Folks I know and trust folks who have succeeded in fundamentally transforming organizations.
It’s just that in order to make progress, you have to keep switching techniques. And there’s multiple ways to do that. One is to engage in trench warfare for a while you gather your resources for the Blitz Creek. And once the Blitz Creek is complete, you go back to the trench warfare while you clean up all the mess behind you.
That’s one way of going after it. Another way of going after it is to focus your improvements on something like cost for a little while. And then switch hats and focused on productivity for a little while, while you clean up the mess that you made, and then keep switching that back and forth a little bit like a seesaw that gives you fundamentally an organization that stays on its toes and makes huge gains and consolidates those gains behind it.
It takes a leader though, who understands that you don’t just pick one horse and ride it till it dies.
Mick Holly: Well said, Brian. Probably three quarters of the time we work with internal consulting teams, internal improvement teams. They’re great people. They’re trying to do the best for their organization. But think about this as you are a internal improvement person.
How do you raise your game? How do you improve your trade craft? I would advocate that having somebody from the outside. Like Brian or I who’ve been through, over a hundred implementations, we can give you some techniques to take your game to the next level. So we enjoy working with you if you’ve got challenges we’re always open to sharing our ideas with you as we’ve done in this podcast, and you’ll find other resources on our, on our website, thank you to our listeners for joining us on this episode of Change and Sustain Hit the subscribe button to be alerted for more stories of organizational change and insights into driving sustainable success. See you next time.