Client-Consultant Relationship

Subject: Consumer Science
Pages: 24
Words: 7919
Reading time:
28 min
Study level: PhD


This paper focuses on examining the different viewpoints of the functional and critical perspective when it comes to the implementation of management consultancy practices. It seeks to examine the current relationship between clients and consultants based on other perspectives and attempts to analyse how both perspectives try to secure or improve the effectiveness of management consulting. To bring this about, this paper will first define the aspects behind the functional and critical perspectives and will then utilise them to determine how managing consulting can be improved based on their individual viewpoints. Lastly, an examination will be conducted regarding the implementation of the functional image in determining the nature of management consultancy to be implemented in a change management issue within a company. All in all, this paper will utilise the viewpoints of various researchers and experts in the field of management consultancy as stepping stones to be able to adequately address all the necessary points in this report.

The Role of Clients and Consultants

Clients and consultants each have their own individual roles to play when it comes to their interactions with one another. The role of the consultant is that of a source of advice and information; however, there is a difference between being a normal consultant and an effective one (Karantinou & Hogg, 2001). The difference between the two is based on a consultant’s need to develop a relationship with their client since follow-on work is an absolute necessity for any consultant to thrive in their industry (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). A consultant needs to develop a personal relationship with the client to the extent that they are placed on the same level as a trusted colleague Their role requires an understanding of proper interpersonal relationship development. This is a requirement to secure a steady stream of contracts from clients that like them for their expertise and their personality (Sturdy, 2009). Thus, consultants need to prepare themselves to deal with inter-personal issues that are, at times, associated with their role in the company. On the other end of the spectrum, the role of a client consists of being an evaluator of the consultant’s work (Sturdy, 2009). There is nothing wrong with developing a form of camaraderie with the consultant you hired, but this should not get in the way of determining whether the consultant is doing the job you hired them to do. All too often clients focus on the personal aspect of their role and neglect to properly evaluate whether the strategies the consultant suggested or implemented would actually resolve the issue they were hired for.

Defining the Functionalist and Critical Perspectives

When it comes to the relationship between clients and consultants, there are two streams of literature, the functional and critical perspective, that help to explain the interactions between the aforementioned parties (Werr & Styhre 2002).

a.) Functionalist Perspective – under the definition of the functionalist perspective by Kakabadse, Louchart and Kakabadse (2006), managers are considered as both the carriers and developers of knowledge related to management practices that can be applied to improve company operations. Kakabadse et al. (2006) helped to further enhance upon this definition by explaining that managers hire management consultants based on their talent and expertise when it comes to resolving specific problems that have been identified within the company. Thus, a consultant is viewed as a “function” whose specific role is to examine an issue in an objective and independent way and provide a solution based on their knowledge and previous experience with the problem. Objectivity and independence are important facets when it comes to the application of management consultancy. This is because the consultant in question would be free from the internal bias of the company’s business culture (Werr & Styhre 2002). This enables them to point out issues (ex: overly redundant operations) that managers were either unwilling to show themselves (due to vested personal interests) or lacked the knowledge to properly identify (Fincham & Clark 2002). Based on these definitions, it can be seen that the functionalist perspective concerns itself primarily with what a consultant can do as an “expert” in their particular field to address a problem within a company (Kakabadse et al. 2006).

b.) Critical Perspective – while the functionalist perspective places management consultants under “formal” roles as problem solvers within companies, the critical perspective focuses on the informal roles that can also be applied (Werr & Styhre 2002). From the point of view of Sturdy, Wylie and Wrigh (2013), some managers within companies may hire management consultants simply to provide a form of “legitimacy” to certain proposals being put forth within the company to address particular issues. Thus, in this case, the management consultant acts as a “legitimator” who places his (figurative) “stamp of approval” on a project to legitimise it in the eyes of other stakeholders within the company (Sturdy, Wylie & Wright 2013). Another role that a management consultant may be placed in under the critical perspective takes the form of being a “political weapon” wherein a manager in a company leverages the reputation and expertise of the director as sufficient support for arguments when it comes to implementing particular strategies (Sturdy et al. 2013). This occurs when an executive lacks adequate support for his/her proposal among the other stakeholders of the company and, as such, brings in a consultant to bolster their arguments (Sturdy, Wylie & Wright 2013). Unfortunately, management consultants can also be used as “scapegoats” by company executives when it comes to the implementation of particular strategies. By connecting either the failure of a strategy or the fact that it requires painful procedures (i.e. internal restructuring in the form of layoffs), the executive in question can transfer negative feedback placed on him/her and direct it towards the consultant that was hired (Appelbaum & Steed 2005). The last potential role of a management consultant under the critical perspective is that of a “temporary worker” wherein they are hired to fill in a role that was recently vacated or having them be placed in a limited capacity in a project until a more permanent solution can be implemented (Appelbaum & Steed 2005).

The critical perspective showcases the inherent vulnerabilities that management consultants are exposed to since they are dependent on their clients for payment and may fall into the various “traps” that have been discussed in this section. Do note though that one argument in relation to the critical perspective is that of Bak and Boulocher-Passet (2013) who pointed out that since consultants are inherently dependent on their clients for payment, then it cannot really be considered that their advice is independent since it can be influenced by the client who hired them, as evidenced by the various situations that were just mentioned.

Models of Management Consultants and Their Correlation with Critical and Functional Approaches

Alternatively, the models in the models of management consultants can be viewed as an essential attribute to the cultivation of change in the organization, as all of them have different features and encourage change differently (Buono 2009). The primary dissimilarity between the group models is the various kinds of intervention to address the necessity of change. In this case, they have a tendency to be divided into “fact-based/problem-solving” and “the action-based/process” categories (Buono 2009, p. 42).

The fact-based model implies the necessity of the evaluation of the content of the situation without the participation of the client while the conclusion and solution to the issues are based on the facts and documentations (Buono 2009). The core drawback of this principles is the inability of the management consultant to share information with actual client and determine the alternative solutions to the issue. Nonetheless, this approach is suitable when the independent nature of decision-making is respected and discovered as crucial supervisory principles for providing the best solutions to the presented issues. In this case, the core values of this model have a high reflection in the functionalist approach, as the independence of the solution design is the critical matter of the functional perspective to ensure the biased perception (Werr & Styhre 2002).

Meanwhile, the action-based model tends to imply the essentiality of the involvement of the client into the decision-making process while this method can be referred as a direct consultancy (Buono 2009). In this case, this approach highly considers the relationships with a customer, as a client is a driver for the decision-making and development of the solutions for the cultivation of the change (Sturdy 2009). Consequently, it has a beneficial influence while being applied with the critical approach simultaneously, the informal nature and the necessity of the consideration of the client’s viewpoint (Sturdy, Wylie & Wright 2013).

How the Functional Perspective is Concerned with Securing or Improving the Effectiveness of Management Consulting

From the perspective of Powell and Ambrosini (2012), explaining how the functional perspective is concerned with securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting can be viewed by how it approaches the concept of consulting in the first place. Under the functionalist perspective, consulting firms should focus on enabling their clients to acquire knowledge, develop themselves technologically as well as create methods of capacity building to help them implement the necessary changes within the company to improve current operational procedures. Thus, under the functionalist point of view, enhancing the effectiveness of management consulting is intrinsically connected to the capacity of firms to provide services or possess knowledge that their clients do not have or possess on their own (Bak & Boulocher-Passet 2013). The question though is how do consulting firms develop said services or knowledge? Appelbaum and Steed (2005) helped to answer this question by explaining that as companies continue to expand into foreign markets, consultancy firms also happen to follow a similar trend in that they attempt to expand their reach into other overseas markets as well. This particular action is not limited to market expansion but also happens to coincide with industry diversification as well wherein consulting firms attempt to acquire talented individuals from various professions to broaden their knowledge base (Appelbaum & Steed 2005). This expansion is based on their desire to develop familiarity with more industrial sectors to provide clients with information and services that they otherwise would not have access to. Goldrich (2012) went into further detail regarding these activities by explaining that as the needs of corporations become more complex, management consultancy required to become equally complex, if not more so, when it came to its capacity to handle the issues presented by its clientele. To secure continued effectiveness, firms associated with the functional perspective focused on the process of knowledge consolidation wherein a consultant is no longer the embodiment of the consulting process; rather, he/she is only a representation of it. Goldrich (2012) helped to clarify this description by stating that greater complexity demanded greater manpower and knowledge resulting in consulting firms implementing broad strategic initiatives to help clients. This came in the form of consulting firms having problems reviewed by not only the consultant sent to the company but by others within the consulting firm as well. Information, research and examination of the problem is thus not done by just one individual but by groups dedicated to resolving the issue (Goldrich 2012). This connects with the concept of how the functional perspective is concerned with securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting. It does this by showing how firms that focus on the notion of “innovation” do so by improving the process of consulting by going “beyond” the individual and introducing methods of resolving issues through accumulated knowledge and skill via the consulting firm (Peukert 2010).

Another way in which the functional perspective is concerned with securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting is via differences between it and the critical perspective when it comes to the concept of “legitimising” management decisions (Radnor & O’Mahoney 2013). The critical perspective suggests that one of the issues in consultancy is when a consultant is brought simply to provide “backup” when it comes to legitimising a particular decision or strategy developed by a manager or executive (Radnor & O’Mahoney 2013). This acts as a form of political support within the office wherein the consultant is brought in simply to serve as a means of showing that an idea is legitimate (Grey 1987). However, this particular type of behaviour creates a significant issue since it creates the implication that the acknowledgement of a consultant as to whether or not an idea is valid is based on who is paying for their fee (Grey 1987). The functional perspective, on the other hand, emphasises that consultants can become “legitimisers” of internal decisions; however, this is based on actual validation of the concept via research and examination and not merely the consultant being paid to agree (Powell & Ambrosini 2012). Grey (1987) delved deeper into this perspective by explaining that consultants are brought into a company to provide expertise that does not exist within the organisation to solve a particular problem. This expertise is based on the experiences of the consultant and how this is leveraged by their research methods to examine a problem and implement the necessary strategy have it resolved. It is with this in mind that when a consultant is brought in under the functional perspective to validate an idea, they are not meant to simply agree to the concept that is being presented. Instead, consultants are intended to examine the merits the idea of the strategy, utilise their experience in determining its possible outcomes and submit their findings to their client (Grey 1987). Validation under the functional perspective is based on actual positive results coming from the decision and is not given if the result would create an adverse situation for the company (Grey 1987). Thus, under this perspective, the act of securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting is based on the capacity for consultants to adequately determine the validity of a strategy and present their findings (Grey 1987). Support is given when the outcome is positive and not given when it is negative at which point the consultant would suggest implementing a particular strategy to address the problem that was identified with their solution (Grey 1987). Aside from this, another aspect of the fundamentalist perspective that should be taken into consideration is the necessity of understanding what management consultants can accomplish, what they can expect, and how to maximise the skills of a consultant when it comes to resolving issues within the company. Based on the analysis of Karantinou and Hogg (2001), who delved into the various methods that the fundamentalist perspective can utilise to improve consultancy, it was determined that one of the major issues was that companies often neglected to determine what it is exactly that consultants can do for them. While there is the understanding that consultants are outside observers who bring new ideas and strategies to the company, they neglect to understand how to properly maximise the abilities that a consultant brings to the table (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). This is in part due to lack of sufficient understanding regarding the processes inherent in consultancy, the need to leverage skills and experience as well as acknowledging that consultants are purveyors of knowledge. Karantinou and Hogg (2001) explained that the one of the best ways the current industry of management consultancy can expand its effectiveness is by giving companies a greater understanding regarding the process of consultancy and what it can bring to the table. Such a strategy would in effect allow companies to better understand how to apply the skills of the consultant in a variety of methods to maximise on the amount that they pay them (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). This particular notion is inline with the study of Radnor and O’Mahoney (2013) who stated that the lack of understanding of companies regarding the process of consultancy detracts from the profession since companies assume that consultants have roles, skills and experience that are limited or constrained. This is far from true given the sheer level of knowledge and experience some consultants have which, when combined with the talents found in various consultancy firms, results in what can only be defined as a “fountain of knowledge” that is only waiting to be utilised (Radnor & O’Mahoney 2013).

How the Critical Perspective is Concerned with Securing or Improving the Effectiveness of Management Consulting

The critical perspective, in relation to securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting, is more concerned with the “legitimacy” of the practice of consulting along with ensuring its professionalism. This is in light of the disruptive and even damaging practices/trends that some consultants have introduced into the field which has created misgivings behind the use of management consultancy as a whole (Sturdy 2011). One of the first issues that the critical perspective seeks to tackle when it comes to improving the effectiveness of management consulting is the concept of “quality control” in consultancy and its connection to the opportunistic activities that some consultants engage in. Peukert (2010) explained that within the past two decades a variety of new “standards” have appeared on the corporate scene such as: CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), IIP (Investors in People), social media presence (i.e. the act of maintaining a company’s social media visibility to its consumers) and even Green operations (i.e. operating the business in such a way that it is environmentally sustainable). It is due to the practices such as these and more have resulted in a boom in the management consultancy industry as companies race towards adopting such methods into their operations (Peukert 2010). Unfortunately, Peukert (2010) explained that the “novelty” of these new management practices results in predatory practices by some consultants who leveraged either their reputations or supposed expertise to be hired as a consultant for a particular company. The inherent issue stems from the fact that in some of these cases, as noted by Peukert (2010), the consultant in question merely utilised hype and overly technical descriptions in an attempt to confuse the client into thinking that they had knowledge and information that the company required in order to be a success with the new standard in mind. In reality, many of these consultants had little in the way of actual knowledge regarding the necessary processes that were needed to implement these standards. The result was what can only be defined as “sloppy” implementation that neglected to take into account proper integration into the client company’s current operational processes (Peukert 2010). This manifested in additional operations that were seemingly slapped onto current operations rather than a seamless integration into management and operational procedures (Peukert 2010). For instance, Van Beek (2012) noted that in one observed case involving a company in the UK (name of the business in question redacted by the author), a consultant was brought in to help implement IIP (Investor in People) standards within the company. The consultant that was hired merely focused on implementing additional training programs for employees and neglected to apply the necessary standards and aspects that are present in even the basest IIP implementing procedures (Van Beek 2012). The interpretation of IIP, in this case, was superficial and lacked the strengths of the program that enable it to retain employees and lower employee churn rates. This case example shows the potential damage that partial implementation can have on company operations if they attempt to implement a particular standard and wind up with an outcome that is less than ideal. Van Beek (2012) went into deeper detail into this aspect of the critical perspective on management consulting by explaining that one of the main reasons why the aforementioned problem occur when it comes to bringing in a consultant into the company is that sometimes company managers or CEOs are unaware of what they want in the first place when it comes to the implementation of particular standards. Van Beek (2012) points to instances where CEOs or managers attend conferences, become impressed with a particular presentation and believe that they “must have” a certain standard or operational methodology to continue to be competitive. While this type of behaviour is not necessarily wrong in the sense that the intention of the CEO or manager is to improve the company in the first place, the fact remains that the motivation for doing so is often not based on an examination of the what the new standard entails when it comes to significant changes in operational change within the company (Van Beek 2012). The CEOs or managers thus hire a consultant to implement such changes while being in a situation where they do not fully understand the types of changes that are to be applied. This allows the consultant to get away with a wide variety of incompetencies that they otherwise would have been caught in if the CEO had full knowledge regarding the processes that they were supposed to be implementing (Van Beek 2012). Sturdy (2009) also created another perspective on the issue by stating that some CEOs and managers fail to indicate their lack of knowledge regarding the process and that this act actually aids predatory consultancy in that the consultant’s actions are supported by the CEO or manager despite the lack of tangible proof that the implemented changes have resulted in their desired outcomes for the company. The result is that notwithstanding the fact that the result has not resulted in any verifiable improvements in operations, the CEOs or managers “praise” the efforts of the consultant (Sturdy 2009). The problem with the image that this situation broadcasts is that it makes it look as if consultants are “predatory” in that they can and often will take advantage of the lack of knowledge of a company and use it to get away with adverse actions. This sort of action detracts from the desire of the critical perspective to portray consultancy as a means for companies to improve their current managerial and operational processes through the experience of an outside professional (Sturdy 2009). Instead, predatory consultancy makes it look as if consultants only care about their fees and the means that they are to obtain it and not necessarily on how best to improve a company’s current standing based on their desired process improvements or the implementation of new standards of operation (Deprey, Lloyd-Reason & Ibeh 2012).

This ties into the perspective of Sturdy, who stated that incompetent predatory consulting adversely effects the capacity of management consultants as “legitimisers” for particular projects. Sturdy (2011) explained that under the critical perspective consultancy is at times connected to organisational politics within a company wherein the consultants are hired to legitimise particular projects or approaches that managers or executives within the company are attempting to implement. This brings to mind the concept of consultants being hired not necessarily to implement a particular task but their supposed technical expertise being utilised as a sufficient form of leverage by the manager or executive in question to justify a particular set of actions (Sturdy 2011). It is with this in mind that when examining how the critical perspective is concerned with securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting, it does so by viewing the capacity of consultants to be continuously regarded as effective “legitimisers” (Sturdy 2011). While it is true that some consultants are hired to support particular positions, the fact remains that they should legitimately know how to implement what they are hired to do. If sufficient instances of predatory consultation occurs with sub-par effects due in part to the incompetency or lack of knowledge of the consultant who merely convinced their clients regarding the quality of their service, this negatively impacts how people would view the process of consultation as a whole and thus renders the role of consultants as “legitimisers” as being useless (Fincham & Clark 2002).

Of particular interest to this point of view by the critical perspective are the various instances involving “fraudster” consultants that appeared during the 2008 economic crisis. Powell and Ambrosini (2012) explained that numerous instances were noted where consultants were hired by clients to assist them during the height of the economic crisis despite the lack of formal knowledge regarding the circumstances and industry of the company. What occurred was that the consultants implemented “popular” trends at the time which involved significant downsizing of operations which hampered the firm’s performance. While it is logical to decrease a number of employees within a firm during periods of low market demand, Fincham and Clark (2002) stated that this should be done gradually and not hamper the capacity of the company to be able to respond to new market trends. Substantial decreases in capacity without taking into consideration long term talent loss and its impact on performance can be disastrous. This particular effect was seen during the apex of the financial crisis wherein due to the actions of “fraudster” consultants implementing new management trends, the performance of numerous companies deteriorated to such an extent due to talent loss that it took them years to recover after the economic crisis was over (Powell & Ambrosini 2012). In fact, researchers such as Bak and Boulocher-Passet (2013) suggest that it was due to the actions of these specific consultants that the economic crisis became worse since they introduced considerable levels of uncertainty into the job market resulting in a decline in market demand for particular products and services. This particular action by “fraudster” management consultants is another aspect of where the critical perspective is concerned with securing or improving the effectiveness of management consulting (Fincham & Clark 2002). During periods of crisis involving either internal instability or external issues (i.e. a financial crisis), a management consultant is supposed to help a company preserve adequate levels of operation while at the same time take into consideration the potential ramifications of their actions on the market and society that the company operates in (Fincham & Clark 2002). Bak and Boulocher-Passet (2013) stated that the issue that the critical perspective has with these types of management consultants is that they neglect to take into consideration the fact that the company they have been hired to assist does not operate within a void. For some of these consultants, they do have some good intentions in mind when it comes to their application of new management methodologies to assist a company. However, their lack of sufficient knowledge and the fact that they focus on their fees results in a method of consultancy that is “by the numbers” wherein it may look good on paper yet, in application, the result is far from ideal (Kakabadse et al. 2006). This is often because they lack the understanding needed to go beyond theoretical models and actually create practical applications for the methods that they are implementing. This results in an outcome that causes both operational instability within a company as well as adverse market conditions depending on the size of the business in question (Kakabadse et al. 2006). It is based on actions such as this that the act of consultancy is often questioned based on the outcomes that have occurred. Companies hire consultants to address issues they have no idea on how to resolve and, as such, bring in an outside opinion to assist in resolving the problem. However, if the outside opinion causes more problems than it solves, this calls into question the legitimacy of utilising consultants in the first place (Appelbaum & Steed 2005). It is due to this rising issue that the critical perspective is attempting to resolve it by implementing greater methods of “checks and balances” within the realm of consultation (Appelbaum & Steed 2005). This has come in the form of creating organisations geared towards legitimising consultation practices through organisational oversight as well as the implementation of reviews to examine the effectiveness of particular consultants in their realms of expertise. The focus of these actions is to implement a greater level of oversight and professionalism into what can be considered as a loose confederation of numerous separate individuals and organisations to preserve the notion that hiring consultants can lead to positive results for a company (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). However, such actions are often hampered not only by the consultants themselves but the businesses that hire them which will be discussed in the next section.

As elaborated on in the earlier section of this report which attempted to define the critical perspective, it was stated that one of the issues with management consultancy today is that consultants are often hired due to political motivations within the company and not necessarily for their skills. Appelbaum and Steed (2005) helped to explain this type of activity by stating that while unilateral actions within an organization are possible and do happen on a regular basis (i.e. the CEO implementing decisions to revamp a company’s operations in a variety of ways), the use of consensus within the enterprise, especially in horizontally oriented organisations) is prevalent. As such, for particular decisions, strategies or concepts to be implemented in an organisation, a manager or executive must prove the validity of the idea as well as how it would positively impact the company (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). Do note though that the process of implementation is not as straightforward as it would seem to be since within most companies there are inter-department and even inter-employee rivalries resulting in many decisions and activities having to go through organisational politics before it is approved and implemented (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). This creates a situation where aside from presenting an idea to be approved, a manager also has to go through organisational red tape due to office politics which hampers their capacity to be able to implement an idea or strategy. This is where hiring management consultants enter into the picture wherein they act as the “political backup” so to speak of the manager or executive in question. By hiring a consultant to backup their idea, a manager in effect gains an ally for the implementation of the strategy or concept by leveraging the fact that an outside party agrees with the idea being presented and how it can supposedly help the company (Radnor & O’Mahoney 2013). This results in the notion being thought of as having more validity resulting in a greater chance of it being pushed through. Such a method of utilising consultants is not limited to inter-department politics but also applies to upper management decisions between a CEO and the board of the directors of a company wherein by bringing in a consultant, the CEO in effect gains an ally when it comes to implementing a particular decision that the board is against (Radnor & O’Mahoney 2013). This particular strategy helps to showcase why the critical perspective views consultants as being “legitimisers” since they in effect legitimise the decisions implemented within the company. However, this type of use for consultants calls into question the validity of the profession in the first place since consultants are in effect not being hired for their expertise but are brought in merely to support a decision. Goldrich (2012) delved deeper into this particular issue by explaining that with consultants being used as “political tools” this hampers their legitimacy as impartial outsiders who help to implement decisions based on the fact that they are looking at the problem from an entirely different perspective. Consultants as political tools are influenced based on their fees which are paid by the person that hired them to assist in supporting their strategy or tactic. As such, despite some tactics being questionable or outright damaging to the company, the consultant still has to help the person that hired them since they are dependent on that individual for their fees. From the point of view of the critical perspective, this type of consultancy is damaging towards the profession since it makes it seem like consultants are merely there to support an idea and not as advisers to help assist a company with a particular strategy. Goldrich (2012) stated that this “cheapens” the act of consultancy and makes those who are part of the profession as being nothing more than hired “yes men” who are there simply to agree to whatever the person who hired them tells them to agree to. Thus, in cases where a consultant can legitimately assist a company with their problem, they are in effect viewed in a negative light due to their reputation as people who are hired to agree with you rather than as a professional who is meant to assist you with a problem that needs to be resolved. Unfortunately, as explained by Karantinou and Hogg (2001), this particular practice has been endemic within consultancy for quite some time due to the dependence of the consultant on the fees provided for by their clients. Of particular concern to analysts is the progressive deterioration of the practice of consultation wherein managers and executive focus on either “celebrity” consultants or consultants of no particular noteworthy accomplishments yet are still brought in merely to agree with them. The concept of a “celebrity” consultant are individuals brought in based on their pedigree within the business community. This can range from former executives of major corporations to people who were part of government regulatory organisations in the past and have now become consultants (Goldrich 2012). When these consultants are brought in, it is not because of their experience and knowledge in their respective industries; rather, it is due to their reputations resulting in managers and executives utilising this to further their agendas within the company and to “awe” others within the organisation into accepting a particular proposal backed by these individuals (Karantinou & Hogg 2001). On the other end of the spectrum is when a relatively unknown consultant is brought in to support the strategy that has been proposed. Karantinou and Hogg (2001) stated that in some cases a consultant with no experience whatsoever in the task being proposed is brought in simply to agree to it. Thus, the knowledge and expertise of the consultant are no longer taken into consideration; rather, only their support is what the manager or executive in question is after. It is due to trends like this that the critical perspective is seriously concerned about the future of consultancy since expertise and knowledge regarding particular strategies is no longer the primary requirement for hiring a consultant (Appelbaum & Steed 2005). Instead, the willingness of the individual to agree and their credentials is all the client is after.

Utilising a Functionalist Image

When it comes to utilising a functionalist image to help in deciding on the nature of the management consultancy to help with a change management issue within a company, it is important to understand what the functionalist perspective entails when it comes to management consultancy (Appelbaum & Steed 2005). One case that can help show the use of a functionalist image when it comes to consultancy is the case of an academic institute in the Middle East that has recently undergone a major structural change. Initially utilising English as the primary method of communication for its lessons, the college experienced a shift in operations due to the demands of student and parents to have a route that utilises Arabic. This was due to the perception that English should not be a prerequisite for obtaining a degree since the local students are not used to it. There were also cultural objections since it was considered that Arabic speakers in their country should be allowed to earn a degree in their first language. As a result, an “Arabic track” for education was created to satisfy student demands regarding the type of education they preferred. Although hiring new staff by their competence to speak, write, and understand both English and Arabic languages is not such an important issue, existing staff members showed signs of insecurity owing to the new job requirements. The problem for the college, therefore, is balancing the introduction of bilingualism, with the retention of the valuable non-Arabic staff members. The negative aspects of this change manifested in the college experiencing high turnover rates. In such a situation, how can the functionalist perspective apply to resolve the issue? First, one aspect that needs to be noted is that the practice of management consultancy is meant to address an issue that an organization cannot solve internally. When looking at the change management issue within the college, the organization needs to be sure that it cannot implement the changes on its own.

In this case, the roles of client and consultant are pretty straightforward; the role of the consultant is that of an investigator and assessor of current practices, while the client client acts as an evaluator. The college clearly has an issue with how it retains its employees due to the new mixed language program. The organisation does not seem to understand what internal forces are at work, why the employees are acting in this manner and what can be done to resolve the issue. The consultant’s role is to investigate what has been done so far, assess what methods can be implemented to resolve the issue and present them to the college. The role of the college is to act as an evaluator of the findings of the consultant. The college needs to determine whether the proposed programs and changes are in line with what it wants out of its education program and whether it is feasible given the goals of the college.

Deprey et al. (2012) stated that some clients are quick to hire consultants when it comes to particular internal issues yet neglect to examine their internal talent pool for individuals that may have ideas on how the problem may be resolved. The authors even explained that some executives neglect to implement sufficient internal consensus on how the issue can be fixed and merely hire the consultant based on their unilateral thought process. While a consultant should be brought in if a problem cannot be easily corrected, this should be done as the last option and not the first since Deprey et al. (2012) stated that it is often the case that a company’s internal systems, combined with consensus and the ideas of its employees, are actually sufficient in being able to resolve the problem. This is why, when it comes to utilising a functionalist image, it is important to determine whether the problem is one that requires a consultant in the first place (Powell & Ambrosini 2012). When examining the case of the changeover in the college, the problem is not a process issue, since the change seems to have addressed the needs of the students; rather, the problem seems to be how the college approaches the resistance of employees to the changes as well as how they accept the new processes that need to be implemented. In such a case, a consultant is not needed to implement even more changes (which is likely to cause even more problems); rather, it wold be recommended that the college address how it transitions employees into the new process that the college has to operate utilizing its already existing framework.

Another aspect of the functionalist image that is needed when it comes to resolving a change management issue is acknowledging that the consultant is there as an external observer who is brought in to present solutions and possible alternatives to help you resolve a problem and is not there to merely agree with you when it comes to the implementation of a strategy (Powell & Ambrosini 2012). One of the best ways to perceive the functionalist image in action is to imagine the consultant as a doctor who is there to utilise their skills to help the organization resolve a health issue that it is currently experiencing. While the organisation acknowledges that it knows what is best for itself, the organisation still needs to consider that the “doctor” (i.e. the consultant) has a level of expertise that it does not possess. It is based on this that the functionalist image helps businesses decide on the nature of management consultancy required by determining the amount of “treatment” that is necessary (Powell & Ambrosini 2012). For instance, if the problem in the college is somewhat relatively minor yet still requiring outside assistance, the nature of the management consultancy required is thus minimal with little in the way of significant interference in the internal operations of the college. On the other end of the spectrum, if the problem is perceived as being serious and in need of direct intervention, the type of consultancy implemented would be more direct, require significant interference and re-organisation as well as requiring the need to give the consultant broad “powers” so to speak to enact the necessary changes within the internal operating structure of the company (Sturdy 2011). In the case of the changeover in the college, the fundamentalist image would argue that minor assistance is needed since the college’s operations are not the source of the problem; rather, it is how employees perceive these changes and their subsequent reactions to them. A proper consultant would thus observe the issues the employees have with the new processes and recommend the needed solutions without overly interfering with the other processes within the college. This particular methodology is in line with the functionalist image that consultants are outside experts who are brought in due to their level of expertise in resolving problems that the company does not have the ability to properly handle at this time. Lastly, another way in which the functionalist image can help organizations decide on the nature of management consultancy to help with the change management issue in the college is by examining it via transaction cost economics wherein organisations must perceive consultants as “commodifiers” and “distributors” of knowledge (Sturdy 2011). In essence, clients “purchase” the knowledge that these consultants have when it comes to resolving an issue. Thus, the nature of the consultancy in question is based on determining whether the cost of doing it on your own (i.e. trial and error and internal re-organisation utilising established practices within the company) is worth it as compared to simply hiring an “external distributor” (i.e. a consultant) to provide you with the necessary knowledge (Sturdy et al. 2013). In a sense, businesses are determining the extent by which they require the knowledge of the consultant and the method in which it will be applied within the organisation (Sturdy et al. 2013). In this case, a company can either choose to examine the problems with employee resistance to change on their own or rely on the expertise of the consultant. Lastly, it should be noted that under the functionalist image, a client-consultant relationship has clearly defined terms and duration when it comes to the provision of services. This is an important aspect to consider when it comes to the functionalist perspective since it dictates the extent by which the consultant will assist the company when it comes to handling the change management issue. For instance, will the consultant merely be there to provide the necessary framework for change management in the college or will they continue to assist the college beyond the implementation phase to ensure that the process has been smoothly adopted? These are important points to consider when it comes to the functionalist perspective since it is necessary to determine the extent by which the consultant will continue to operate with the company. Deprey et al. (2012) explained why this is an important aspect when it comes to hiring consultants since one of the mistakes that companies make is retaining the services of a consultant beyond the point in time that their services are required. For example, if the college only requires the consultant to develop the basic framework for change management within the organisation and they will take over from there, then is it really necessary to keep the consultant for longer than required since the company is in effect spending money on a service they no longer need? On the other end of the spectrum, there are also instances where a company does not retain the services of the consultant for a sufficient length of time which leads to insufficient implementation of the necessary processes to ensure that the intended framework for change works as it should (Van Beek 2012). This aspect connects to the fundamentalist perspective that consultants are meant to implement proper “best practices” when it comes to assisting their clients wherein they leverage their knowledge and experience in such a way that it results in the correct application of practices meant to sustain the operational changes that they implemented. One way in which a consultant can help with the problem of employee resistance to change is to help the college implement programs that allow the employees to transition from one method of operation to another. Resistance to change is often caused by employees feeling uncomfortable with the new activities due to their perception that they may not do as well with the new operational process. This can result in them outright rejecting it for something that they are familiar with. The use of transition programs and even training sessions developed by the consultant would help to ease the problems employees have with the changes occurring in the college’s operations.

Fact-Based Decision-Making Model and Functionalist Image

When it comes to the application of the theory in the context of the college, the necessity and the level of intervention has been under vehement discussion, as the development and establishment of the alterations in college do not require the presence and actions of the consultant in the long-term. Meanwhile, only minor modifications, which will generate the similar solutions from a novel perspective are necessary. In this instance, the independent viewpoint remains a necessity due to the inability of the college to consider reestablishment of the networks as a critical solution to the issue.

As it was mentioned earlier, there is a high interdependence between the fact-based approach and functionalistic theory, as both of the matters reflect the similar principles concerning the liberation of a consultant. The previous section revealed that the functional approach would have a beneficial influence on the cultivation of change in the organization. As for the models of management consultants, the fact-based/decision making will have an advantageous impact as it will be able to determine the solution based on the actual information without the potential development of biased opinions. Nonetheless, the consultant can introduce the alternative approaches for the establishment of the required elements for the stress-free transition for the employees. The independent nature of events and low level of actual intervention will have a positive reflection on the process as it will allow the organization to introduce necessary changes while using consultant with the fact-based tactic in the short-term.


Based on what has been presented so far, the functionalist perspective seems to be well-suited for addressing the issues of the school when it comes to the issues it has been having with its mixed language curriculum. Managers hire management consultants based on their talent and expertise when it comes to resolving specific problems that have been identified within the company. Thus, a consultant is viewed as a “function” whose specific role is to examine an issue in an objective and independent way and provide a solution based on their knowledge and previous experience with the problem. In the case of the school, a consultant can be hired to determine what can be done to resolve the issue and recommend the necessary solution based on their experience with the problem.


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