It seems to be a trend that after spending enough time as an internal change management practitioner that you’ll have the desire to go out on your own and become an independent consultant. I frequently talk with people who are considering or in the process of making this transition, or who are at least dreaming of making the leap some day.
I suspect that the tendency to want to escape is due in part because influencing change from the middle of an organization is at best challenging and at times a seemingly fruitless effort. From that point of view, it seems that becoming an external consultant would give you a different kind of influence plus the ability to step out of the confines of the organizational structure.
People sometimes ask me for tips I can share to help them make the jump to their own business, and once they do, how to be successful at it. The following tips are a few of the recurring themes of these conversations:
Identify the space you fill as a change practitioner. Change Management is a large field with many possible avenues for adding value. Your ideal business is the point where your passion meets your ability meets a need someone will pay to fill. It’s about who you are, what you do, who you serve, and how you help change happen. It may take some trial and error and soul searching to find your spot.
For me, here at Enclaria, I help people influence change at work. Specifically, I help individuals and teams who are responsible for implementing change in their organizations, but who don’t have a lot of authority to get it done. It’s important for me to help you do this yourself, through behind the scenes coaching for individuals, workshop facilitation for teams, training on the topics of influence and change management, and providing off-the-shelf resources with the blog, radio show and change management toolkit.
Be willing to say “no.” Once you discover the space you’re meant to fill, be willing to say “no” to work that falls outside those boundaries. When you first start out, it’s tempting to take on anything people ask you to do. And yes, there are times when you need the paycheck. However, saying “no” to work that mis-defines who you want to be as a change practitioner frees you up to do the work you want to do, and helps others see more clearly what you can provide for them.
For example, I intentionally don’t do full-time on-site client consulting or contract work. For one thing, I believe you are fully capable of influencing change yourself, and me diving in to do all the work doesn’t allow you to grow in your ability to do that. For another thing, I have zero desire to be a road warrior. Saying “no” to constant travel is an important lifestyle decision for me — and also has a large impact on the type of work that I choose to do.
Do it for the right reasons. Consider why you want to leave your steady paycheck and step out into running your own business. Have you dreamed of owning your own business for a long time? Do you have a passion for helping others’ changes succeed? Do you see a need in the marketplace that has gone unfilled?
The prospect of being your own boss and influencing from outside is enticing. However, if you want to leave your internal role because you feel stuck and aren’t getting the support you need to succeed, or if you believe it would be easier to influence from an external position because no one is listening to you now, starting a business may not be the solution. Instead, if you really want to see your project through, but you’re frustrated with your progress so far, consider working with me to identify how to get unstuck and to build your change management capability within the context of your project. And while we’re at it, we can talk about whether stepping out on your own is the right path for you.
If you’re looking to make the leap, what questions do you have? If you are an independent consultant, what tips would you share?