Introduction to Management Consulting: Approach and Best Practices

Management consulting is the practice of helping organizations improve their performance by providing advice on existing risks and issues. Organizations typically draw upon the services of management consultants to find a solution to their problems and more importantly gain an external perspective and specialized advice which is objective and devoid of any bias

As a result of continuous exposure to various types of problems across numerous organizations, consulting firms are aware of industry “best practices” and are tasked with providing a customized solution for their clients.

Consultancies may additionally also provide a multitude of services such as organizational change management, process analysis, strategy formulation & implementation and operational improvement services.

Management consultants use various tools and follow proprietary methodologies or frameworks to identify problems and to serve as the basis for recommendations for improved efficiency.

Functional View

Management consulting includes a broad range of activities which are defined by firms in a different manner. 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).

Another approach is to view the process as a sequence of phases such as entry, contracting, diagnosis, data collection, feedback, implementation etc.

Perhaps a more useful way of analyzing the process is to consider its purposes. Clarity about goals certainly influences an engagement’s success.

Listed below are eight fundamental objectives of consulting, arranged hierarchically (source: HBR) –

  1. Providing requested information
  2. Provide solution to given problem
  3. Conduct diagnosis that may redefine problems
  4. Provide recommendations
  5. Assist implementation
  6. Build consensus and commitment
  7. Facilitate client learning
  8. Improve organizational effectiveness

The various approaches to consulting predominantly lie between ‘expert’ or prescriptive approach on one end and ‘facilitative’ approach on the other. In the expert approach, the consultant takes the role of the SME and provides expert advice or assistance to the client. With a facilitative approach, the consultant focuses less on specific or technical expert knowledge and more on the process of consultation itself. Because of this focus on process, a facilitative approach is also often referred to as ‘process consulting’.

Many consulting firms are organized in a structured matrix, where one ‘axis’ describes a business function or type of consulting: for example, strategy, operations, technology, executive leadership, process improvement, talent management, sales, etc. The second axis focuses on industry: e.g. oil and gas, retail, automotive. Together, these form a matrix with consultants occupying one or more ‘cells’ in the matrix.

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