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The Dynamics of Management Consulting

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In a world where information travels as fast as the speed of light and businesses are launched and dissolve in the blink of an eye, managers in all sectors are seeking outside expertise or consultants to help them survive and thrive in today's competitive scenario. But what exactly do management consultants do? The job title seems to be self-explanatory; management consultants must be experts who advise management on how to go about doing business.

But the truth is far more complicated. There are many definitions of management consulting, at times referred to as strategic consulting, and of its application to dilemmas and challenges faced by corporations. Broadly speaking, though, it can be defined either as a professional service or as a method of providing coherent advice and assistance. It refers to the practice of helping companies and executives improve business practices, as well as organizational and individual performance, through meticulous analysis of existing problems and development of future plans.

There is a joke in the consulting industry that says the toughest job consultants face is explaining to their parents what they do for a living. Consulting in its contemporary form is a fairly new profession that was largely developed in the last half of the 20th century, and perhaps more so than any other vocation, it has an extensive range of interpretations and possibilities. But there is no doubt that it has evolved into a specific professional sector and should be treated as such. To quote a leading consultant, "You have to be bullish about consulting. It thrives on change, and this is an era where change is accelerating."

While strategic consulting as we know it today is almost entirely a product of the late 20th century, it could be said that consulting itself is a millennia-old occupation—one that has been held in esteem and honored throughout history. Ancient rulers often employed court advisors to help with decision making on sensitive state matters. The formation of the United States Cabinet was another example of a leader bringing together a group of highly intelligent individuals to act as an advisory—or consulting—team.

Strategic consulting in its present form appeared and established itself at a time when the management demands of large corporations were increasing considerably. In the mid 20th century, rivalry in many industries intensified due to stronger international trade relations. For instance, several American companies were challenged by an upswing in European exports and thriving Japanese firms.

Management consulting is based on the belief that a company can tenaciously set itself apart from the competition. The longer a market situation prevails, the more predictable the responses of market players become. Only the elite few who manage to break out of the dynamics of convergence are able to escape the sinking margins that result from low degrees of demarcation among competitors. Strategic consulting is all about client results; however, the road toward a successful and practical strategy is strewn with obstacles.

First of all, corporations are obviously incapable of putting into practice strategies that are not consistent with their identities, no matter how enticing and well-thought-out they are. Secondly, unless these identity issues are resolved at the onset of management consulting, they often surface imperceptibly during the strategy-making process. Thirdly, homogenous processes that seriously obstruct the creative development of innovative strategic options can distort future scenarios.

Strategic consulting is always a two-way search for the best of several alternatives for action. Successful consulting strategies are case-specific and do not offer general answers. Pioneering concepts are imperative, while "recipes for success" seldom help. The results obtained from management consulting come from non-standardized processes that are collaboratively driven, and they are never entirely assessable by either consultants or their clients.


Kipping, Matthias, and Lars Engwall, eds. Management Consulting: Emergence and Dynamics of a Knowledge Industry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Miller, Alex R., ed. Career Guide: Management Consulting. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

Kubr, Milan, ed. Management Consulting: A Guide to the Profession. International Labour Office, 2003.

Prescott, John. Careers in Management Consulting: Sharing Expertise and Knowledge. Chicago: Institute for Career Research, 2000.

Rughase, Olaf G. Identity and Strategy: How Individual Visions Enable the Design of a Market Strategy That Works. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2006.
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Management Consulting

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