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Internal Consulting: Unleashing Agency Talent

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Thomas E. Poulin
March 10, 2019

During your professional career, you are likely to find that you, or others in your organization, possess a skillset or experience unique to the organization, but which is not being utilized to its fullest extent. You are likely to find any number of examples of internal skillsets or specialized experiences being disregarded for irrational reasons, often simply because those with these unique skills currently lack a sufficiently high position within the organization. Modern public agencies are comprised of wonderfully talented personnel at all levels, bringing unique combinations of education, experience and personal capacities into our organizations. However, as many equate organizational position with capacity, this deep and broad talent pool is often left untapped. These situations are not uncommon. We may find that we will go outside to a consultant, not recognizing that someone in the organization—perhaps us as individuals—might be able to serve as an internal consultant, or permit others to do so, optimizing the use of talents already available.

Internal consulting is not new. The concept is discussed often in the business world, but not as frequently in the public sector. Simply put, an internal consultant is someone within the organization who has the ability to work with those in other areas of the organizations (other sites, other departments or other specializations) to help them achieve an organizational goal or objective. Internal consultants may provide support in varied areas including employee development, IT, team development, conflict resolution, planning and research, among many other areas. Internal consulting is a wonderful means by which to leverage the strengths of individuals already within our organizations. This will serve not only these individuals but also the public agency and the community by supporting the delivery of higher quality services. Internal consultants are simply doing so by being encouraged and supported to step outside their normal role while working with others in a narrow, specific fashion for a limited time and making the greatest use of their talents as possible.

As individuals, each of you might wish to consider how you could work with others in the organization in a manner outside of your normal role. As leaders, you might also consider means to tap into the strengths of others in the organization as internal consultants, affording them the opportunity to expand their experience and leverage their individual strengths for the betterment of all. This has potential benefits for each individual, empowering them and permitting them greater opportunities for professional development. Clearly the organization has the potential to benefit from the untapped expertise readily available within the work site. Often, there are no formal barriers to this. The barriers are perceptual and based on organizational norms, individual egos or a need by some to be in control. These types of barriers can be addressed—often just discussing them openly can contribute to their collapse, permitting us to leverage the strengths of employees within the organization in order to achieve the organizational mission in a more effective and efficient manner.

None of this is to suggest such approaches have been absent from the public sector. There are numerous anecdotes of public agencies tapping into member skills related to information technology, employee development, public outreach, accounting, physical fitness and various operational practices specific to each discipline. In many settings, this unleashing of talent crosses disciplines with someone from one department who holds a specific skillset being loaned to another department to apply their skills to the benefits of others. The vast majority of these stories suggest a positive outcome for all involved, but they also suggest not all agencies engage in such practices. The question for public agency leadership should not be why should we seek to unleash the powerful talents present within our organization, but instead how do we do so in an effective, efficient and ethical manner, supporting the delivery of the highest quality services possible to the communities we protect.

Author: Thomas E. Poulin, PhD, MS(HRM), MS(I/O Psych.), EFO, served in local government more than 30 years, and now serves as core faculty in Capella University’s graduate programs in public administration. He may be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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