To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, as a change manager, you have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
Our firm worked with a large coalition in California, helping it develop a strategic plan and a new governance structure. The change management process we initially designed called for multiple meetings with coalition members to clarify the goals of the coalition — and then look at options for a new governance structure. It was a solid process, grounded in our 12 years of doing similar work.
The key funder for this coalition was a large California-based foundation. When we began work, the woman assigned to manage the coalition told us to scale the process down in order to meet her timetable. That was the first warning sign. After the first stakeholder meeting, she heavily edited our synopsis to spin it in a way she felt would play better to coalition members. That was another sign of trouble.
As we were designing the next stakeholders meeting, she told us to shrink the timeline even further. It was gut check time. I called some people. Their stories resonated: the coalition manager treated people with disrespect; she pushed her agenda at the expense of collaborating with others. Feeling that our firm’s reputation was on the line, I told her of my concerns about the quality of the process. She replied with a blistering email, criticizing me and criticizing our staff.
I tried to imagine whether our firm could successfully partner with her. Looking at the evidence, I realized it was highly unlikely that the process could ever be as robust as it needed to be. At that point, I decided the best strategic change was to end the engagement. I communicated that to her in an email. The next day, I got a voicemail from her, asking if we could talk. Perhaps we needed to clear the air, she said.
I told her the decision was final. It was unfortunate. But a good change management process needs to be anchored in a strong, trusting partnership between the consulting firm and the client.