By Arthur N. Turner for Harvard Business Review
Each year management consultants in the United States receive more than $2 billion for their services. Much of this money pays for impractical data and poorly implemented recommendations. To reduce this waste, clients need a better understanding of what consulting assignments can accomplish. They need to ask more from such advisers, who in turn must learn to satisfy expanded expectations.
This article grows out of current research on effective consulting, including interviews with partners and officers of five well-known firms. It also stems from my experience supervising beginning consultants and from the many conversations and associations I’ve had with consultants and clients in the United States and abroad. These experiences lead me to propose a means of clarifying the purposes of management consulting. When clarity about purpose exists, both parties are more likely to handle the engagement process satisfactorily.
A Hierarchy of Purposes
Management consulting includes a broad range of activities, and the many firms and their members often define these practices quite differently. One way to categorize the activities is in terms of the professional’s area of expertise (such as competitive analysis, corporate strategy, operations management, or human resources). But in practice, as many differences exist within these categories as between them.
Another approach is to view the process as a sequence of phases–entry, contracting, diagnosis, data collection, feedback, implementation, and so on. However, these phases are usually less discrete than most consultants admit.