5 Things to Consider When Hiring an Organizational Alignment Consultant

An increasing number of consultants are now offering organizational alignment consulting services.

Organizational alignment consulting services are offered by a mix of traditional management consultants, boutique firms, and leadership coaches. Some firms refer to organizational alignment by other names, such as McKinsey’s Organizational Health practice.

Many have their own unique approach to addressing alignment; some have systems and frameworks, while others focus on the leadership side of aligning an organization.

As with most strategic concerns, the right fit will depend on your organization’s circumstances and unique needs. Organizational alignment is a complex topic that necessarily presents a lot of “it depends” scenarios. If you’re curious to learn more about the field of organizational alignment, we wrote a free ebook on the subject.

Here are five things you should keep in mind when hiring an organizational alignment consultant.

Consideration #1: Do you actually need an organizational alignment consultant?

It depends.

Since alignment is an ongoing process that requires continuous and active management, it is important that your alignment strategy includes people to support the alignment program in-house.

For many companies, this means prioritizing internal resources over hiring external consultants to manage alignment.

Less than 30 people

Not all companies need to be as deliberate about alignment. Teams that are mostly located in the same office and are under 30 people typically can get away with less formal alignment programs; alignment can typically be achieved with adequate communication and effective leadership.

We recommend that leaders in smaller organizations take the time to learn more about alignment. The same skills that contribute to good leadership will also enable strong alignment.

Many small companies struggle with alignment first because they lack the experience in developing and implementing a robust strategy. Focusing on a clear strategy, purpose, and goals go a long way in aligning a small organization.

30+ people

Larger and more complex companies – those with more than 30 employees, typically – can benefit from working with an external consultant. As companies grow, communication and coordination become exponentially more difficult. 30 people mark the tipping point for many companies, where existing management systems begin to fall apart.

Many companies begin to hire managers to manage each division of the company. Communication silos start to form, and cross-functional collaboration becomes more rigid and less ad-hoc. Left unmanaged, the company also becomes less agile and less responsive to the market.

And soon enough, many of these companies will hire managers to manage the frontline managers—no wonder why large enterprises have several layers of management and rampant silos.

Fortunately, a system of alignment can help reduce or prevent the negative impacts of scale.

And organizational alignment consultants can help companies develop systems and strategies for addressing these issues.

Consultants also provide significant value in larger companies by benefitting from cross-organizational visibility: while they may not be able to give you specifics about other companies in your industry, they can often provide benchmarking data about how your company stacks up on a relative basis.

Consideration #2: Do you have the resources to support an organizational alignment program internally?

Even if you hire a management consultant to develop a system, someone internally will need to drive that system on an ongoing basis.

Managing alignment requires experienced leadership. And not just any type of leadership experience.

The type of alignment leadership experience needed depends on the organization’s market, opportunities, and goals. As we’ve discussed at length in our ebook on the subject of organizational alignment, there are a variety of different strategies available depending on the company implementing them.

When engaging with an external consultant, consider what training and support they can provide your in-house leadership. Some consultants focus solely on delivering a report and presentation, while others are more hands-on. Still, others focus exclusively on leadership coaching and focus less on the tools than on the people implementing them.

It is important to match the consultant you hire with the needs of your business at present. And depending on who you hire as a consultant, you may be able to get support in taking the next step, including finding the right in-house person to lead your alignment strategy after the consulting engagement ends.

What makes a good alignment manager?

Alignment management combines systems thinking with organizational theory and behavioral psychology. As such, we recommend someone who:

  • Has strong people skills.
  • Understands behavioral psychology, which is the study of how people make decisions and why people act the way they do.
  • Is a systems thinker. Engineers make great alignment managers.
  • Is eager to learn new things. Alignment requires being able to connect people across functions, often with a deep understanding of what each team is doing.

In summary, the best alignment managers are T-shaped generalists who have a lot of breadth of knowledge with deep expertise in what your organization specializes in.

Consideration #3: What form will this consulting engagement take?

In the olden days of management consulting, strategy development was the only focus. Many consultants today continue this practice, focusing on analysis and recommendations rather than tactical day-to-day leadership. Others focus on implementation consulting.

In many cases, your consulting engagement will involve both strategy and implementation consultants. The exact arrangement will depend on your company’s ability to implement the strategy proposed by the consultant in-house.

Three Major Categories of Consultants

There are three main categories of consultants. They include:

  1. Strategy consultants focus on developing strategic plans. They often offer short-term (days to a couple of weeks) engagements to develop strategic initiatives and plans. Their main deliverables include reports and presentations. Strategy consultants are frequently the most expensive per hour, justified by their extensive experience.
  2. Specialized consultants focus on a specific specialty. These include people who are experts on operations, process improvement, and, yes, organizational alignment. They also deliver reports and presentations, but may also have a more hands-on role.
  3. Implementation consultants focus on the day-to-day implementation of a strategy. They work alongside your team to implement a strategic plan. Their deliverables match the needs of the client but typically focus on manager-level output (such as plans, reports, and people management).

Importantly, many firms that specialize in strategy consulting also offer operations and implementation consulting (although it’s rare that the same people will be responsible for another practice).

Coaches are a different breed of consultant

Traditional management consultants are not the only choice for your business. Recently, a number of leadership coaches have begun to offer alignment-specific services.

For example, there are now a number of companies that provide OKRs coaching and consulting, helping leaders craft effective goals for their teams.

Coaches can be a leader’s best asset because they help to amplify the effectiveness of the people in your organization. But, like the coach of a football team, they don’t actually do the work for the leader: they instead help that leader find the answers on their own.

The main challenge of coaching is that it doesn’t yield immediate results. And, coaching will not substitute years of experience in developing alignment strategies. Experienced consultants are often better trained to understand and address nuances in the alignment process because they’ve seen what works across a number of companies.

Nevertheless, we recommend every company to invest in coaching for their leaders at all levels. AceUp provides a coaching marketplace to help leaders find coaches that meet their budget (we are not sponsored by AceUp), making coaching accessible to leaders at all levels.

What about boutique consulting firms?

Boutique consultants are smaller consulting firms that offer specialized services at a lower price than their larger counterparts, such as McKinsey, BCG, or Bain.

One of the major advantages of working with a boutique is the level of customization in the engagement. Given that boutique consulting is a more competitive space, many firms try to differentiate their offerings beyond price or specialty.

Some boutiques focus on delivering specific outcomes or deliverables, as well. We’ve seen boutique consultants that focus on implementing specific systems or processes within a client company.

In fact, Minsilo even offers limited boutique consulting services focused on helping companies develop and implement an alignment strategy with our software. As a software company, our goal is not to create lengthy consulting engagements but rather to provide our clients with the tools to manage alignment on their own.

Timezy offers a great breakdown of what differentiates boutique firms from larger, more established firms on their blog.

Consideration #4: what will the consultant deliver?

At some point, the consultant you hired is going to leave. Typically this happens in a matter of weeks or a couple of months, but some engagements only last a day or two.

The question is — what will they leave behind?

Traditionally, this answer is a report that includes analysis, methodology, and recommendations sections. The report is then followed by a presentation to present the findings of the consultant and provide advice to the company engaging the consultant. A report and presentation are still common fares for strategy consultants, who focus on high-level (but still detailed) deliverables that are intended to be the starting point for leaders.

By contrast, implementation consultants are much more hands-on. They regularly provide function-specific deliverables: project plans/charters/documentation, product roadmaps, source code, etc.

Some will also provide systems, frameworks, or methodologies as their “leave behind.”

Since organizational alignment is as much about day-to-day operations as it is about strategy, it’s important to think about the long-term impact a consultant will have on your business. We recommend working with a consultant who can deliver a system for managing alignment tailored to your business’ needs.

This system can come in the form of software, process, or planning documents. Before hiring a consultant, be sure to understand what you’ll take away from the engagement: will you get a report, or will you get something that people will use every day?

A quick word about reports

Reports and presentations are great. But they are also dangerous. The reason: few companies who work with a consulting firm that delivers a report are equipped to implement it. They may not have the time, budget, or people to follow through with the consultant’s recommendations.

Unfortunately, a large number of consulting engagements end up in failure when you measure the impact they have on the organization. A leading reason is a lack of follow-through. For organizational alignment consulting, this means establishing systems that create enduring impact.

Consideration #5: Which teams/individuals will the consultant work with in your company?

As limited as consultants are in terms of time and resources, your company is even more limited by its ability to afford a consultant’s services. It rarely makes sense to hire a $20K per week consultant to work with an employee who only makes $40K per year on a full-time basis.

As a result, you need to think carefully about who the consultant you hire will engage with. It also matters how they’ll engage with your company.

Since organizational alignment is a company-wide matter, it’s important to work with a consultant who can reach all parts of your company. While implementing a system should be part of their approach, consider how the consultant you hire will enable others within your organization to successfully follow through with the system.

Good consultants can help you maximize engagement by reaching the most number of people without spending an exorbitant amount of time during the implementation. The point with a rollout is to be strategic: while cascading of goals is antithetical to alignment, cascading of an alignment system rollout can be a cost-effective way to reach everybody.

Importantly, however, there is not a single one-size-fits-all system that will work for every company or even every department within a company. The basic systems of goal setting and strategic portfolio management are likely to be universal, but more specific systems — such as communication tools — are likely to not be.

Thinking of doing it yourself?

Before spending money on pricey consultants, consider trying to manage alignment on your own. We built Minsilo to help managers create the context for their team’s to do aligned work. It helps them to align their company’s:

  • Mission, vision and values (purpose)
  • Goals
  • KPIs
  • Day-to-Day execution

Minsilo is easy-to-use and is free for up to 5 users and is designed to scale as your business grows. If you have more than 5 users, you can give it a try for free for up to 7 days — no credit card is needed. You can sign up here.

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Ryan Leaf

Ryan is the founder of Minsilo. He is passionate about autonomous teams, the future of work, and organizational alignment. In his free time, Ryan enjoys traveling, exploring cities, and learning to fly.