Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Secrecy of Management Consulting

The profession of management consulting is supremely intellectual, involved with the application of frameworks, hypotheses and logic to messy and abstract realities, furthering the search for truth (and incremental EBIT).

Many professions share this search for truth, in their respective domain. What makes management consulting stand apart is the absence of collaboration and sharing of knowledge, so present and integral to other professions.

Consider the following:

  • Open teaching hospitals, books, published papers, conferences
  • All briefs and arguments filed with the court are open to the public
  • Legal arguments and analysis are shared with opposing counsel in any negotiations.
  • Research is shared publicly, published papers, conferences, teaching universities
Military Officers
  • Army War College, joint training exercises, officer exchange programs, published books
  • FAS rulings, journals, filings with the SEC.
Management Consultants
  • Conclusions are never shared outside the client
  • Books & articles are filled with bland platitudes
  • Clients rarely share decks from prior work from previous consultancies
  • Internal Knowledge management systems are universally pathetic
In short, the management consulting industry has no means of independently evaluating and rigorously defending logic & analysis.
"Without light, truth cannot be found."


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Perhaps the work of management consultants is a lot more empirical, and too contextual to a specific (client) situation. It also involves significant sensitivities for a client's business, to be shared outside lest their "competitive edge/business strengths" (or lack of it) be compromised. Some of the other professions may not have such constraints ... and I would imagine a lot of their work also remains under wraps for most of the the times. Since the population of professionals in these other fields is so much larger than that of the management consultants ... the publicly available knowledge or published work from these professions seems to be a lot more.

However, I would believe that some of the management consultants' work does get universalized through various analytical frameworks and models (7-S Framework, Balance Scorecard, BCG Matrix, etc.), which more often than not are based upon work done for several clients. Of course, then there are a plethora of journals, reports, books that get published by these folks.

Well ... we need not be so harsh on the consulants!

doctor baloney said...

Interesting point Ninja.

The first disagreement I have is that consulting is a profession at all. Most professions are labelled so, not just because of their accumulation and sharing of knowledge, but because they are controlled by an external acccreditation system.

Consultants do not have this. My 18 year old sister can call herself a consultant, but she cannot call herself a doctor, lawyer or accountant. No-one can strike consultants off to prevent them practicing in future.

In McKenna's excellent book 'The World's Newest Profession' he argues that consultancies attempted to imitate professions because it would improve their reputation (and hence their fees). Many of the large consultancies actively resist the professionalisation of the consulting industry because they believe it would weaken their control over their own employees by having a third party interfere and audit their practices.

Finally, with regard to your point on knowledge, I would suggest that the type of knowledge that consultants engage with is much more temporary, faddish and ephemeral than that found in other areas: Science and medicine are demonstrably progressive - medical interventions allow people to live longer. Scientific theories enable us to achieve technological innovations.

Consulting knowledge, however, appears not to be cumulative: there is no 'evidence' that consultancy advice works and considerable evidence that it is often concerned with the generation of fads for needs of insecure managers rather than organisational efficiency.

So there you go......

regent said...

look at this a management consulting

Thursday, June 4, 2009