As the saying goes, “Give a ‘man’ a fish, and you feed ‘him’ for a day; show ‘him’ how to catch fish, and you feed ‘him’ for a lifetime”.   But how does this play out when it comes to leading change in your organisation?

A recent article in Fast Company Magazine concluded that outsourcing “change” to external consultants and experts may not be the best, most sustainable way to drive change efforts. The article makes the following points:

  • Keeping things in-house sends a message of trust: The article proposes that bringing it outsiders might be perceived as bringing in “hired guns” and that the organisation does not feel its own employees are up to the task.
  • The best solutions come from the front line: Those closest to the point of action and the customers tend to know what needs doing to improve service. Consultants can rarely access this level of knowledge and tend to focus on the ideas of top managers only.
  • Solving problems in-house builds ownership: Essentially “to create is to own”. When ideas are put before employees that are not generated by them, there is naturally less inclination to make them work when compared with their own suggestions.
  • You will build problem-solving skills and the capability to do it again: Allowing people to solve their own issues builds the capability to be able to do it again… and again. This is critical in rapidly changing and volatile situations.
  • You create an opportunity for engagement: When consultants come in and take control of change, it is easy for employees at all levels to disengage. When employees are directly involved (well), there is an opportunity for increased employee engagement with the change.

Change is a team sport

The idea of building an in-house change task force (or Guiding Team) has been around for many years. John Kotter originally built this into his famous 8-step change framework in the 1990s. However, even Kotter has recently concluded that setting up a stand-alone change team is not enough though. In a recent HBR article Kotter talks about a “dual-operating system” where the organisation balances its hierarchical structure with a network of “opportunity-driven volunteers” who are freed up to experiment and try completely new things.

This sounds great in theory but how do you actually do it? Managers and employees are very busy and resources are limited in most organisations. Simply freeing up employees to take care of innovation on top of their “day jobs” is just not an option for many teams. What is needed is a way of integrating innovation and continuous improvement focused routines into daily working practices. This is something managers struggle to do unaided, as they will usually prioritise urgent operational issues over longer-term business improvement.

In our recent webinar “Banish ‘them and us’ thinking, and get innovating” we shared examples of the typical issues associated with externally lead/imposed change and it’s limited sustainability. This was in the context of employee opinion survey results. After the results of these surveys come out, managers often “take charge” of improving employee engagement scores and forget to involve the people who completed the surveys in their thinking. The lessons from doing this well also apply to other types of change. In the webinar we share a case study of where we show how it is possible to build the sustainable involvement of employees in improvement and transformation activities and improve employee engagement.


The key principles when it comes to effectively insourcing change are at the heart of an approach we call “TakeON!” and are as follows:

  • Help managers to lead effective dialogue between their employees about what matters most.
  • Support managers to encourage dialogue between employees rather than just downloading information to them.
  • Build the capability of managers at the point of application and use of new skills. This is done through bite-sized workshops and continuous on-the-job learning and peer mentoring through the use of technology.
  • Focus on what’s already working and amplify that (as opposed to trying to “problem solve” and fix what’s wrong).
  • Develop sustainable routines to help employees to generate, select, implement and review their own ideas.

So maybe it’s not about doing away with outsourced support for change altogether. Perhaps it’s more about looking for a provider who will develop your in-house capability and leave you with a sustainable legacy so you can learn to fish for yourself.

If you like to find out more about how we support clients to do this, call us on 0191 240405 or email