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The Evolving Role of Management Consulting: Beyond Advisory Services

Unlocking Mutual Interests through a Goal-Oriented Approach


Management consulting is a thriving industry, with billions of dollars being spent annually on consulting services. However, many consulting engagements end up producing impractical recommendations and fail to achieve desired outcomes. To address this issue, it is crucial for both clients and consultants to have a clear understanding of what consulting assignments can truly accomplish. This article explores the purposes and objectives of management consulting, emphasizing the need for a goal-oriented approach that goes beyond traditional advisory services.

A Hierarchy of Purposes: Management consulting encompasses a wide range of activities, and different firms and consultants may define their practices differently. To provide a meaningful framework for analyzing consulting engagements, it is helpful to categorize the objectives of consulting in a hierarchical manner. By understanding the hierarchy of consulting purposes, both clients and consultants can align their efforts and improve the chances of a successful engagement. The eight fundamental objectives of consulting, arranged hierarchically, are as follows:

  1. Providing information to a client.

  2. Solving a client's problems.

  3. Making a diagnosis and redefining the problem if necessary.

  4. Making recommendations based on the diagnosis.

  5. Assisting with the implementation of recommended solutions.

  6. Building consensus and commitment around corrective action.

  7. Facilitating client learning and teaching problem-solving skills.

  8. Permanently improving organizational effectiveness.

While purposes 1 to 5 are commonly understood and requested by clients, the higher-level objectives (6 to 8) are often overlooked. However, leading consulting firms and their clients are increasingly recognizing the importance of integrating these higher-level goals into their engagements. Purposes 6 to 8 should be considered as essential by-products of earlier objectives, rather than additional goals that become relevant only after the initial purposes have been achieved.

Moving Up the Pyramid: Advancing from lower-level objectives to more ambitious purposes requires enhanced expertise and skill in consulting processes and managing client relationships. It is important for consultants to stay aligned with the client's needs and not overstep their boundaries by attempting to shift the purpose of an engagement when it is not necessary or beneficial. Consultants must always address the purpose requested by the client initially, but as the engagement progresses, both parties can agree to pursue additional goals.

Providing Information: One of the primary reasons clients seek consulting assistance is to obtain relevant information. Consultants are often relied upon for their expertise and ability to gather accurate and up-to-date data. However, it is essential for consultants to understand the client's underlying needs and how the information will be used. Sometimes, clients may already possess the necessary data but require guidance on how to leverage it effectively. By asking pertinent questions and exploring the client's objectives, consultants can deliver more valuable insights and align the information-gathering process with the engagement's overall goals.

Solving Problems: Clients frequently turn to consultants for help in solving complex problems. While problem-solving is a legitimate function of consulting, it is crucial for consultants to question whether the problem presented is the one that truly needs to be addressed. Skilled diagnosticians, consultants must delve deeper into the context of the problem, exploring past attempts at solutions and identifying related aspects of the client's business that may be contributing to the issue. By refining the problem definition, consultants can propose more accurate and effective solutions that address the root causes.

Effective Diagnosis: An area where consultants add significant value is in their diagnostic capabilities. However, the process of diagnosis can sometimes strain the consultant-client relationship, as executives may be apprehensive about uncovering challenging situations for which they could be held responsible. To mitigate this tension, it is advisable to involve members of the client organization in the diagnostic process. By collaborating with key stakeholders and understanding their perspectives, consultants can gain valuable insights, increase acceptance of the diagnosis, and ensure that recommendations are well-received and thoroughly tested.

Recommending Actions: The culmination of a consulting engagement often involves presenting recommendations to the client. These recommendations should be logical, coherent, and firmly grounded in the diagnosis. However, it is important to recognize that recommendations alone do not guarantee successful outcomes. Many recommendations go unimplemented due to constraints outside the consultant's control or a lack of commitment from the client. To bridge this gap, consultants must engage in a collaborative process, involving the client in the formulation of recommendations and focusing on their practical implementation. By aligning recommendations with the client's objectives and fostering a sense of ownership, consultants can increase the chances of successful execution.

Implementing Changes: The consultant's role in implementing recommended solutions is a topic of debate within the industry. While some argue that consultants should refrain from taking on managerial responsibilities, others believe that implementation is a vital aspect of consulting. In reality, effective implementation requires impowering business management to take ownership of the project and proposed changes. The consultant should be supporting this initiative by recommending changes, guidance on how to implement them, and review of the completed changes to ensure effective deployment occurs. This strategy allows the business steak holders to continue with effective implementation following the completion of consulting services, effectively embowering the business to be successful beyond the service contract. Consultants should strive to build trust and cooperation throughout the engagement, gradually assisting with implementation without usurping the client's role.

Building Consensus and Commitment: The usefulness of any consulting engagement relies heavily on the degree to which stakeholders within the organization reach a consensus on the problems and opportunities at hand and commit to appropriate actions. Consultants play a crucial role in facilitating this process. By designing and conducting engagements that encourage collaboration and generate agreement on necessary steps, consultants can establish the momentum required for successful outcomes. It is vital for consultants to develop a deep understanding of the organization, identify key influencers, and involve them in the decision-making process. Building consensus and commitment ensures that the proposed actions align with the organization's goals and have a higher likelihood of success.

Facilitating Client Learning: Management consultants strive to leave a lasting impact on their clients. This involves not only addressing immediate concerns but also helping clients acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle future challenges independently. Consultants can promote client learning by involving members of the organization in the consulting process, encouraging participation, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. By modeling effective problem-solving techniques and providing opportunities for learning, consultants contribute to the long-term development of the organization's problem-solving capabilities.

Organizational Effectiveness: While individual engagements may focus on specific aspects of an organization's functioning, consultants should consider the broader concept of organizational effectiveness. This encompasses the organization's ability to adapt to change, optimize its resources, and maintain long-term viability. Consultants who prioritize organizational effectiveness contribute to the most critical task of top management: ensuring the organization's future success. Although addressing organizational effectiveness may seem ambitious for individual engagements, it is crucial for consultants to recognize their role in promoting overall effectiveness and aligning their efforts with the client's larger objectives.


Management consulting extends beyond the traditional notion of advisory services. By embracing a goal-oriented approach and recognizing the hierarchy of consulting purposes, consultants and clients can forge a more fruitful partnership. Consultants should aim to provide valuable information, solve problems effectively, conduct accurate diagnoses, make practical recommendations, assist with implementation, build consensus and commitment, facilitate client learning, and enhance organizational effectiveness. Through a collaborative and process-focused approach, consultants can deliver enduring value to their clients, driving positive change and ensuring long-term success.


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