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Experiences with consultant:
Describe your experience with a consultant, either from your place of employment (current or
previous), in the community, or as the consultant yourself. Thinking of this week’s lecture and
the components of a contract, did he/she follow that process? If not, what was missed? Describe
your experience.
If you do not have experience with a consultant, recall a situation from your experience where
you would have benefited from having an OD Consultant. What would you have done as a
consultant? Why?
The OD Consultant
Digital Vision/Thinkstock
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
• Define consultants and clients.
• Describe the types, roles, and styles of OD consultants.
• Identify the competencies of consultants.
• Outline the elements of a good consulting contract.
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The employees of the QuickCo shipping department are at each other’s throats. The department’s
10 employees have always worked long hours striving to fill customer orders on time. But over
the past year or so, the workload has increased and the pressure to keep up has become incessant.
The employees have strong personalities, and as multiple orders start backing up, their stress
levels rise, their tempers flare, and they say disrespectful things. People are on edge, interpersonal
conflicts have developed, and no one seems very happy.
Cameron Whitman/iStock/Thinkstock
Work on the QuickCo shipping dock was disrupted
by interpersonal conflicts.
The supervisor of the department, Ned,
is an easygoing guy who has taken a
laid-back approach to the mounting
stress levels and conflicts. His mantra is
“Let’s not get emotional here. We’ve got
work to do, so let’s get back to it.” Ned’s
avoidance strategy is not helpful. The
festering discontent and conflicts are
reducing the department’s ability to
ship accurate orders on time. Absenteeism is up, morale is down, and people
do not communicate with or help each
other as they used to. When problems
arise, no one speaks up because of
the bad feelings that have developed
and the resignation that Ned will not
do anything about it anyway. So resentment builds.
Ned is feeling pressure from other departments as customers’ complaints about inaccurate
and late orders mount. The manufacturing manager, Sarah, calls the shipping department
supervisor into a meeting.
“Ned, your department’s performance for accurate, on-time delivery is plummeting,” Sarah says. “I
looked back at the order procurement for the past year and your trend has been steadily downward.
The past quarter is even worse. Customer complaints are rising, and other department heads are
complaining. What is going on here?”
Ned replies, “We work like crazy, Sarah, but no one is working together. We are busier than
normal but should have the staff to get the work done. There are long-simmering interpersonal
conflicts and we aren’t working together like we used to. I keep telling everyone to get over it
and get the job done, but no one seems to be listening.”
“It sounds like you need some help to get to the bottom of this problem,” says Sarah. “Let’s go see
Jack in OD.”
Ned and Sarah set up a meeting with Jack. Although he has heard about the conflicts in the
department, during their first meeting, Jack asks a lot of questions until he has a good idea of
what is going on. Jack asks Ned point-blank, “What are you doing or not doing that might be
contributing to the problem?”
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Ned acknowledges, “I don’t have the patience or time for conflict and just want everyone to get
along and do the work.”
Jack then asks, “Are you willing to do the work to fix this, even if it means that you might have to
change or be more hands-on with conflict resolution?”
Ned replies, “I won’t like it, but we have to do something. I’m in.”
Jack also asks Sarah if she will back Ned up on addressing this change. Once the two of them agree,
Jack emphasizes, “I can work with you, providing we have an equal partnership. We all need to
share the responsibility for diagnosing the problem and taking the necessary action to solve it.”
The three agree to work together on finding a solution to the interpersonal conflicts and
productivity issues in the shipping department. Before making an intervention, Jack wants to
gather data, so he reviews the performance trends and customer complaints and interviews
the members of the department individually. Once Jack has completed his data collection and
analysis, he sets up another meeting with Ned and Sarah.
“Ned and Sarah, you have a dysfunctional team on your hands,” Jack says. “They have no ground
rules, collaboration, or means of handling conflict. Everyone needs to be more understanding
and respectful toward each other. It would also be helpful to create some guidelines for how the
team wants to operate and manage conflict. Ned, you also need to take a more active role in
resolving issues.”
Jack presents a few options to Ned and Sarah, and they settle on taking the group through a
facilitated process to address communication and team effectiveness. They also agree that
Ned could use some individualized executive coaching to help him learn behaviors that would
be more productive for dealing with conflict. They set up a time to make the intervention. To
prepare, they have all of the department members take a behavioral-styles inventory so the
team has data on individual differences. They then schedule a meeting at which they will share
the inventory results and their interpretation.
As the meeting begins, everyone is tentative, their arms crossed. Ned kicks off the meeting
by thanking everyone for their hard work and acknowledging that there are problems. He
emphasizes that everyone has participated in creating the problems and that everyone must
help solve them. He also admits his own role in the problems and reveals that he is working on
improving his managerial skills to be more effective. Ned has everyone’s attention. Then Jack
delves into presenting and interpreting the results of the inventory everyone has taken. The
group becomes animated and even seems to enjoy sharing the differences among one another.
The ice is broken, and people start to let their guards down a bit.
The group takes a break, and next the agenda shifts to more serious issues. The group spends
some time identifying strengths and weaknesses of the team and lists things that would make
the team more effective. By the end of the session, the team has come up with a tangible plan
about how to be more effective and what specific actions team members will take with each
other. People are talking again and have agreed not to suffer in silence when they become upset.
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Defining Consultants and Clients
Section 3.1
Everyone goes back to work and tries to apply the new standards for team interaction. Jack
works with Ned to make sure the agreements from the meeting are upheld. Ned also continues
to work with his coach to change his behavior, and becomes more proactive and sensitive to
conflicts when they arise. Jack also keeps in touch with Sarah to make sure she is supporting
Ned’s efforts and getting the results she needed for departmental improvement.
The intervention has a dramatic effect: The percentage of orders shipped on time increases
quickly, and customer complaints plummet. Why? Because all of the stakeholders were involved
in a process that
created mutual understanding and insight about member differences and similarities,
jointly articulated the problems,
collectively devised a plan for dealing with them, and
was visibly supported by management.
As discussed in Chapter 1, participative activities usually result in buy-in because people want
a say in things that affect their work lives. Although there will still be challenges as the group
relearns how to function together, Ned, Sarah, and Jack facilitated an OD intervention that was
collaborative, data based, and problem focused. The ability of Ned and the shipping department
employees to resolve future conflicts will be the true test of whether the intervention was
successful and helped the department build new capacity for dealing with problems.
The success realized by the QuickCo shipping department was due in part to the work of the OD
consultant, Jack, who helped Ned and his team identify and address their problems in a way
that was relevant, timely, and respectful. This chapter is about the OD consultant, the different
types, roles, and styles of consultants, their competencies and skills, and the contracting process
consultants engage in when working with clients.
3.1 Defining Consultants and Clients
Chapters 1 and 2 introduced organization development and change. This chapter focuses on
the people who practice OD, generally known as consultants. In Chapter 1 we defined an
OD consultant as a person who practices OD. This person may be an internal employee or
external to the organization. We defined an OD consultant as a practitioner of OD who has
specialized knowledge of the action research process and facilitation skills to lead organizations through planned change. In reality, the terms practitioner and consultant are used synonymously in OD.
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Defining Consultants and Clients
Section 3.1
Who Invented That? Management Consulting
Arthur D. Little created the first management consulting firm in 1886 at the same time
management was also emerging as a field of study. At the time, Little focused on technical
research and later shifted to management consulting. Frederick Winslow Taylor started
an independent consulting practice in Philadelphia in 1893; however, he is better
known as the creator of scientific management, or Taylorism (a method of analyzing
and synthesizing production work for efficiency). The consulting industry did not factor
prominently as a resource organizations turned to for help until the late 20th century
with the rise of major, global consulting firms in the 1980s and 1990s. You can learn more
about these firms and their services at
/website-lists/consulting-firms, which lists the 50 major consulting firms and links to
their websites. Forbes has also compiled a listing of the most prestigious consulting firms,
available at
Consultants Are Helpers, Influencers, and Persuaders
Consultants are often described as helpers (Lippitt & Lippitt, 1986; Schein, 2011). Schein
(2011) comments:
Helping is a basic relationship that moves things forward. We take helping so
much for granted in our ordinary daily life that the word itself often comes
up only when someone is said to have “not been helpful” in a situation where
help was taken for granted. (p. ix)
Think about people who have helped you. What about them made you seek or accept their
help? They are likely people who made you feel that they understood you and you could trust
them (Schein, 2011). Now think about people who are “unhelpful.” How are they different
from helpers? Consulting is about helping—specifically about providing “helpful help,” rather
than “unhelpful help” (Schein, 2011, p. 1). Simply, consultants specialize in creating understanding and trust with their clients via relationships.
Tips and Wisdom
Consultants generally do not have positional power within an organization, so if they are to
influence thought and action, they need influence. Peter Block (2011), considered a master of
OD consulting, explains:
A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual,
group, or organization but [who] has no direct power to make changes or
implement programs. A manager is someone who has direct responsibility
over the action. The moment you take direct responsibility, you are acting as a
manager. (p. 2).
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Defining Consultants and Clients
Section 3.1
Tips and Wisdom (continued)
Jack, the consultant in the QuickCo vignette, had little power over the shipping department
and could not simply march in and give orders. But Jack and Ned were able to collaboratively
intervene in a way that addressed the problems, and they developed new insights and skills
to help the department handle future issues. Cockman, Evans, and Reynolds (1996) noted
that consultants are
people who find themselves having to influence other people, or advise them
about possible courses of action to improve the effectiveness of any aspect of
their operations, without any formal authority over them or choosing not to
use what authority they have. (p. 3)
Consultants are also persuaders. Although they have little power to implement change, they
compensate by developing persuasive skills to promote change with their clients. These skills
include prevailing on a person or organization to adopt a course of action through advising,
urging, or providing compelling evidence. One example of persuading the client might be
using the organization’s own performance data to show information that would motivate
change, such as retention statistics, quality performance, or product rankings. A consultant
might also persuade a leader to examine and perhaps change leadership style using feedback
from employees.
“A consultant is one who provides help, counsel, advice, and support, which implies that such
a person is wiser than most people” (Burke, 1992, p. 173). OD wisdom is developed through
learning OD theory and process and having the ability to explain it to the client and persuade
the organization to change its course.
Consultants Work With Clients
Consultants work for a person, team, or department, any of which can be a client. Block (2011)
defined a client as anyone who
attends the initial OD planning meeting,
sets objectives for the project,
approves any actions to be taken,
receives the report on the results of the consultant’s work, and
is significantly impacted by the OD effort.
Consultants seek to accomplish at least three things when working with clients, according
to Block (2011). These include establishing a collaborative relationship, solving problems so
they stay solved, and ensuring that both the business problem and the relationship with the
client are given adequate attention. The QuickCo vignette highlights how these goals can be
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Defining Consultants and Clients
Section 3.1
Schein (1997) takes a broader view
and distinguished six types of clients:
1. Contact clients: individual(s)
who make the initial contact
with the consultant to request
services, ask a question, or
raise an issue.
2. Intermediate clients: individuals or groups participating in
data collection, meetings, and
activities related to the OD
3. Primary clients: individual(s)
who ultimately “own” the
issue subject to OD consulting. A consultant works with clients to agree on paramThey are also usually the ones eters for the consulting agreement.
who pay the bills or budget for
the project.
4. Unwitting clients: members of the organization or system who are impacted by the
intervention but not aware of it.
5. Indirect clients: members of the organization who know about and are affected by
the OD intervention but are unknown to the consultant.
6. Ultimate clients: the community, wider organization, and other stakeholders affected
by the intervention.
When beginning a relationship with a client, a consultant must first determine the identity of
the primary client. That is why Schein’s typology is helpful. Novice consultants often mistake
contact clients for primary clients. Let us say you are a consultant who is called by a department manager to help the organization do strategic planning. The manager was tasked with
making the first contact because she recommended you as a potential consultant during a
management team meeting. Her recommendation was based on some consulting you provided to a nonprofit organization she belongs to. The person making contact was the contact
client because she requested services. The primary client in this case would be the top executive of the organization whose job is to set strategy.
The primary client worked with you to plan a strategic planning process that was inclusive
and involved a cross-section of representatives from the business who attended meetings and
developed surveys to share with a randomized segment of the organization. These were intermediate clients, who participated in the process in some way. During the process, the employees
who did not participate in any way and were not aware a strategic planning process was underway were the unwitting clients. The employees who were aware of the process but did not participate in any way were the indirect clients. Finally, the stakeholders of the organization—such
as the community, other company divisions, and suppliers—were the ultimate clients because
they were affected in some way by the strategies created.
Burke (2011) defined the ultimate client differently. He held that the ultimate client is the
behavior in organizations represented by people’s interactions, relationships, and interfaces.
He argued that these interactions are representative of the realities of organization life, and
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Types, Roles, and Styles of OD Consultants
Section 3.2
thus they were the focus of his consultancy. He focused his OD practice on how the organization manages subordinate relationships: managing up, managing laterally, and managing
unit interfaces. Change happens through these relationships, and understanding their related
issues and challenges ultimately helps the OD process.
Regardless of the type of client a consultant encounters, it is important to build a trusting
relationship. If a client does not trust a consultant, it will be difficult for meaningful, impactful
OD to occur. Think of someone you trust and note the reasons. Chances are you identified
interpersonal attributes such as honesty, dependability, responsibility, respectfulness, and
believability. You might have also listed competencies like expertise, experience, or being a
recognized authority. These elements help build trust with the client.
Take Away 3.1: Defining Consultants and Clients
Consultants help, influence, and persuade their clients about how to proceed with
OD and change, although they have no formal organization power.
There are several different types of clients during a typical OD process, in …
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