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
Mathematical confirmation: Rewiring financial networks reduces systemic risk
22.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Frugal Innovations: when less is more
19.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences