Role of the Internal Consultant: Consulting on the Inside

By Nancy Zentis, Ph.D.

What is a Consultant?

Someone who uses their expertise, influence and personal skills to facilitate a discussion based on the client’s request and helps them solve a business problem or challenge.  The role of the consultant is to ask questions to help the client identify the need, analyze the root cause of their problem, and gain buy-in and commitment to identify the actions needed to implement a solution.

What is the role of the Internal Consultant?

The consultant chooses several roles based on the need of the client, either a process role or expert role.  Some of the classic consulting roles include The Doctor – who diagnoses and makes recommendations, and The Expert – who provides expertise and solves the problem, or The Pair of Hands – who uses specialized knowledge to help the client achieve their goals.


Traditional Organization Change roles include: a Change Agent – who partners with the client and serves as a catalyst for change, or a Process Consultant – who partners with the client, gains insight into the client system and asks probing questions to determine the issues, inconsistencies, gaps, and differences.


Emerging Consultant roles include Performance Consulting – partners with the client, view the whole system and helps the client identify performance or process improvement opportunities.  Another emerging consultant role is the Change Leader – who helps the client by guiding the change process, and involves other team members in planning and implementing change and project management.  Lastly, another emerging role is the Trusted Advisor – who acts as a sounding board for senior leaders, developing a trusting relationship and providing coaching and feedback to help them overcome challenges.


What makes a good Internal Consultant?


Internal consultants need a combination of company/industry knowledge and core consulting skills.  It is helpful to have additional expertise in one or more key practice areas such as strategic/business planning and performance measurement, process management (including quality management and Six Sigma) or organizational effectiveness/development.  Facilitation skills, overcoming conflict, team development, and effective interpersonal skills are also highly valuable.

Where do organizations use Internal Consultants today?

Internal consultants are being used across the organization from corporate planning/business development to various human resources and other support/service functions.  They often serve as a business partner to leaders, lead change management initiatives, support the implementation of leadership development and talent management strategies, and provide leadership coaching through the use of 360 feedback assessment.

How does the Internal Consulting process work?


One of the emerging areas for internal consultants is their role as coach or change agent in organization-wide change management.  Here, internal consultants meet with senior leaders to help them define a systems approach to change process and identify tools and guideline to implement the plan.


The internal consultant focuses on building a relationship with the senior leader and offers to help identify the client’s need, contracts for roles and responsibilities, collect data to verify the need and gains buy-in and commitment.  The internal consultant provides feedback to gain senior leader support, determines priorities, determines contingencies and alignment, creates change strategies and creates a project plan.   Then they implement the strategies, usually with a pilot group and collect feedback to evaluate the results in order to implement the change system-wide and transfer learning.


What is the value of an Internal Consultant?


Internal consultants can add value because they know who has knowledge within the client organization and when/how best to reach them to obtain information or participation in a project task.  Internal consultants also have access to management.  As an employee, an internal consultant has a known position, level, and status within the organization.  They have in-depth knowledge of the business, the organization, and leadership team, helping them to be extremely valuable when implementing strategic change projects or cultural transformation.


Internal consultants are effective when the need is to support the implementation of strategic change, or operational interventions.  When they have the internal expertise, when knowledge of the organization and business is critical, when they understand the common language of the organization and culture, when a sensitive insider who knows the issues and needs is critical, when internal ownership is needed for long-term management and sustainability of an intervention, when quick action is needed and follow-up is important, internal consultants are indispensable.

What are some Internal Consultant challenges?

Internal consultants are participants in the organization’s political and social/structural order.  The differences in these perspectives drive behaviors that can create challenging situations for the project manager.

There are several challenges for internal consultants – Organization challenges, interpersonal challenges, and intrapersonal challenges.

Some of the organization challenges include: Gaining Senior Leader buy-in and support, obtaining resources needed to implement the change, and managing multiple organization priorities.   Another challenge for the consultant may be difficulty in navigating the organization, especially if their position is below executives and management.

Internal consultants may have difficulty influencing senior leaders to take a different approach or challenge their style of thinking.  They may have difficulty navigating the organization’s hierarchy, politics, and culture.

Interpersonal challenges: Internal consultants are more likely to avoid conflict in order to maintain harmony to meet a project requirement or goal.  They need influence skills to gain senior leader buy-in.  It is necessary to develop effective self-management skills such as planning, time management, and organization skills.  They need to clarify roles, focus on building a helping relationship versus doing the work.  They need to develop skills to ask effective open-ended questions, listen accurately, and accurately interpret the meaning of the message free from personal bias.  Internal consultants need to overcome approval over effectiveness, have high integrity, stand up to diversity, be more collaborative and flexible, self-reflect, and be open to feedback.

Intrapersonal challenges – Some intrapersonal challenges that might affect an internal consultant’s ability to be effective are: fear of failure, fear of speaking to senior leaders, negative self-perception, lack of self-confidence, poor self -esteem, unrealistic expectations, self-doubt, and negative self-talk.

Recommendations for Internal OD Consultants to become more effective in your role as an OD Professional:

  • Know your organization, its structure, systems and leadership style
  • Build relationships and trust with Senior Leaders and offer your help
  • Ask deep, open-ended questions to help the client identify the need
  • Collaborate with others, work in teams, be supportive
  • Offer just-in-time learning and provide tools as needed when facilitating meetings
  • Know how to lead projects, gain buy-in and commitment, complete tasks, goals, and measure outcomes
  • Build strong skills as a coach, facilitator, leader, influencer, and strategist
  • Develop the ability to consult at all levels of the organization and across boundaries
  • Develop personal mastery and be open to continued self-growth and learning!


Author:  Nancy Zentis, Ph.D., CEO Institute of OD

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development Skills for ongoing learning.  As a consultant in the field of OD for many years, she has developed Talent Management and Leadership Development Strategies for many leading organizations.  She can be reached at  For more information about our certification programs and short courses, visit our website


IOD offers online Organization Development Certification Programs to help participants gain skills to advance in their career in the field of OD.  If you are new to the role of an OD professional or lack formal training, you will benefit from the OD Process Consulting Certification Program (ODPC).  If you have been in the field for several years but lack formal OD training, the Organization Development Certification Program (ODCP) will provide you with the tools and skills needed to advance in the field of OD.  Please check out our website at for more information.