Like the people who comprise them, organizations are constantly changing. Sometimes these changes are for the better and sometimes they are not, and any resulting problems need to be solved. Although many of the day-to-day problems encountered by organizations can be handled internally, some are so deep, complex, or systemic that the objective observations and expert advice of an outside party are necessary. Management consultants fill this role by applying business or behavioral science knowledge to the situation to diagnose and make recommendations for rectifying existing business problems or to help in the development of future plans. The decision to choose a consultant is not necessarily an easy one, but there are several indicators to help in making it. Management consultants can work on a short-term basis supporting such activities as risk assessment or strategic planning, or on a longer-term basis in the process of organization development, helping the organization become more effective and managing the concomitant change.
A management consultant is a qualified professional who works with upper level management in an organization to analyze the organization's health and effectiveness, identify problem areas, and make recommendations on how to fix the problems. Depending on the problem, the management consultant may also continue to guide the organization during the implementation of the recommendations. The use of management consultants to do these tasks is often a cost-effective approach to problem solving for two reasons. First, qualified management consultants typically have both more training and more experience in solving complex or systemic organizational problems than do managers working in the organization. In addition, management consultants typically can be more objective than persons working within the organization because they are not entrenched in the organization's culture and do not take its norms, values, and working assumptions for granted. Because management consultants are hired on a contract or retainer basis and not involved in the internal politics or day-to-day operations of the organization, they do not have the same assumptions about organizational norms and culture as do those who work directly for the organization. As a result, they are better able to step back and see the big picture and spot where problems lie.
Management consultants can be either independent contractors or employees of a consulting firm. Although there are large firms that offer management consulting services, most management consultants are individuals or small firms who specialize in these services. Some management consultants specialize in a specific type of organization (e.g., healthcare, nonprofit, service) while others are generalists who work with a wide range of organizations. Typically, management consultants are hired by top level management within the organization. This means that the consultant will be perceived by the organization as having the support of top management. If the role of the consultant is properly introduced to the organization, this also means that employees at all levels of the organization will be more likely to cooperate with the consultant because they will see his/her presence as being of importance to the organization. The fact that the consultant is hired by top management also means that s/he will have access to top management should any problems arise in the course of the consulting project or if cooperation needs to be encouraged. Access to top management also is important if the consultant's recommendations are to be taken seriously and implemented properly within the organization. Without such backing, implementations are more likely to fail.
As outside change agents, management consultants have a clear-cut role and are less likely to be affected by organizational norms and culture than is someone who works within the organization. This means that the consultant is freer to approach the problem objectively without the burden of preconceived notions of how the organization should or should not be working, ideas about what the problem is, or assumptions about who is at fault. In addition, most consultants tend to look at the organizational as a system where changes in one part have impact throughout the organization. This helps the consultant better identify and treat underlying problems rather than merely treating symptoms.
There are, however, people who work as direct employees for the organization who also are also sometimes asked to do the same kinds of activities that an external consultant would do. Such internal consultants, however, are more likely to run into problems in their activities and less likely to be successful for a number of reasons. In general, internal consultants are embedded in the culture of the organization, so they take the values, attitudes, and norms of the organization for granted. This makes it difficult for internal consultants to objectively view the organization or diagnose its problems. In addition, since internal consultants are part of the organization, they tend to think in terms of what the organization has traditionally done rather than what can be done, and is more ready to accept the system as given rather than see the ways that it can be improved. For the same reason, they also have a tendency to not want to rock the boat since they must continue to work in the organization once the change has been implemented. For example, the suggestion to reduce the size of the organization's workforce would be more difficult for an internal consultant to make than for an external consultant because the people who were to be laid off might be friends or because the remaining employees would see the internal consultant as a "hatchet" person who laid off their friends. This would make continuing to be successful as an internal consultant difficult since people would be less likely to cooperate with further consulting efforts. Another negative result of internal consultants being part of the organization is that they have difficulty distinguishing the organizational forest from the trees, and tend to focus on a micro view rather than on a wider systems view that is necessary for success.
Management consultants' activities include diagnosing and making recommendations for existing business problems or supporting organizational management in the development of future plans. One of the major activities of many management consultants is organization development, a long-range effort to improve the organization's problem-solving and renewal processes. Organization development involves the application of behavioral science knowledge to the problems of the workplace. Management consultants also may evaluate existing programs, practices, or procedures within the organization to determine their effectiveness and where and how they need to be improved. Management consultants can also provide expertise to organizational management in the areas of strategic planning and risk assessment and management. The management consultant often acts as a change agent, guiding an organization through a change effort to either improve current functioning and effectiveness or to help plan for a new path in the future. To be effective in these tasks, management consultants need to have knowledge of how to conduct a change effort, an understanding of the organization, and sufficient power to be able to implement the change. This latter qualification means that they need the backing of top level management to support their efforts and implement their recommendations.
Once the organization and the consultant mutually agree to enter into a relationship, there...
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