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The consultant-client relationship as mediation and reconciliation
SP Associates, London, UK
Keywords Consultants, Clients, Mediation Abstract Grounded in case studyresearch, the consultant-client relationship is conceived as mediating between, and reconciling, competing enactments. Through their work, consultants seek to achieve a separation from existing organisational frames of reference, commitments and routines. To achieve any separation, consultants have to challenge the world that is shared and lived out by members of the organisation. The enactments createdand sustained by interventions are experienced as competitive versions of social reality, with diverse advocates, seeking to secure a critical mass of belief and acceptance. Consultants come under pressure to conform to, or to operate within, the constructs of this organisational reality, and their interventions create tensions and the need to accommodate differing views. The consultant-clientrelationship, as experienced and perceived, is central to the process of generating shared constructions, and profoundly shapes the emergent organisational reality. Reviews traditional conceptualisations of the client-consultant relationship and contrasts them to more critical and emancipatory perspectives. Then discusses the case study research and the role and nature of the consultantclientrelationship within the theoretical framework developed.
Managing the interplay and tensions of consulting interventions
The consultant-client relationship 343
Received November 2000 Revised April 2001 Accepted April 2001
Traditional perspectives on consulting and the consultant-client relationship Management consultants and the assistance they offer senior managers arenow a common feature of organisational life. As The Economist magazine (1997) suggests, it is the organisation that does not use consultants which is now the exception rather than the rule. Management consulting is expected to become a $120 billion global industry by the end of 2000, and to continue growing (Kaplan, 2000). Over the last 20 years in particular, consultancy services have expandedfrom work measurement and accountancy to most areas of organisational life (Rassam, 1998). Mainstream management consultancy has its roots in concepts of scientific management pioneered by Frederick Taylor (Tisdall, 1982; Rassam, 1998), and their work, in the main, remains firmly grounded in a problem solving tradition. Consultants are deemed to use theories, knowledge and analytical approaches,developed out of practical experience or adapted from academic research, to formulate and sometimes implement solutions to pressing organisational issues. This rational analytical view of consulting is codified by a number of best practice books advocating how interventions should be
Journal of Management Development, Vol. 21 No. 5, 2002, pp. 343-365. # MCB UP Limited, 0262-1711 DOI10.1108/02621710210426844
Journal of Management Development 21,5 344
carried out (Block, 1981; Weinberg, 1985, Margerison, 1988; Kubr, 1996; Markham, 1997; Sadler, 1998). Much of the traditional theory on consulting is distilled from practitioner experience, reflecting the industry's deep-rooted selfimage of providing pragmatic support to managers. In a more thorough and conceptually developed analysis,Phills (1996) describes the work of consultants in terms of ``generic analytical activities'' comprising comparison, explanation, prediction and prescription, which are aimed at influencing clients' competitive beliefs and organisational action. The best practice books deal explicitly with the interaction of consultant(s) and client organisation, stressing the importance of influence and...