I believe the number one mistake consultants make when assessing change projects is fixating on one solution that they believe will solve the problem. There are many factors within an organization that may prevent a new process from working as expected. During interviews, keep your solution to yourself and instead, focus on asking probing questions to determine if your solution is achievable for the organization. For example, if your solution is to implement a new automated system, you need to gauge the IT competency of the employees that will be using it or whether the new system meets the organization's corporate IT standards etc. Just because your solution has worked for another company, does not mean it will work again. If you present a solution to a client that they are unable to implement or sustain, you have failed to conduct effective interviews during phase one of the project.
2. Leave No Stone Left Unturned - Engage Every Stakeholder
Process improvement projects generally affect one major group of employees and cause small ripple effects in other departments or on specific employees outside the main group. It's easy to overlook or underestimate the impact on peripheral stakeholders due to pressures to meet deadlines and create change urgency. However, in order to successfully complete the project, every person affected should be engaged and interviewed to ensure the changes do not cause such adverse problems that the project is considered a failure and your reputation is tarnished.
3. Don't Be Afraid To Actively Manage Conflicts Or Politics
We all know that most organizations are rife with passive (or sometimes not so passive) employee conflicts and political play. In my experience, this is a leading cause of project failure because people were unable (or unwilling) to work together and align their priorities with those of the organization. It is critical to identify conflicts or politics that may inhibit a project and the primary way to do this is through interviews. Once you've identified the problem you need to decide how to actively manage the situation in order to be successful.
4. Always Elicit Ideas And Give Credit
During my initial exploratory interviews on a project I always close an interview with the question "What would you do to improve/solve this situation?". As a consultant your role is to consider the complexity of the entire problem and present a solution and implementation plan that will achieve a higher level of operational efficiency. While you've been hired for your process change management experience and expertise, you should never underestimate the ideas and input of the organization's employees (those who are closest to the action and will eventually have to implement and live with the changes long after you are gone). If the solution you present to management includes the ideas of an employee, be sure to give them full credit. This will continue to build trust and motivate the employee to champion change.
5. Location, Location, Location
When scheduling interviews, make sure the location is appropriate for the conversation and seniority of the person. When in doubt, ask a personal assistant or administrative assistant which meeting room would be appropriate. However, whenever possible, I try to conduct one-on-one interviews at the person's desk. Often this gives me a "better feel" for the corporate culture and I generally receive more information from the interviewee as they can provide data immediately. The major draw back however, is that you often need to be very skillful at keeping the person focused and on topic to cover all of your questions within the allotted time.