The consultant’s image as an expert outsider bringing new knowledge or understanding to clients is firmly contradicted by findings from the three-year long project led by Professor Andrew Sturdy, of Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick.
For the investigation, researchers spent 30 months working alongside consultants and their clients in four diverse consultancy projects. Their aim was to clear away the mystique and understand exactly what clients and consultants do when working together and how their relationships work for or against the flow of knowledge.
Observations, surveys and interviews took place among people involved in projects in a multinational company, a financial services retailer, a prison and a local authority. The researchers also gathered insights from clients involved in the Management Consultancies Association’s 2004-05 Best Management Practice Awards.
They concluded that, contrary to widespread belief, management consultants are, like their immediate clients, more ‘knowledge brokers’ than innovators. Both groups are often more concerned with managing projects and getting the job done.
Professor Sturdy said: “The image of consultants as experts - the shock troops of the latest approach to management - doesn’t match their day-to-day work with clients in projects.
“Typically, they are seen as outsiders, bringing ideas and organisational techniques which are new to their clients. But in reality, we found that prospective clients were unlikely to welcome consultants if their knowledge was ‘too new’.”
The study findings suggest that consultants walk a tightrope between offering what might be seen as either a ‘helpful’ challenge or an unconstructive interference. So whilst clients were generally happy to be challenged, this was only if the consultant did so sensitively, showing a good understanding of the business.
Consultants also needed to earn the respect of staff at all levels in the organisation – something best achieved by demonstrating intelligence, commitment and willingness to engage with its problems, and respecting the knowledge of its employees.
It was frustrating when they failed to appreciate a client’s particular circumstances and seemed to impose a standard solution.
Clients were often themselves very knowledgeable - sometimes with similar backgrounds and education to the consultants. Far from being the outsiders then, consultants could often be seen as insiders, personally and politically close to the commissioning client and in terms of shared knowledge with other client project team members.
Professor Sturdy said: “The real outsiders then, are those people not directly involved in the project team, often including the most senior management and the rest of the client organisation.
“This is important, as it means that consultants are not as innovative or different as is often thought. But this can help in their role as knowledge-brokers. The main barriers then become the initial selling process, and later the implementation; typically still the preserve of managers more than consultants.”
As an alternative to consultants, the ESRC Business Placement Fellows Scheme aims to enhance business sustainability by giving businesses access to experienced social science researchers to work on projects crucial to the needs of the business organisation. The Scheme allows academics to spend one to 12 months in the business, not necessarily in one block of time, to carry out an agreed project and assist with staff development, should there be a demonstrated need. The opportunity also exists for employees in the business sector to undertake a placement in a research environment where work would be done on a project. The placement fellows are jointly funded by the ESRC and a host organisation, with the flexibility to shape the placement to the needs of the business. One of the Scheme's key aims is to improve knowledge transfer between academic departments, partner organisations and the staff they employ.
Annika Howard | alfa
How Strong Brands Translate into Money
15.11.2016 | Kühne Logistics University - Wissenschaftliche Hochschule für Logistik und Unternehmensführung
Demographic change depresses tax revenues
04.11.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences