Is the fox watching the hen house on your program?

If your company is undertaking a major cross functional transformation program, then you have probably engaged a partner (or two or three) to help you. There are many reasons for needing a partner; not enough in house resources, knowledge gaps, etc. One of two things can happen: either you run the partner or the partner runs you. How do you know which situation you’re in?

Often you do not possess the in house expertise to lead and manage a change of this breadth and impact. It’s understandable; you’ve just never had the experience before. To remedy that you can either hire internally or ask a partner to provide this service for you. Hiring internally for a program of a fixed duration can be a challenge; although in my experience there’s always another program on the horizon, it’s just a question of when it’s actually going to start! Frequently you ask your partner to provide the program management services and support for your leadership. Here’s where it can get tricky.

If the program management expertise is coming from the same partner and the same practice group, this is a red flag for me. Partners know how to run their methodology and that’s what you’re going to get; they will be very adept at doing their work the way they know how to do it, but they may not be as effective in helping you to do the work you need to get done or calling you on it if things aren’t getting done. This is what I call the fox watching the hen house. That may be okay if your organization is mature, doesn’t work in silos and has a high degree of trust between all cross functional stakeholders. Otherwise, you may experience delays in your program due to inconsistent expectations, slow decision making and reactive risk responses.

If you have a fox ready to eat your hens, you may want an insurance policy or what a CFO I worked with called program assurance or independent audit (which your own legal department should be doing too). The CFO discovered this is not as easy to find as it sounds, although most of the big consulting firms have a practice. What are you really looking for here? You want to insure that the program is going to be successful; that the work is getting done and if not have an intervention. First and foremost, I believe you need someone who isn’t afraid to tell you and your partners what’s working and what’s not working.  In addition, they should ensure you are proactively mitigating risk (not just managing it).  I also believe that identifying assumptions in order to manage expectations about your program is another service this third party can perform that your partners who are busy delivering may not think about (at least that has been my experience).  This independent party is watching your back and looking out for the big “C” in your Company.

What choices do you have? You can use the assurance practice from your existing partner. In a large program, this should be happening anyway; preferably as part of your contract with minimal additional cost since it’s supposedly good for the partner as well as good for you. In this case, the practice, while independent, still has the same basis in the underlying methodology; you might only get a better dressed fox. I look for a different point of view. The assurance practice of a different partner or an independent third party with large implementation experience is a good choice. This way there is no connection to the dollars per hour interest of the partner doing the heavy lifting and no preconceived notions of how things ought to work.

Agree on the measures that tell you this third party is keeping you on track such as mitigation plans being in place and executed accordingly, decisions being made at the right time/level and milestones being reached according to plan; even base a portion their fees on those measures. As a colleague and I discussed, there are no insurance policies for large scale transformational change programs. Using a third party to tell it like it is allows you to keep on top of all the partners and your own resources and actions. They set you up to run your partners as opposed to having them run you.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  You can take action toward insuring you are in the successful 40% of transformation programs.

Hens produce a lot of value over the long term. Make sure yours are protected from the foxes.

© Ellen Terwilliger 2012

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