Guest post by Dr. Nick Wylie
Despite some image problems management consultancy remains a multi-billion pound industry. Its growth over recent decades has been built on the assumption that organisations need external advice to help them deliver change. But is this growth going to come to an end as organisations start to develop the capability to achieve change without using management consultants? This is one of the potential implications of our research into the changing nature of management and the emergence of the ‘consultant manager’.
How is management changing? It is becoming less explicitly hierarchical and more ‘market and change’ oriented. This has been happening through flattening organisational hierarchies, using new technologies and the rise of management education. Importantly, this process of change is also being driven by managers imitating the work methods of consultants. These new ‘consultant managers’ include specialist internal staff who provide change advice, facilitation and management, typically on a project/programme basis. These individuals see their role as associated with a form of consultancy, even if they use various job titles.
We studied ‘consultant managers’ across a number of UK public and private sector organisations and found that while some consultant managers operate individually, most work in different organisational units responsible for driving change across diverse organisations. At their most successful these units were involved in critical work that could have a significant impact on the future of these organisations. This may not be good news for external management consultants who have traditionally been associated with large scale change, but senior managers could look to harness the opportunities this new development presents, especially when there is pressure not to use external consulting.
This led us to develop the TESI model which identifies four types of consultant manager units that organisations can create to support their change agendas:
- Transformers are units established with the purpose of achieving large-scale strategic change. These units tend to be detached from particular business units or departments. They contain a combination of internal specialists seconded from operational areas and former external consultants with a strong project management focus.
- Enforcers are more likely to be embedded in the organisational hierarchy, most notably in the form of a support unit for chief executives (CEOs). Their role is to help CEOs translate strategic goals into specific projects and enforce a form of central control to ensure consistency. Consequently, Enforcers often have a quasi-policing role and are used to signal the strategic priorities of senior management across the organisation.
- Specialist units are more involved in incremental change with a more limited (although not necessarily less important) impact scope because they are embedded in service functions such as IT or HR. They are staffed by subject-matter experts who are likely to see opportunities to manage change through consultancy practices.
- Independents are more generalist units delivering localised change through specific projects within business units or departments. At the same time, Independents are detached from core operational areas and managerial hierarchies and most closely resemble external consultancies because they are required to source their own work and to become self-funding.
The TESI model gives senior managers a clear set of options about how they might organise consultant managers. There are still challenges associated with each type of unit but, taken together, they show how organisations can respond to managers becoming more like consultants. We are still a long way from predicting the end of management consultancy but this model shows that alternatives are starting to emerge.
If you would like to learn more about the research underpinning the TESI model you can read more here, or contact the researchers:
Dr. Nick Wylie, Coventry University
Professor Andrew Sturdy, University of Bristol
The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.