HYCS #41 – Should Consultants Implement?

HYCS #41 – Should Consultants Implement?

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” is an old Polish Proverb that all consultants should have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids, especially when it comes to implementing a change in someone else’s organization.

Reading Time:  2.6 minutes

Assignment Time:  Mere moments.  This is a thought habit that will free up lots of energy

Congratulations on getting through the first 5 phases of the Consulting Cycle:  Setting the Stage, where you defined what you offer, and who your best-fit clients are; Entering, where you learned about your client’s goals, hopes and fears, as well as the system and culture they work in.  Entering is where you first formed an equal partnership, which is good because you’ll need that foundation of trust and honesty for implementation.  You’ve Contracted, Diagnosed and helped your client Decide what to do.

Now it’s time to do it.  This is one of those moments in the Consulting relationship where everything is up for grabs:  Who does what, how much of it gets done by when, what resources are available, how deep is the organization’s commitment.  And how deep is the consultant’s commitment.  An even better question is this:  How deep can the consultant’s commitment be?

When it comes to an organizational change project, it’s the organization that has to change.  That means the people in the organization have to spend their time differently.  I can’t change other people.  I can’t live their lives.  I can’t change their organizations, their processes, or their actions. No matter how committed I am, it’s not my circus, not my monkeys.  The implementation will fail if you don’t remember that.

Planning comes before Implementing

Planning an implementation is a good time to shift your role.  If you’ve been the subject matter expert, it’s time to step aside and let your clients shine.  If you’ve been the process expert, it’s time to stop teaching and start coaching.  Coaches don’t do for people.  Coaches help people access what’s already in them.  Coaching can be a little hard on the ego, especially if you like to teach.  During implementation, your job is to slowly disappear.  That’s what you build into the plan.

Say What’s So

I like to spell this out clearly.  The circus/monkey proverb is a good metaphor to draw on.  Here are sentences that regularly come out of my mouth.

“It’s time to decide who we’re going to inconvenience first.”   I say this with a big smile to soften the reality:  Implementation is an inconvenience.   Since we’re changing habits, how could it be otherwise?   The sooner someone says this, the sooner we can stop pretending.

“Who’s circus is this?”

“Don’t think that’s my monkey,” or “That can’t be my monkey past next week.  Who can we give it too?”

“Who will do that?,” followed by “Do they have room in their schedule?” followed by “Who can give them the time they need?”

And here’s how the conversation every consultant dreads might go:

“I thought you were doing the weekly newsletter.”

“I’m doing it now, and can continue to do it effectively for the next 2 months.  After that, I will no longer be the best choice.”

“We don’t have the time to take it on.”

“Is it time to give it up?”

“Absolutely not!  It’s critical.”

“What about it is ‘critical?’”

“It’s our primary communication vehicle.  People like it.  It shows our progress.”

“And yet you don’t have time to do it.”

“I expect you to keep doing it.”

“I know you do.  Here is my concern.  Right now I know the most about this process, so it makes sense that I write the newsletter.  The moment we begin to implement it, the people doing it become the experts.  As they gain experience, the newsletter I’ve been writing becomes less and less relevant, until no one reads it.  It gets more expensive to produce because now I have to interview people for content.  And it will fall to the bottom of my to-do list, because writing newsletters is not my business focus.”

“I see your point.  I still don’t see how we can get this done.”

“For now, let’s agree the newsletter needs to be dealt with.  How about if we flag this item for review next week and keep moving through our task list?”

“That’s fine.”

When giving back a monkey, give your client plenty of time and space to adjust to their new reality.


A good implementation plan starts with an honest consultant.  Ask yourself:  Is this my circus?  Are these my monkeys?  And if you know someone who can tattoo this on the inside of my eyelids, would you please get in touch?