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maintaining the identity of an ‘outsider within’ as consultant managers were often both within the hierarchy of line managers and beyond it. The research reveals some important implications for the future of management. For example, if management groups like human resources take on a consulting identity, they risk becoming dispensable. Also, while some managers may appear more professional in such a role, they can lose accountability, much like external consultants. Can all managers, then, become like consultants in their approach? Finally, although management consulting has long taken different forms (some resembling counselling more than management), we found that the model adopted tended to be at the ‘harder’ end of the spectrum, focused on the short term and using analytical, often mechanistic tools such as those taught on MBA programmes. Other, less masculine, approaches to management may then become marginalised.

And what of the implications for external management consultancy? Will it be replaced by this new breed of manager? An article in the Harvard Business Review (October, 2013) outlines the North American context and identifies various disruptive threats to the industry. Although it echoes some of our findings, with seemingly ‘small armies of former consultants’ being hired by US organisations, it is mostly focused on threats from new types of consulting firm and other professional services. Our research offers a different take, one that does not see consulting simply as an elite

profession or ‘masters of the universe’. Rather, consulting is shown to be an integral part of an emergent management form, organised in other occupations or specialist units and under continual threat of reorganisation.

If management as consultancy continues to

develop, then external consultancy does risk both substitution and de-mystification. It would be as if the success of consultancy has paradoxically led to the demise of the external consultant. But the consulting industry is likely to respond in various ways to this and other threats, as it has in the past. For example, it could focus more on projecting its expertise as a rare commodity and on its existing ‘outsider’ role of providing managers with reassurance or legitimation which consultant managers would find more difficult given their insider status. Whatever the outcome, management consultants should no longer be seen simply as influential outsiders, but as part of the management mainstream. n


Professor Andrew Sturdy is Head of the Department of Management at the University of Bristol. The research reported here was conducted with Professor Christopher Wright, University of Sydney and Dr Nick Wylie, Oxford Brookes University and was partly funded by the ESRC. It is the subject of a recent book – Management as Consultancy (2015, Cambridge University Press). See also Blog on The Conversation ( of-management-consultants-37400) and two minute vodcast (www. Email Telephone 01179 288606 Web


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