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Novice clients give consultants hard time

27.12.2006
A paper newly published in the European Management Journal (vol.24, no.6, 2006, pp.411-21) considers how well novice clients use management consultants. When Bambi meets Godzilla, the clever money is not on Bambi. The assumption is that managers require vast experience if they are to stand up to management consultants and make the most of them.

In fact, the opposite may be the case: for the experienced client, much of the value of a management consultant is a function of fashion; more important than what the consultant advises is who the consultant is, and who else uses the consultant and the consultant’s methods. Then there is the reassurance of buying IBM, of being able to justify expensive fees, and to rely on the understanding that underlies the transaction between manager and management consultant.

The novice client knows nothing of these nuances. Big names and fashionable methods are of no interest. The novice expects the management consultant to earn his keep with straightforward advice about how to improve matters. He assumes the consultant knows about his own business rather than just the consultancy business, that he will bring something extra to the organisation, and generally work his socks off. Why else would anyone want a management consultant? Not all management consultants are well equipped for this hostile environment.

Empirical evidence comes from interviews over a number of years with managers in organisations new to management consultants: trade unions, a variety of Polish organisations and the Church of England. Their success in squeezing value from their management consultants offers lessons for more practiced and perhaps more complacent managers.

Stuart Macdonald | alfa
Further information:
http://www.sheffield.ac.uk

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