The consultant’s proper role in implementation is a matter of considerable debate in the profession.

Some argue that one who helps put recommendations into effect takes on the role of manager and thus exceeds consulting’s legitimate bounds. Others believe that those who regard implementation solely as the client’s responsibility lack a professional attitude, since recommendations that are not implemented (or are implemented badly) are a waste of money and time. And just as the client may participate in diagnosis without diminishing the value of the consultant’s role, so there are many ways in which the consultant may assist in implementation without usurping the manager’s job.

A consultant will often ask for a second engagement to help install a recommended new system. However, if the process to this point has not been collaborative, the client may reject a request to assist with implementation simply because it represents such a sudden shift in the nature of the relationship. Effective work on implementation problems requires a level of trust and cooperation that is developed gradually throughout the engagement.

In any successful engagement, the consultant continually strives to understand which actions, if recommended, are likely to be implemented and where people are prepared to do things differently. Recommendations may be confined to those steps the consultant believes will be implemented well. Some may think such sensitivity amounts to telling a client only what he wants to hear. Indeed, a frequent dilemma for experienced consultants is whether they should recommend what they know is right or what they know will be accepted. But if the assignment’s goals include building commitment, encouraging learning, and developing organizational effectiveness, there is little point in recommending actions that will not be taken.

A Pervasive Issue
Viewing implementation as a central concern influences the professional’s conduct of all phases of the engagement. When a client requests information, the consultant asks how it will be used and what steps have already been taken to acquire it. Then he or she, along with members of the client organization, determines which steps the company is ready to pursue and how to launch further actions. An adviser continually builds support for the implementation phase by asking questions focused on action, repeatedly discussing progress made, and including organization members on the team.

It follows that managers should be willing to experiment with new procedures during the course of an engagement—and not wait until the end of the project before beginning to implement change. When innovations prove successful, they are institutionalized more effectively than when simply recommended without some demonstration of their value. For implementation to be truly effective, readiness and commitment to change must be developed, and client members must learn new ways of solving problems to improve organizational performance. How well these goals are achieved depends on how well both parties understand and manage the process of the entire engagement.

People are much more likely to use and institutionalize innovations proved successful than recommendations merely set forth on paper. Experiments with implementing procedures during the course of a project rather than after the assignment’s completion have had very good results. All in all, effective implementation requires consensus, commitment, and new problem-solving techniques and management methods.