Creating lasting change

tools and techniques for effective consulting

Want to explore more on how to manage change and lead the transformation your company needs?

Organizational Transformation Series is a course helping empower leaders and their teams to create a culture that supports transformation and ultimately future growth and success.

Start Now

Leslie Yerkes
President of Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc.


As frequently said, the only constant in modern life is change! Organisations of all sizes and industries are constantly struggling with change in their operations. In countless occasions, change is the result of responding to new opportunities, evolving conditions and markets, as well as the need to continuously improve organisational performance.

This article presents a framework to attain lasting success by implementing organisational change. Starting with a systemic view of the organisation, a typical change program lifecycle is presented. The tools and abilities most needed in each phase are discussed, from an initial assessment to problem/opportunity definition, from engaging participants thought appreciative inquiry to institutionalizing changes at the organisation, team, and individual level.

Key skills and behaviours for overcoming resistance to change are discussed. These are essential for communicating and engaging stakeholders to move in an agreed-upon direction under their own motivation without using force or meeting resistance. It sounds like magic, but it is real! Continue reading to discover how effective consulting can be a major catalyst to creating lasting change.


The Myths and Magic of Consulting

Consulting is a challenging and diverse profession! It can be a highly rewarding activity, from the most personal perspective to professional growth and development, from financial security to a great quality of life; successful consultants can enjoy an avenue of opportunities and unique fulfilling experiences. At the same time, consultants are quite often faced with conflicting demands, intensive travel, problems, and client situations in which only their competency to manage client expectations, identify risk-triggering events in advance, maintain open communications with all stakeholders, or control scope creep can help them stay away from failures and ensure expected results. In some situations, consultants are expected to be like “magicians,” able to successfully address any issue with a “know-it-all,” “seen-it-all-already” ability or attitude.

Before going any further, let's review quickly what consulting and consultants are all about. There are several definitions of what consulting is, but most of them convey the following idea: consulting involves aiding others at their request. In fact, consultants are professionals who use their expertise, knowledge, competence, and skills to improve others' conditions, helping them exploit opportunities, resolve a problem, or just improve performance.

By definition, consulting is a people-centred profession, where the consultant's “soft-skills” and ability to help others will determine his effectiveness in establishing a long-lasting win/win relationship with clients, allowing him to grow professionally on a foundation of trustworthiness. Nowadays consultants go by many other names and it is not surprising if that is not your title or position—what matters most is the content of your work. In this regard, there are many different professional activities or situations where you perform as a consultant. Regardless of the specifics of your business or application area, when you consult you will likely navigate through a problem identification or current (initial) situation assessment, a search for solutions or potential alternatives, and depending on the decision of the client or sponsor and other environmental factors, sometimes you will go ahead to develop and implement selected solutions.

Though this process is applicable indistinctly of whether the consultants are internal or external to the organisation where they consult, it is usually more formalized and visible when applied by external consultants. Regardless of being an external or internal consultant, and of your technical area of expertise, there are some challenges that most consultants and change agents face when doing their consulting activities.

Frequent Challenges of Consulting

In this section we discuss some of the challenges and risks that are frequently found in consulting assignments in an organisational change context—that is, consulting for people (or teams) within an organisation—regardless of whether the consultant is external or internal. Having led numerous organisational change projects, we have observed some recurrent issues that challenge most consulting engagements and change initiatives.

Frequent Challenges in Consulting

Exhibit 1 – Frequent Challenges in Consulting

The challenges presented in Exhibit 1 can be found in many projects, despite the different technical backgrounds and application areas of these initiatives. Let's briefly explain some of them from the perspective of a consulting engagement.

First, there is the need or demand to “create lasting change.” As you probably noticed, this is in the title of this paper. So you will not be surprised if we state this is a major issue for consulting and that it deserves a word or two. Indeed, we strongly believe most consulting engagements (or interventions) must deal with this issue, and deliver solutions, approaches, systems, and so forth that are actually adopted by the organisation, that adapt to its environmental conditions and that last over time. It is by no means a call to generate “static” new situations, but rather a focus point to really overcome resistance and develop new behaviours and habits.

The second issue, “achieving organisational effectiveness,” deals with what the object of consultation and change is all about. This is what the new behaviours and habits can achieve. Effectiveness is also in the title of this paper, and it is there for a good reason. Organisations need and expect good results from their changes, not just changing for the sake of changing. In other words, doing things that make sense and that really improve conditions.

Organisational effectives usually requires looking at the organisation with a systems-holistic view to properly align organisational structures and their functions, or create leadership cultures that help the organisation stay focused on what really matters to their present and future.

These two issues enclose numerous potential risks. And actually, some of the other items down the list or others you might have faced yourself can be related to these two concerns. The list is by no means complete; and the order of relevance or importance of the challenges is not necessarily the same in every project or organisation.

These top challenges nevertheless provide a more complete picture of the grounds for the “myths and magic,” where most consultants live. They must be key drivers for consultants to search and apply the most current tools, techniques, methods, and approaches that can help them deliver expected results. In the rest of the paper, we present and discuss some tools and techniques we find essential for this endeavour and ultimately to achieve effective consulting results.

Key Skills and Techniques for Effective Consulting

Process Orientation and Project Management

In general, a process can be defined as a sequence of steps that leads to a result. Processes are present in most of our daily activities and are critical to establishing organisational habits and routines. They frequently facilitate and underpin our successes (or failures) at personal, professional and/or other social undertakings. A proper process can guide an organisation and its people through the steps to create repeatable and scalable business successes; from Ford's Model T vehicle, to modern franchises or global retail companies like Zara. Processes are key facilitating ingredients of empowering organisational cultures and work environments. Actually, “trusting the process” has been found to be one of the key principles to establish the foundations of fun at work (Yerkes, 2007b).

But a well-defined process is not reserved for big or large organisations, international brands, or for “advanced” applications (empowerment, fun at work, and so forth). Even solo consultants can and must have defined processes. We claim that one of the building blocks of effective consulting is applying a solid consulting process. Exhibit 2 shows one typical consulting lifecycle (Bello, 2003), including the phases usually performed to complete a consulting or organisational change project.

A Typical Consulting Project Life Cycle

Exhibit 2 – A Typical Consulting Project Life Cycle

As you probably expect, not all phases apply to all consulting engagements. Nevertheless, most consulting projects will start with a current situation assessment phase, where opportunities and/or problems are identified and their root causes investigated until one or more alternative solutions can be proposed. Then in the feedback and decision phase, these results are presented to the client, giving him an opportunity to give the consultant feedback and eventually make a decision on go/no-go for some of the proposed solutions. Many consulting projects end here, since the client or some parts of the organisation will be responsible for implementing the selected solutions. In some other cases, the consultant will go on to advise, assist, or develop the selected solution, try it out in a pilot, and, after refinement, transition it out to the rest of the organisation. Last but not least, the monitor and support phase is where tracking and continuous improvement take place.

This division of a project in well-defined phases improves visibility and control and is an effective tool to mitigate the risks of organisational change initiatives. And this is generally the case even if you use a different life cycle (different phases).

As renowned author and consultant Peter Block claims in Flawless Consulting (2000), completing the business and requirements of each consulting phase is one of the elements for keeping consulting simple and error-free. More than that, we believe that applying project management principles and practices, such as a life cycle definition and tailoring, can be a great catalyst for effective consulting.

Departure Point: Appraising the Current Situation

As usually said, all journeys, large or small, start with the first step! And for organisational improvement initiatives or “journeys,” this first step can certainly be the assessment of the current situation.

Imagine you are in foreign city (unknown to you) and that you are lost, not knowing how to get to your hotel. One possible solution is to call the hotel … Then you ask the clerk, “Hi there! I'm lost. How do I get back to the hotel?” You will not be surprised if the reply is another question: “Where are you now?”

Of course, to know what “actions” you should take to get to a destination or “desired situation,” you must know where you are. And that is precisely what “initial assessments” or “current situation appraisals” are all about. They let an organisation know where it stands right now, and help define a realistic course of actions to reach another desired state.

A frequent characteristic of well designed, well planned, and well conducted appraisals is that they look at the organisation in a systemic way, evaluating the interrelated components that make the organisation “behave” as a collection of systems. One such system is that formed by people, process, and technology/tools/resources. Anything an organisation wants to achieve requires a proper combination of the previous three elements. And in order to understand the current situation and how to improve it, quite often you will need to integrate a solid understanding and actions that involve or affect processes, people, and tools.

Sometimes reference models or bodies of knowledge are used in appraising an organisation's current performance. These models can help identify gaps (weaknesses), opportunities for improvement, and strengths. When using these reference models, the existence of significant objective evidence and the ability to sample the organisation in a representative way can be critical to assure credibility and usability of the appraisal results. For example, the SCAMPISM (Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement) (CMU/SEI, 2006) appraisal method family provides detailed information on the phases to be used, and offers additional guidance for conducting the appraisals, including tailoring options to accommodate numerous organisational needs and contexts.

As mentioned before, consulting is a challenging profession. Some of these challenges can be found in this initial phase already, and they relate to involving all relevant people, incorporating different viewpoints and opinions, dealing with conflict and resistance, getting the proper data and information, and creating a positive atmosphere for change and commitment.

It is precisely in this context, and especially when it comes to addressing people-related issues, that many companies are turning to Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to create positive, empowering climates for change.

Appreciative Inquiry Defined

Appreciative Inquiry is a collaborative search to identify and understand the organisation's strengths, potentials, and greatest opportunities in order to stimulate co-construction of the ideal future. Its methodology works from these principles:

  • To envision the future, learn from the best of our past.
  • Celebrate and exploit those strengths that give life to our greatest work.
  • Create bold, positive images of our future to drive organisational priorities.
  • Work together on ideas that most attract us.

Appreciative Inquiry, developed by David L. Cooperrider, Ph.D. at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, provides an alternative framework to action research and to problem solving. Traditional methodologies of organisational change approach things as problems to be solved and view incrementalism as the norm. Appreciative Inquiry approaches organisations as centres of relationships connected to infinite capacity and strengths. Simply stated, Appreciative Inquiry changes the focus and the questions from deficit to abundance, from what's not working to what is.

The focus of Appreciative Inquiry is to help individuals discover their positive core through conversation. Its intention is to leverage strengths to achieve the preferred future.

The major premise of Appreciative Inquiry is that individuals, groups, and organisations move in the direction of their conversations. When the focus is on what does not work, this is where the person, group, or organisation will stay. When the focus is on strengths, then growth is the result. Exhibit 3 shows some of the elements that make Appreciative Inquiry a powerful methodology to achieve cultural transformation.

AI and Cultural Transformation

Exhibit 3 – AI and Cultural Transformation

To illustrate an Appreciative Inquiry process in action, the next section is a summary of a case study on how this methodology can transform the culture of an organisation by changing the conversations (Bush, 2003).

Changing the Conversation: Transforming an Industrial Culture

In November 2001, LTV Steel in Cleveland declared bankruptcy and closed its doors, leaving 3,500 people out of work. The facility was reborn in 2002 as International Steel Group (ISG), later to be known as Mittal Steel USA-Cleveland, and today is branded as Arcelor Mittal.

Using the process of Appreciative Inquiry, this steel plant has transformed its culture and become the world's most efficient steel producer, generating one ton of steel for less than one worker hour invested, which is double the industry average.

Appreciate Inquiry focuses people on the future by evaluating what has worked in the past, what was successful, instead of evaluating what has not worked, what has not been successful.

The success of the organisation is a result of its intense focus on both the hard science (technical excellence and financial acumen) and the soft science (culture and relationships). When both hard and soft sciences are treated with equal importance, organisations can weather changing economic conditions and challenging business situations, and thrive during the tumultuous times of merger and acquisition.

The Power of Collective Action

During the summer of 2005, more than 1,400 employees participated in one-on-one interviews, contributing their aspirations and voices to crafting the future of Mittal Steel USA-Cleveland. This process culminated in an Appreciative Inquiry Summit held in Cleveland in May, 2006. More than 200 individuals (representing all functions, shifts, labour, management, sister organisations, corporate leadership, vendors, customers, and community partners) gathered together for a day to review the aspirations of the workforce and together forge a vision for the future of the Cleveland facility. As a result, 11 focus areas were identified and were activated by cross-functional teams.

The process of Appreciative Inquiry creates engagement, fosters understanding, leverages strengths, and infuses energy. It is a democratic process that allows people to vote with their feet and move in the direction of their dreams. And in the process of the process, the culture of the organisation is transformed.

Cultural change doesn't occur as a result of programs of the month, quick fixes, silver bullets, or turnkey operations. It is, instead, a process journey. The result of the first Appreciative Inquiry was not only the creation of these 11 action teams, but it is also the creation of a second, system-wide Appreciative Inquiry Summit; this one focused on safety.

Clearly, Mittal Steel USA Cleveland learned to leverage the power of collective action.

Dealing with the Soft-Hard Side of Consulting

In this section we discuss some of the critical issues and skills needed to deal with the soft side of organisational change. That is, the frequent need to deal with and/or change behaviours and habits. This usually requires a profound understanding of the people involved and a high level of consciousness of the process and organisation at hand. As you will discover in this section there is a strong relationship between the often experienced feeling or though of “they just don't get it” and our ability to change resistance into understanding (Yerkes, 2005). It is no surprise, therefore, that so frequently the soft side becomes the hard one.

Learning to Understand

How many times have you found yourself saying that you just don't get it when they don't get it? Or asking yourself why it is that you see the solution so clearly when they don't have a clue? Why, when the need to change is so obvious even a child would get it, do they remain ignorant?

When we find ourselves in the position of being amazed that they don't get it, we automatically spring to action and assume the role of Chief Getting It Instructor. Our voice takes on a particular tone, our face assumes a parental mask, and our body portrays a superior posture. And we step into our self-appointed role of guiding the unenlightened into the light, the light of getting it. Surprisingly, those tutorial garments of attitude, inflection, and posture cause the folks we are trying to help to turn off, turn away. We discourage their participation, and close down their channels of understanding.

What do we do then? Do we become more insistent? More cynical? Do we find ourselves saying “How many times am I going to have to tell you before you understand?”

If they still don't get it, or even seem to try to get it, do we withhold our support? Do we give up, determining them to be ignorant and unreachable? Do we complain about them to others? Raise our voice, yell, tell, preach? Our voice gathering steam while their eyes glaze over? And don't we find that the more we try to get through to them, the more right we become? Maybe even self-righteous?

The more energy we expend trying to change people, the more we seem to stimulate the opposite result from the one we intended to achieve; not only don't they get it, but they seem to take two steps backward! And though our intentions may be good, they give no sign of appreciating our intentions, our efforts, or even us. Our gesture (our attempt at doing a good deed) is misunderstood, and it creates all sorts of new issues to unravel. That's when we want to throttle them. Or just let the looming negative consequences of not getting it fall on their thick heads. At which point we could feel righteous because, after all, we tried to tell them. And we could rest easy knowing we were right. Unfortunately, although we might be right, they still don't get it and whatever problem we originally faced remains. Only now things are even worse.

So, what do we do when they don't get it? When they do not or will not participate? Is it your job to make sure they do? To change them so that they do get it? Could you change them even if you wanted to? If they don't change, what is the consequence to you or to them? And could that be the key to all this? That not getting it is really about you as much as it is about them? If it is about us, then it's we who need to make the changes. All of us need to change, adapt, and move forward. The problem is that none of us change in the same way, at the same time, or at the same rate. There are those of us who can envision change and begin to move toward it with ease. These agents of change challenge our attachment to the way we are doing things. Sometimes the challenges are tactful and diplomatic; sometimes forceful and passionate—like a force of nature.

Some of us may not get it at first, but when our questions are answered and our fears addressed, we get it with relative ease. Our craving is information; our need is consideration. When these are met, we respond, we participate. When we are pushed or pulled, we remain rooted in “the way we've always done it,” in what we know how to do. To get it, we need help understanding that which we do not know. And, of course, there are always some of us who choose not to get it. Staying put is our choice. We will filibuster in favour of not getting it. To us, not getting it becomes a virtue, a banner under which to lead an army of recalcitrants. And we become the rock upon which people use their biggest “I just don't get it when they don't get it” hammer.

So, is there a perfect response to the trap of “I don't get it when they don't get it?” Is there a solution? If you are given a prescription to deal with their not getting it, will that make it better? Or have we only scratched the surface of an iceberg? What happens if you don't like my solution? Or understand it? Or you reject it? Or you use it differently than I intended, creating different results that you blame me for causing?

What if all those questions lead to yet another one, one that might finally give us a solution? What if we ask ourselves this question: What could I do or say that would help them understand what they need to know to succeed? To get it?

Or this question: What kind of environment would support them in finding the information they need to realize their own change?

Or these: How can I model behaviours that will illustrate the desired state? How can I create opportunities for them to participate and try on new styles or behaviours without feeling endangered?

What stands in the way of their getting it? Is it as simple as “This is the way we've always done it”? If so, how do we respectfully challenge that comfort zone? What questions can we ask, not as interrogators but as supportive friends that would promote their own process of reflection and exploration?

5 Key Behaviours to Boost Influence and Get It Right

There are several keys to dealing with the “I don't get it when they don't get it” syndrome, which, if applied, will help us unlock the secrets of getting it, of moving toward things under own motivation—without resistance. Exhibit 4 shows the DON'T and DO keys to deal with this syndrome.

The DON'T and DO Keys to Deal with the “I Don't Get It When They Don't Get It” Syndrome

Exhibit 4 – The DON'T and DO Keys to Deal with the “I Don't Get It When They Don't Get It” Syndrome

Get It! Key One: Don't Place Blame; Take Responsibility

Henry Ford said, “Don't fix the blame, fix the problem: Find a solution.” In the ultimate scheme of things, who did what to whom is not beneficial information, nor is it required to improve the situation. And if improving the situation is your goal, why spend time and effort on fixing blame? Or on determining guilt? If you personally stand up for your mistakes and failings, if you assume responsibility for your behaviour, those around you will notice and will, without thinking, begin to assume responsibility for their actions the same as you. Taking responsibility is the best of all modelling actions we can take. It shows our humility, fosters hope, and reduces our tendency to apply force to achieve our intentions. When you start singing the “I don't get it when they don't get it” song, just remember, it all starts with you. None of us has the power to change another; we can only change ourselves. Focus on what you can do to take responsibility for your behaviours and reactions. What you choose to do and how you do it is the greatest influence you can have in shifting the response of another.

Get It! Key Two: Force Begets Resistance; Practice Humility

Have you ever played with Chinese handcuffs? The harder you pull, the more force was exerted on your fingers, keeping them held firmly in place. It was only when you begin to relax that you are able to move them even the slightest bit. And when you cease resisting entirely, you are able to move freely. Force always begets resistance.

If we try to ram behavioural changes down their throats, we can expect firmly clenched teeth, closed lips, and heads turned 180° from where we'd like them to be focused. The more certain we are right, the more likely we are to attempt to enforce our will. Being humble in our knowledge and presentation of that knowledge will reduce the feelings of forced acceptance in the recipients.

When they are not feeling pressure, they will not resist; when they do, they will.

Practicing humility requires us to accept that we don't know it all. To be humble is to leave space for the ideas of others, to allow questions to be asked, and to ask for help. To apply this key, you must be observant. Your clue to change your approach is when others resist your ideas or actions.

Get It! Key Three: Telling Turns Them Off; Begin with Questions

No one likes to be told what to do. It goes against our grain. Interestingly, the less we know the more we defend our limited level of knowledge and the more we resist being told anything new. Most of us are programmed to defend the status quo. If we are asked questions that require our opinion, our input, or our ideas, we are most willing to provide them. The magic comes during this process: Once we have been acknowledged for our expertise, the door has been opened for us to accept the expertise of others. Sharing our wisdom puts us on an equal footing and allows us to accept, without feelings of inferiority, the wisdom of others. Asking questions, however, requires the use of our most important skill: listening, really listening to both the words and the meaning of what's being said to us. The more we ask, the more we learn; the more we learn, the better we teach. And wasn't that the goal in the first place? Showing them how to get it?

Practicing this key involves framing open-ended questions. Attempt to start most conversations with a question and suspend your own thoughts and statements until you have heard the full opinion of the other person. By seeking first to understand, you might find that there is more common ground than difference.

Understanding is the bridge to building a trusting relationship that can support even divergent opinions. Be careful not to label another's opinion as wrong or bad. The process of inquiry has the potential to create new and better ways of doing things.

Get It! Key Four: Being Right Might Be Wrong; Remain Open

Our default evaluation mechanism tells us that if you are right, I must be wrong. It is difficult for us to believe that more than one person can be right about the same thing at the same time. While that scenario may actually be more real than not, our initial response only allows one person to be right at a time. Much of this comes from our early years of parent-child interactions, where parental controls are biologically in place to keep our offspring safe and well. As we mature, however, our relationships should move past parent-child to adult-adult; often, they do not.

Thus, your being right in the face of their not getting it may often be taken by them as a putdown, as a statement that they are wrong.

The degree to which you can take right and wrong out of the equation is the degree to which helping them get it will be easier.

Avoid being self-righteous in your rightness. Allowing for them being wrong will go a long way toward helping them be right.

Chances are that there is more than one way to do anything. If you think you are right, you don't necessarily need to make them feel wrong. To do this, learn to find the merit in everyone's ideas. Give each person the consideration of listening to them fully. Let individuals use the frame of reference they need to understand the concept. Allow them to explain the concept back to you using their terms, not yours.

Get It! Key Five: If You Believe They Can't, They Won't; Believe They Can

What you think about their ability to succeed has a great bearing on what they will actually do. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can do a thing or cannot do a thing, you are right.” If you do not believe they have a chance in the world to succeed, how can they?

Why should they? Why would they even try if all-knowing you do not believe they are able to succeed? Conversely, believe that they can, and let them know constantly that you so believe and success will arrive sooner than anyone might have thought possible.

If you believe that most people, given consideration and time, will open themselves to learn, grow, and adapt, they will. The attitude you adopt as a teacher/partner will greatly influence whether others take the risk to try to stretch. Practice this key by visualizing a positive interaction and outcome. Communicate with encouraging words and gestures, and strive to authentically demonstrate your belief that together we can surmount any challenge. Optimism is a powerful force that generates the energy needed for transformative experiences. That's why we encourage you to exercise ways to fuel your source of optimism.

The Get It! Keys Application

“I don't get it when they don't get it” isn't necessarily a bad response. It's what we do with that reaction, how we voice it, and what it does to us that is either good, bad, or indifferent. When those around us just don't get it, it's not the end of the world as we know it. It's an opportunity to become a teacher and a partner to see that we all get it together.

Turning resistance into understanding is about advancing our current behaviours along the Get It! Continuum. Our working relationships, our expectations, and how we approach work are always changing and evolving. For us to be successful as individuals, we too must evolve and mature. To improve communications and to support efforts for positive organisational change, our inner actions need to shift. To be effective (within our organisations and personally) we need to be self-evaluative.

For example: Do you know how others perceive you? Or how you want to be perceived by others? Is how you are being creating the results you desire? What would be the benefit to you and others if you were to adopt some new behaviours?

Adopting a new behaviour does not necessarily mean throwing out an existing behaviour and replacing it with a new one, but rather advancing from an ineffective behavioural position on the Get It! Continuum to one that is more effective, one that will help ensure your continued effectiveness in a world that's changing around you. Sometimes we get stuck on the continuum; for many reasons, we maintain the same attitudes and behaviours for long periods of time. While we are stuck in those positions, the world around is not; it changes and evolves as we spin our wheels. The solution for each of us to get unstuck is to shift our behaviours and advance along the continuum, to continue our life journey of growth.

An effective way to get unstuck is to use Get It! Key Three: Begin with Questions. On the following two pages are eleven questions for reflection and dialogue that you can use by yourself or with others to help you break free and Get It!

Institutionalization: Reinforcing the Adoption of Organisational Changes

The Organisation as a System

Seasoned consultants and organisational change professionals analyze and understand organisations as systems. That is, as a collection of interrelated parts or elements all counting toward the end-complete resulting performance. This systems-thinking skill (and approach) is essential to properly address many of the issues organisations face during their change processes. Properly assessing how one action or change in one area or aspect of the organisation might affect another can be the difference between dispute and support, disappointment and enthusiasm, or failure and success. Ultimately, one of the key causes of failure in organisational change programs is this lack of a systemic view. This is one of the reasons why state-of-the-art organisational change models, like the People CMM®, have this systems view as a key feature.

Institutionalization in the People CMM®

The People Capability Maturity Model® (People CMM®) is a state-of-the-art organisational change management model to help organisations improve their workforce capability and effectiveness (Curtis, 2002).

The People CMM® was developed under the leadership of the Software Engineering Institute of the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. It was inspired by the success of its sister CMM® models, such as the SW-CMM®, and was developed to address additional areas of organisational performance and improvement not covered by other maturity models.

The People CMM® has a systemic view of the organisation. This is immediately evident by looking at the relationships among the process areas and the practices they include. Additionally, there are some other elements of the model that also emphasize and build upon this systems view. One such element is right in the structure of the model and is the treatment the model gives to the institutionalization of the practices it includes. Institutionalization is addressed by goals and practices defined and included in each process area for this purpose. They address the desired situation and necessary conditions for defined practices to last and be repeatable.

Institutionalization practices are grouped into four categories, which are commitment to perform (actions the organisation should take so the practices are established and endure), ability to perform (preconditions necessary for proper practice implementation), measurement and analysis, and verifying implementation (steps to ensure compliant performance). Exhibit 5 illustrates the relationship among these practices.

Some People CMM® Constituent Elements

Exhibit 5 – Some People CMM® Constituent Elements

As a result of this implementation-institutionalization synergy, the model has an implicit mechanism for introducing changes in the organisation in such a way that the changes are more likely to last over time. For example, especially significant is the expected involvement and participation of executive management, line-managers, human resources, and other organisational roles in several of the institutionalization and implementation practices.

Institutionalization is a key feature of the People CMM®, and its four major categories or principles can be exploited to improve the chances of creating lasting changes.

Some Final Thoughts, For Now…

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Indeed, in consulting and organisational change management, one size does not fit all; meaning that each client situation will require a unique or different combination of methods, skills, techniques, and so forth. What might have worked well in one engagement might not be useful in another. Therefore, in the quest for effectiveness in consulting and ultimately in our clients' success, the more resourceful we are, the better. As extensively discussed through this paper, this preparedness does not imply knowing it all, and being in a superior “expert” position. Mainly the opposite—humility and openness will prove a most valuable resource when dealing with change and behaviour. And again, just as all your fingers in your hand are different (although they are all the same: fingers!), people are equally diverse and different, even in the same country, company, team, or even family.

Creating Your Own Mix

Therefore, in helping and assisting clients live through their organisational changes, consultants must strive to create the correct mix of tools, techniques and methods that, applied with competence and relevant experience, will prove most valuable to their customers. From properly assessing an initial situation to creating a positive attitude toward change through Appreciative Inquiry; from addressing the different key behaviours so people “do get it” to institutionalizing organisational changes so they are more likely to last over time: the truth is that our “toolkits” and “skills set” needs to be as diverse as possible, both technical and people-oriented, hard and soft. After all, if change is the only constant in modern life, creating lasting change might seem an illusory goal. Nevertheless, the more important issue of developing a lasting capability to embrace change will most likely require an outstanding leadership capability that consultants will be able to provide only if their preparedness allows them to establish effectiveness as the main guiding principle.


Bello Méndez, Yan. (2003). Effective Consulting through Successful Project Management. Proceedings of the 4th Ibero-american Congress on Project Management, in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil.

Bello Méndez, Yan. (2003). Essential Project Management for Consultants (and their managers). Proceedings of PMI Global Congress Europe 2003, The Hague – The Netherlands.

Bello Méndez, Yan. (2004). Project Management for Software Process Improvement. Proceedings of PMI Global Congress Europe 2004, Prague – Czech Republic.

Bello Méndez, Yan. (2007). “Developing Project Management Competency and a Participative-Empowering Culture: Synergies between the PMBOK® Guide, the Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework and the People CMM®”. Proceedings of PMI Global Congress EMEA 2007, Budapest Hungary

Bello Méndez, Yan. Bau S., Muntsa (2006). “The Making Of…” the new Spanish (Castilian) Edition of the PMBOK® Guide. Proceedings of PMI Global Congress EMEA 2006, Madrid – Spain.

Block, P. (2000). Flawless consulting. (2nd Ed.). New York: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.

Bush, W., Chambers, W., Conway, D., Drummond, J., Dunner, S., Fedor, T., et al. (2003). Changing the conversation: Transforming an industrial culture. Article by members of the Mittal Steel USA-Cleveland Leadership Development Team. Retrieved from:

CMU/SEI. (2006). Standard CMMI® appraisal method for process improvement (SCAMPISM) A, Version 1.2: Method Definition Document (CMU/SEI-2006-HB-002). Retrieved from ;

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative Inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore Communications, Inc.

Curtis, B., Hefley, W. E., & Miller, S. A. (2002). The People Capability Maturity Model®. Guidelines for improving the workforce. Boston: Addison-Wesley Professional.

Hemsath, D., McCullen, D., & Yerkes, L. A. (1997), 301 ways to have fun at work. San Francicso: Berrett-Koehler Publishers,.

Martin, R, Yerkes, L. A, & Dewey, B. (illustrator). (2005) 'They just don't get it!' Changing resistance into understanding. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Nelson, B., Decker, C. & Yerkes, L. A. (2003) Beans: Four principles for running a business in good times or bad. Jossey-Bass.

Project Management Institute. (2002). Project manager competency development framework. Newtown Square, PA: PMI.

Project Management Institute. (2002). Project manager competency development framework. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2003). Organisational project management maturity model. knowledge foundation. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge, 3rd Edition. Newtown Square, PA: PMI.

Yerkes, L. A. & Decker, C. (2003). Beans: Four principles for running a business in good times or bad. New York: Jossey-Bass.

Yerkes, L. A. & Martin, R. (2005). “They just don't get it!” Changing resistance into understanding. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Yerkes, L. A. (2007a). Beyond kicks and carrots, motivation for the 21st century. Catalyst Consulting.

Yerkes, L. A. (2007b). Fun works: Creating places people love to work. (2nd Ed.). San Francicso: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Registered service and trademarks

PMI®, OPM3® and PMBOK® Guide are registered service and trademarks of the Project Management Institute in the U.S. and other nations.

CMM® and Capability Maturity Model® are service marks of Carnegie Mellon University.

© 2008, Yan Bello Méndez, PMP and Leslie Yerkes
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia



Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Navigating Tensions to Create Value member content locked

    By Farid, Parinaz | Waldorff, Susanne Boche This article employs institutional logics to explore the change program–organizational context interface, and investigates how program management actors navigate the interface to create value.

  • A Roadmap to PMO Excellence member content open

    By Farid, Sam In the world of the PMO, strategic thinking is not enough—agility and adaptability are crucial for overall survival and sustainable growth.

  • PM Network

    Reparar falhas member content open

    By Scott, Lindsay Lindsay Scott dá conselhos sobre como melhorar a eficácia, superar uma avaliação de desempenho ruim e compartilhar interesses externos em um currículo.

  • PM Network

    Agilidade amplificada member content open

    As organizações que se adaptam às novas expectativas em um mundo pós-pandêmico estão ganhando uma vantagem competitiva na Economia de Projetos.

  • PM Network

    Corregir fallas member content open

    By Scott, Lindsay Lindsay Scott da consejos sobre cómo mejorar la efectividad, superar una evaluación de desempeño deficiente y compartir intereses externos en un currículum.