Internal Consultants – Organisational Adrenaline or Decaffeinated Consultants?


Internal consultants can be like coffee for your organisation.

At their best, internal consultants can provide your organisation with the ‘kick’ it really needs to pursue change.

Over time, however, research suggests internal consultants can become ‘decaffeinated’ as a result of internal politics and company culture and may require an external ‘surrogate partner’ to ensure they remain focused, energised and objective.

Over many years of both working with and researching the consulting market, we have determined an interesting dichotomy that arises for internal consultants. While there is little doubt that the use of internal consultants can offer several advantages over external consultants for some organisations, over time internal consultants can become diluted or ‘decaffeinated’.

Here’s the thing about decaffeinated coffee – it looks the same, it tastes the same but it doesn’t quite deliver the ‘kick’ that caffeine gives you.

Similarly, over time internal consultants continue to look like consultants and they act like the real thing but somehow they are less able to deliver the adrenaline ‘kick’ required to elicit change. They have become ‘decaffeinated’ by the company culture and internal politics and lose their objectivity, focus, influence and effectiveness.

The table below summarises the dichotomy that appears for internal consultants. While there are clear advantages of using internal consultants, these benefits are mirrored by disadvantages that may begin to appear over a period of time:

AdvantagesDisadvantages = Decaffeination
Live inside the culture – know the most effective way to get things done and understand the internal politicsDifficulties with objectivity – unable to extricate themselves from the organisational culture and politics
Trusted – ready access to informationMay have their own preconceptions
Credibility gained through history of interactionsCredibility undermined due to previous organisational position (too junior) and constrained by position in company hierarchy
“Comfort factor” – well-known with the organisationCan avoid difficult issues
Deep organisational perspective – understand hopes, fears, likes and dislikesBecome ‘blind’ to prevailing cultural norms – may actually be sustaining the culture
Less likely to be misled by personal and political agendasServes two masters – both the client and corporate agendas which may not be the same
Keeps wisdom and skills developed ‘in-house’May not have such a broad business perspective – less awareness of new ideas
More cost effectiveAs a free, accessible and available resource, consultants may be used for alternative assignments or scope of project may slip
Highly invested in final success of the project and can manage project implementation and outcomes ensuring recommendations are not bypassedHard to consider change scenarios that are not a natural evolution
Not seen as only ‘self-serving’Personal concern about how internal agent role could compromise future career in the organisation

The single most important thing a consultant brings to a company, as defined by Chickillo & Kleiner (1988), is: “The ability to look objectively at the company’s problems and render an unbiased view of the situation.”

So how can you ensure that your internal consultants continue to provide this unbiased view? How can you make sure that your internal consultants offer the adrenaline kick that is required for your organisation and do not become ‘decaffeinated’?

One approach is to have a partner who can act as an external benchmark. A ‘surrogate partner’ will ensure that your internal consultants continue to receive the guidance required to have the objectivity and effectiveness of external consultants.

Through on-going coaching, mentoring and training, your external partner can ensure your internal consultants:

  • Stay energised, focused, independent and objective, as would external consultants
  • Have developed a clear corporate contract – ensuring the aim, objectives, individual roles and scope of each project is clearly defined (what, who, how, when, where and why)
  • Continue to market the benefits to the ‘client’ – by analysing and identifying the key stakeholders
  • Continue to develop key skills and behaviours at individual and group levels
  • Have a realistic view of their limits and what they can achieve – ensuring they understand what capabilities and skills they will require and may need to acquire from external consultants
  • Continue to have the confidence, trust, support and understanding of Senior Management internally
  • Manage the internal client relationship – Maintaining visibility, credibility and influence within the organisation

Contact us today to find out how we can help your organisation as your external ‘surrogate’ partner.

Photo ‘Espresso’ by Flickr user 55Laney69 used under Creative Commons License.


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