As consultants we are often faced with a dilemma. Our clients hire us because they need a fresh perspective that is unencumbered by the internal constraints, politics, and metrics that guide the day to day activities. We know, however, that our recommendations cannot be implemented unless the organization adopts them. If the recommendations are perceived to be too (scary, out there, different, impossible, etc) the likelihood of adoption is diminished.
This is a tricky balance to strike. Some consultants solve it by presenting a fully implementable, turnkey solution to the organization. Success usually requires a mandate from the most senior members of the organization for any type of adoption to occur. We can see the organizational problems this could cause, but there are times (such as extreme organizational crisis) that it is the best way to proceed.
Others involve client teams through the entire, messy process. Success requires that all the client team members are able to suspend judgment while exploring new business realities. They also need to be able to keep one foot in the comfort zone of the current business, while the other foot is outside their comfort zone. This is a lot to expect of anyone, and can only work if enough time is invested in selecting these people and setting the right expectations for them to succeed.
It occurred to me the other day that the best results happen with a combination of these methods. Sean Howard had a post about the role of serious play in the boardroom. In it, he discussed a frightening experience where he brought crayons and blank paper to a final presentation meeting. As I was reading the post and related comments, I started thinking about how the level of finish in a prototype can help to facilitate an environment conducive to mutual creation of the final solution. As I thought about it more, I think the element of timing also played a crucial role. Sean's team had already done 2 months of work. While the elements for success existed, there was a need to simplify this complex information in order to communicate it to a diverse group. Having the group join the process in how to communicate to each other was an excellent way to acheive that goal.
Clients often choose consultants for their proposals of "delivering a turnkey solution", or "involving us every step of the way". These messages are easy to understand, and can only work under ideal conditions. For the rest of us, accept the fact that some things are best left to the outsider, and spend time figuring out the best time for mutual creation. It will be different for each client, consultant, and type of problem.