Internal and external consultants use many of the same techniques and tools, do similar work, but face very different challenges

Internal and external consultants use many of the same techniques and tools, do similar work, but face very different challenges. Internal consultants work in a unique position. Their job role is to consult to the organization for which they work. It is not easy to be, at the same time, a part of an organization and function as detached and independent. Each position on the consulting continuum places different pressures on the internal than the external, making them either more or less a part of the organization. Couple with those pressures that the internal has a boss whose role is even more clearly linked to the organizational structure, politics, and rewards structure, and you have a set of forces effectively pulling the internal in different directions. Managing this position becomes paramount to success for the internal.

Here are some of the issues
· For an internal to espouse change and new processes, they must be seen as not buying into the accepted ways of operating in that organization. This sets them up to potentially fail in the intervention and subsequently fail in the organization because of the position they took.
· If the existing system does not accept the presence and influence of the internal, the internal essentially gets “fired” in his or her own organization, losing all client base without the possibility of building more.
· Internals are tied to the resource pool that they are trying to affect.
· An internals personal job position and status is often widely known and limits his or her mobility in the organization.
· There is a wide-spread perception that there are no prophets in their own lands.
· Typically members of an organization see other members of that organization as having the same experiences, knowledge, and ability as they see themselves as having. This limits the credibility they will offer to an internal.


The conditions described are known as marginality. Conceptually, the internal consultant has to be positioned in such a way as to add something to the system that is not already there. This can be described as representing an interesting difference. This difference should be pronounced enough to be noticeable, but not so much as to be antagonistic. Conflict is a natural result of representing this difference. By bringing out a difference in the system, members are challenged to either move towards that difference, move away from it, or ignore it. The dynamics of this movement are typically relative to the size of the difference. The presence of this difference is an intervention in and of itself. Marginality presents a paradox for the internal consultant. If an internal consultant is positioned as the same as the system, the power and energy of difference is not present. This can only result in the internal being powerless to produce change, or be viewed as redundant to the system, subject to the same strengths and limitations as the system. If the difference is too great, the systems power and energy will be directed towards ridding or protecting itself of the threat of the difference.

What are the forces working on the internal?
Managing the element of marginality requires a great deal of intentionality and energy from the internal consultant. This energy drain is a result of some natural psychological needs that exist in us all. These are primarily the needs for affiliation, achievement, success, and goal attainment. The issue for the internal becomes that all your psychological “eggs” get put “in one basket.” While this certainly gives you a stake in the game, it also tends to work against a marginal position. Getting all your needs met in your client system tends to force the internal to collusion with they system, playing to their strengths, and singing and dancing the party line. While this makes it easier to get your own needs met, it becomes increasingly more difficult to meet some of the roles offered on the consulting continuum.

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