Management Consulting: A Guide to the Profession (4th ed.)

Timothy Clark (Durham Business School, University of Durham, Durham, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 1 March 2004




Clark, T. (2004), "Management Consulting: A Guide to the Profession (4th ed.)", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 196-198.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Consultants are everwhere. A survey revealed that 97 per cent of the UK and US's top 200 companies were using management consultants. During the 1980s, and continuing into the 1990s, management consultancy was one of the fastest growing sectors of many advanced economies. In 1980 worldwide revenues were estimated to be $3 billion. By 2002 this figure has grown to around $62 billion. The spectacular growth of the industry during this period is further evidenced by the fact that somewhere in the region of 80 per cent of firms operating in the industry were established after 1980.

This astonishing transformation indicates that the industry has come to represent a significant element of the new service sector or “knowledge economy” within many advanced economies. However, behind it many believe lies an increasing power over managerial thinking. Consultancy is intimately linked with new forms of “fashionable” management knowledge. Indeed, for many people, whether in their roles as employees or citizens, they will have come into contact with the effects of some kind of consultancy‐led initiative. Alongside management gurus, the business media, and business academics, consultants have been attributed a key role as agents in the creation and transfer of new management ideas. Consultants are not only traders in ideas, of course, but in ideas that have consequences and take shape as management practices. Thus, interest has grown in management consultancy both as an influencer and carrier of new organizational forms and strategies, as they have spread (usually from US origins) world‐wide.

In parallel with the expansion of the influence of consultants the suspicion has grown that consultants exercise influence at the highest levels in corporations and, moreover, that this represents a covert and unaccountable influence over policies, programmes and strategies. The characterization of management consultancy in the media, even before the emergence of a series of corporate scandals in the US in 2001, has been extremely poor. They have been consistently portrayed as expensive (charging exhorbitant fees) and ineffective (their advice rarely works), as destroying organizations, as repackaging old ideas and developing empty buzzwords, as running amok if not tightly controlled, as undermining the quality of management, as lacking independent insight, and so forth. Thus, part of the general interest in consultancy stems from the “masters of the universe” view of them, and from beliefs about the insidious and unaccountable power they might command within global capitalism. Consequently, effectively managing consultants has become a key management issue. It is also the focus of this book.

Management Consulting is the fourth edition of what, since it was first published in 1976, has become the most comprehensive reference text on the subject. In some respects the book is a mini‐encyclopaedia on consultancy work. It is therefore not the sort of book that one reads from cover to cover but rather dips into, depending on the information sought.

This edition retains the same overall structure of the previous editions in that it is divided into five sections (management consulting in perspective, the consulting process, consulting in various areas of management, managing a consulting organisation and developing consultants and the consulting profession). The editor has also sought to maintain continuity in the content in that 33 of the 38 chapters were included in the previous edition. These chapters have been subject to different degrees of updating, for example the previous chapter “Consulting in Production Management” has metamorphasised into “Consulting in Operations Management”. The five new chapters reflect how the world of consulting has changed since the last edition was published in 1996. This new edition contains for the first time chapters on consulting in e‐business (a boom area for consultants in recent times, although it has called considerably from three years ago), consulting in knowledge management (perhaps the fad of the moment), consulting in TQM (a fad in many developing nations), consulting in company transformations (a key element of the consultancy practice) and consulting on the social role and responsibility of business (a growth area following recent corporate scandals). With the declining popularity of privatisation, this chapter has been cut from the current edition.

Overall, this book is an excellent introduction to the nature of consultancy work. Each chapter presents a different aspect of consultancy work in sufficient detail to meet the immediate needs of most intended readers (all those who engage in consultancy work and their clients). At the same time the detailed appendices (seven in total) and bibliography provide additional information for those wishing to go further.

One problem with the book is that it adopts a narrow conception of the consultancy role: consultants are essentially viewed as professionals assisting managers with difficult and often intractable problems through the application of their expert knowledge. This book sheds a light on a great part of that knowledge base. However, in viewing consultants as professionals other, perhaps more important aspects of consultancy work are not included in this volume. For example, the persuasion strategies employed by consultants to convince clients of their indispensability; the symbolic nature of consultancy; the shifting knowledge‐base of consultancy; the politics of consultancy; the nature of client expertise etc. Despite this the book is a valuable introduction into the work of management consultants.

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