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University of Bristol, UK
Management consultancy is now a multi-billion dollar industry which has significant influence in business and government contexts across the world. It is a consistently popular career choice for students and managers while also attracting criticism in the media and politics. It is thus an important topic to explore for those... read moreteaching and studying consultancy, organisations and change. It is also of interest to those who aspire to being consultants or who are simply curious about this relatively new and high profile occupation.
Definitions of consultancy differ and change over time, and what comes under the label of consultant can vary hugely from the ‘masters of the universe’ working for elite professional service firms to a sole practitioner who facilitates a business meeting. Nevertheless, management consultancy is typically concerned with offering advice or helping those who make management decisions or effect change. In addition to using them for their expertise in different fields, clients employ consultants as extra ‘pairs of hands’ and, more controversially, to provide legitimation for their decisions to various stakeholders.
Consultancy is usually associated with those who come into organisations from the outside, offering a more organisationally independent view. But internal consultancy is also important and growing, not least as managers sometimes fashion themselves as consultants, especially as managing change becomes part of the mainstream set of management roles. It is therefore sometimes difficult to distinguish management and consultancy although it is typically managers who are seen as taking the responsibility for decisions.
Management consultancy is not an academic field itself, but spans many others such as organisational change and innovation. It is part of the group of occupations known as professional services or knowledge intensive occupations who organise in particular ways, both as professions and organisationally, in professional service firms for example. This stems from a history of diverse traditions including engineering, accounting, the law, psychology and computing and gives rise to particular challenges in managing consultants both from the perspective of employers and that of clients. For example, consultants and their knowledge bases need to be coordinated, sometimes internationally, and the client-consultant relationship is shaped by how consultants are purchased by clients and how ethical dilemmas emerge and are resolved over the course of the project lifecycle. These issues can vary according to context with consultancy in the public sector and international development being especially sensitive. Such topics will be addressed in the following series of talks.