10 Tips For Choosing the Right Change Management Consultant


The right fit can make or break your change initiative

If you’ve been thinking that Change Management Consultants are flakes who spend all their time talking about ‘feelings’ and not enough time demonstrating a commitment to the bottom line, you’re not alone. But the truth is that the right change management expertise can make all the difference to a change initiative: They can help improve ROI, speed the pace of change, help you retain your top performers, and prevent the project from going off-track.

Here’s what you need to consider in order choose the right consultant for your change initiative:

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  1. Experience: What changes have they implemented as part of an organization? What changes have they experienced as an employee? As a manager? As a leader? Someone who has experienced change from a variety of perspectives is going to bring more understanding to your initiative.
  2. Their role in the changes: Change consultants can have experience in the technical, logistical or people components of change. Be sure you know what component(s) you need, and look for someone with the right experience.
  3. Buzzwords vs results: The best consultants are good at straightforward communications and outlining clear expectations. If you’re hearing a lot of terms like ‘change agent’ and ‘transformation catalyst’, call someone else. The same goes for talk about models or methodologies. I see a lot of requests for change consultants that work with one specific methodology. That might seem like the right approach but when you have a hammer, all problems look like a nail. An effective change management consultant will be familiar with many different models and methodologies so they can choose the best one (or better yet, combination) for your unique situation.
  4. Approach: Effective change management consultants ask good business questions and are looking to understand how all the pieces fit together before outlining a plan. If they say they can just jump in and start delivering results, no questions asked, they may not have the skills you need. To this point, make sure that you are helping your potential consultant understand all aspects of the change, not just the “HR” parts. A good change management consultant will want to understand the business in addition to the people. Both are essential for change success.
  5. Who will actually be doing the work? A senior consultant may be the one creating and overseeing the change plan, but delegating the actual work to specialists or juniors. That’s fine – but make sure you know who’s on the team and how they’ll be working together.
  6. How many people will the consultant be bringing in? An outside consultant may be able to bring clear vision and specialists to the table, but in order for a change to be successful, your internal employees should be fully engaged in the process. Leaving change entirely to external consultants can mean the change leaves when they do.
  7. Pragmatism: Good change management isn’t about holding hands and singing folk songs with employees – it’s about making smart business changes that ultimately lead to a better bottom line. A successful change management consultant is one who knows that managing the people piece will drive business success. [the individual needs to demonstrate that they understand the business and can balance the people side of things. If they can only talk about the people side it will not help in the long run.]
  8. What is their success rate? Don’t be afraid to ask. If they can’t tell you it’s higher than 98%, don’t hire them. It’s that simple.
  9. Ask about their biggest failure – and how they turned it around. Anyone who tells you they haven’t had a failure is lying – and anyone who can’t tell you how they fixed a big failure isn’t ready to lead your change initiative.
  10. Does their process include a ‘Lessons Learned’ component? It should. Successful change management generates valuable knowledge and insight about the organization, and it’s important that this knowledge is articulated, documented, and transferred to the organization. Otherwise all that knowledge just walks out the door along with the consultant at the end of the project. [/message][su_spacer]
Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).


  1. Great technical points, Dr. Cohn, and very needed basic information to guide decision makers. While 98% success rate as a Change Management consultant sounds great; looks great; and may be straight out of the great academic literature – it is highly (very highly) unrealistic for most Change Management consultants, and Change efforts.

    As you know, organizational change and Change initiatives are very challenging on so many complex levels. Part of the “success” of change management initiatives is setting realistic goals and expectations, especially for defining success. As such, defining what “success” looks like in a tangible outcome-type-of-way (before the Change initiative begins) is hugely important to assessment of real-world change and initiative results.

    In my observations of Change management initiatives, the real-world boots-on-the-ground interactions, efforts, and outcomes rarely achieve 98% of the “for-real” tangible outcomes defining success. That’s because it gets real messy in the world of change and Change management! However, the majority of real world decision makers I’ve worked with are so grateful and thrilled with achieving a measure of whatever they have deemed significant success in the planning stages of the initiative – even if it is at the 75, 80, or 85 percentile. Because change is a process, there is always the next phase to change efforts, thus to continue shooting for the moon – you know, that 98% “success rate”. 🙂

    • Thanks Devaney for your comments. I think we’ll agree to disagree. I think that if an organization (and by default the change consultant) is able to put the right measures in place at the beginning of the project there is a way bigger chance of success. And I think it is critical to help an organization understand what is possible vs. their fantasy of what is possible and put measures in accordingly. Change is always messy, but realistic goals based on the reality of the situation are critical. For example, if I’m working on a project where a goal is to have 0% turnover of critical employees one can see that as unrealistic, no matter what the business head suggests. But perhaps 5% is attainable and having that as the goal sets everyone up for success. Maybe you work towards 0% but you know there is a bit of wiggle room. I know that is a simple example, but you get the idea.

      Thanks for weighing in on the topic. I appreciate your viewpoint and your willingness to add your voice to the conversation.







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