The Role of Management Consultants

By Kelly, William J. | Risk Management, January 1998 | Go to article overview

The Role of Management Consultants


Kelly, William J., Risk Management


"Let us praise the great paradigm, which empowers us as team players within the holy bands of job family architecture, to freely participate in multifunctional task forces, in a corporate environment of enriching diversity, so that we may utilize our personal and collective tool kits and skill sets in performing never-ending self assessments, all, in order to favorably impact the fortunes of the almighty stockholder. Amen. We will now pass the template."

The Consultant's Creed, by W. J. Kelly

If this sounds familiar, you probably work for a company that has engaged the services of a management consulting firm. If not, it is only a matter of time.

In Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin (Times Books, $27.50), journalists James O'Shea and Charles Madigan offer a balanced assessment of these high priests of the one true faith de jour: "The bad thing about consultants is they think they have all the answers. The good thing is that sometimes they have some of the answers."

The authors sincerely acknowledge that there is simply no denying the brilliance of some management consultants and their influence upon modern business. But they feel the perception of the profession has benefited greatly from the fact that consulting firms are "able to dispose of their mistakes, hide their embarrassments and display ... a facade that seems almost golden." Through case studies of actual engagements of leading consulting firms by major corporations, the authors detail a number of serious mistakes and major embarrassments, while also acknowledging some stunning successes.

It becomes clear that the major factor distinguishing a successful engagement from a failure is the manner in which the consultants are managed. If consultants are given license to charge through the organization like cheerleaders on amphetamines, urging "the virtual rejection of all that has come before," the results can be disastrous. In one instance cited by the authors, "The (consultant) team treated anyone who spoke out as a doubting Thomas opposed to change. It was like they were saying I'm sorry but we had to have these consultants because guys like you don't know what the hell you are doing."

This contrasts sharply with the successes achieved by managements holding the view that "the most important lesson is to listen to your employees. More often than not they know as much as or more than a bunch of people peddling change."

In proceeding through the case studies, the authors also offer some insights into the business of "peddling change. …

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