is a professional
(also known as Expert
, Specialist, see variations of meaning below
) who provides advice and further purposeful activities in an area of specialization.
Definition and distinction
Harvard Business School
defines a consultant as someone who advices on "how to modify, proceed in, or streamline a given process within a specialized field."
Consultant Peter Block
defines a consultant as "someone who has influence over an individual, group, or organization, but who has no direct authority to implement changes." He contrasts this with a surrogate manager
who is a person who "acts on behalf of, or in place of, a manager." The key difference is that a consultant never makes decisions for the individual or group, whereas a surrogate manager does make decisions.
In his book, The Consulting Bible
, Alan Weiss
defines that "When we [consultants] walk away from a client, the client's conditions should be better than it was before we arrived or we've failed."
Subject-matter expert (SME) vs. Consultant
According to Institute of Management Consultants USA,
"The value of a consultant [as compared to a Subject-matter expert (SME)
] is to be able to correctly diagnose and effectively transform an often ill-defined problem and apply information, resources and processes to create a workable and usable solution. Some experts are good consultants and vice versa, some are neither, few are both."
Another differentiation perspective would be that a consultant sells advice, but an expert sells his expertise; or of Consultants vs. Coaches
or SMEs vs. Team Leaders.
Contractor vs. Consultant
The consultant is in a role of sharing her or his knowledge and advice, whereas the contractor builds something for the client.
Consultants' view of a consultant
A study found that business consultants maintain a very humble approach in their partnership with the client and believe that the ultimate goal is to make the customer move foward. Further, consultants are conscious in amount of control and discretion which comes from the customer and understand that criticism of their role is part of the work and sometimes even justified.
Role of a consultant
The role of consultant outside the medical sphere (where the term is used specifically for a grade of doctor) can fall under one of two general categories:
- Internal consultant: someone who is employed by and operates within a client-organization (maybe as part of an internal consultancy unit); or
- External consultant: someone who is employed externally to the client (either by a consulting firm or some other agency) whose expertise is provided as part of a contract for a fee or rate.
Business case of a consultant
Traditionally, by hiring a consultant, clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be financially feasible for them to retain in-house on a long-term basis.
Moreover, clients can control their expenditures on consulting services by only purchasing as much services from the outside consultant as desired. Additionally, consultants are key persons with specific domain-skills in creating strategies, leading change
), leadership coaching, interim management
(also called consultant manager
Another business-case is that a consultant can save the company money. A specialist tax-consultant who saves the company 20% on its taxes, and only charges 10% in fees, enables the company to save 10% without having spent anything on the consultant.
Delivery of service
Consultants provide their advice to their clients in a variety of forms. Reports and presentations are often used.
Advice can be general (high degree of quality of communication) and also domain-focused.
However, in some specialized fields, the consultant may develop customized software or other products for the client.
Depending on the nature (also named mandate
or statement of work
or assignment) of the consulting services and the wishes of the client, the advice from the consultant may be made public, by placing the report or presentation online, or the advice may be kept confidential (under a Non-disclosure agreement
or within the clients-company), and only given to the senior executives of the organization.
Employment status and career distinction
Consultants work for (consulting) firms or as freelance contractors. A consultant distinguishes from a temporary worker insofar as she or he has, as detailed above, a highly specialized career and domain knowledge.
This could be true for a temporary worker too, however, for example a medical consultant will rather unlikely suddenly become a hotel receptionist, whereas a temporary worker might change domains and branches more frequently. Furthermore, a consultant usually signs a service-type employee contract
(known as fixed-term
whereas a temporary worker will only be offered a temporary (and scope limited) contract or a work-results type contract (e. g. in Germany a specific type of contracted called Werksvertrag
) to fulfill or create a specific work. Additionally, a temporary worker might be directed and managed by a client, whereas a consultant is employed by a company (or self) and provides services for a client. This service comes without human-resource related interactions by the client, e. g. the client company will not assist in career progression of the consultant, will not provide work-related instruments or tools, but only the necessary infrastructure and accesses the consultants needs to fulfil the statement of work, e. g. access to internal IT networks or client-side laboratory, if this is even needed for performing the work. Moreover, a consultant might engage in multi-project services (matrix organization
) for the client or for internal projects/activities at the employer firm.
A consultant's activity can last anywhere from a hourly consultation, to a one-day service, three months, 12 months or more. For complex projects, a longer period is needed for the consultant to analyze, resolve the root cause, get to know the stakeholders and organizational-situation, etc. Usually the engagement has set legal boundaries under given law to avoid (specifically for freelance-contractors) the problem of false self-employment
(see also Umbrella company
). The person at client location is sometimes called a Resident
. By spending time at the client's organization, the consultant is able to observe work processes, interview workers, managers, executives, board members, or other individuals, and study how the organization operates to provide hers or his services.
In some settings, a consultant is signing a specific contract and is hired as an interim manager or executive
with advanced authority or shared responsibility or decision making of client-side activities, filling a vacant position which could and cannot be filled with an internal candidate. This is often the case by the client-organization due to other constraints, such as corporate compliance
and HR-processes, which lead to prolonged hiring paths beyond six months, which is often inacceptable for leadership roles.
Though most of the research and analysis occurs at the consultants' offices (sometimes called back-office
) or home-offices
(in case of COVID-19 see also Telecommuting
), in the case of smaller consulting firms, consultants typically work at the site of the client for at least some of the time. The governing factor on where a consultant works tends to be the amount of interaction required with other employees of the client. If a management consultant
is providing advice to a software firm that is struggling with employee morale, absenteeism
and issues with managers and senior engineers leaving the firm
, the consultant will probably spend a good deal of time at the client's office, interviewing staff, engineers, managers and executives, and observing work processes. On the other hand, a legal consultant asked to provide advice on a specific property law
issue might only have a few meetings at the client's office, and conduct the majority of his work at the consultant's office and in legal libraries.
Similarly, the growth of online, highly skilled consultant marketplaces
has begun to grow.
Additionally, the on-going COVID-19 pandemic is fueling the need for staff to work from home (remotely) and to develop or evolve excellent online-work skills to continue business or operations.
Also known as ICUs - Internal Consulting Units
, which are departments or specialists groups created by or maintained by usually larger companies for their own consulting service needs along the business chain. ICUs
might be internal or own-run businesses.
Success factors of consulting
The following qualities are found to be helpful for a successful consulting career.
Accenture success factors
From Accenture blog, one of the main IT consultancies in the world, the following factors play an important role:
- A service-oriented mindset
- Sharing of great work
- Seizing of opportunities
- Setting of goals, seeking of advice and taking time to reflect
77 Keywords Consulting success factors
According to 77 Keywords Consulting
, a foundational references on consulting, the following factors are important:
- Choice of consultant: Factors that matter: subject matter competency, appearance and social skills, and knowledge transfer capabilities
- Cooperation and delegation of tasks: The consultant works along-side other employees and needs clear scope and guidance of activities (mutual skill; needs client organizational setting too)
- Continuity of consultancy: Avoidance of frequent changes of consultation activity to increase costs transparency, trust, etc.
Bronnenmayer et al. investigated, by applying a structural equation model
, and due to little empirical research, the management consulting’s success factors from a client perspective. It is found that Consultant Expertise, Intensity of Collaboration and Common Vision have strongest performance impact on success.
- Common Vision
- Intensity of Collaboration
- Project Management
- Consultant Expertise
- Provided Resources
- Top Management Support
Sindermann and Sawyer success factors
Sindermann and Sawyer conclude in their book The Scientist as Consultant
, that a [scientific] consultant is successful, if she or he has "achieved a viable mix of technical proficiency and business skills" with "technical proficiency" meaning excellence in competence, credibility, effective networking with colleagues, and ability to negotiate.
Consultants are often outsiders to the client organization. On one hand, this means their work methods, expertise, behaviors, etc. differ from the client-employees and organizational, and is exactly what the client needs, however it can also be a considerable disadvantage for a successful engagement and may lead to a less intimate cooperation with the client's business.
Next to general challenges, domain-specific challenges for consultants exist.
In palliative medicine
consulting, emotions, beliefs, sensitive topics, difficulty communicating and prognosis interpretation, or patients expectations despite critical illness are some of the challenges faced by the consultant.
Ethical conflict (Manipulation)
According to Kelman
, "One danger is that [the counselor] does not recognize the control that he is exercising over the client's behavior. The other is that he is so convinced that he is doing good for the client that he does not realize the client that he does not see the double-edged nature of the control he is exercising."
A consultant therefore needs to be aware and in control of her or his manipulative influences in particular couseling settings.
General issues faced by a consultant can be stress,
productivity issues with meetings,
high-paced and changing business environments and situations,
Consultants may face several organizational challenges, e. g. internal consultants are faced with the paradoxes to maintain a good balance between knowing the internal company structure and at the same time staying neutral and objective, keeping a marginal position between the client and the provided service.
Further, depending on the hiring company's understanding how to work with a consultant, the consultant might be seen as disruption to the inhouse employees status.
Independent consultants (contractors or freelancer) usually need to fulfil taxation requirements given by laws, specifically challenging employment status to avoid 'disgused' employment.
Compared to contracting, consulting can be seen as being "in business in your own right", not controlled by your client, etc. placing a consultant "well outside" of e. g. IR35.
Alan Weiss provides 20 "factors" for consultants in the US (IRS), which are similar in other countries, to avoid or understand in terms of their business activity. Amongst those, the consultant is not supposed to be instructed by the client, should not receive similar training as employees, has the right to sub-contract, should not be integrated into the organizational structure, etc. to avoid legal-status and taxation issues.
There is no single qualification to becoming a consultant, other than those laid down in relation to medical, psychological and engineering personnel who have attained this level-degree in it or professional licenses, such as Chartered Engineer
Consultants may hold undergraduate degrees
, graduate degrees
, professional degrees
or professional designations
pertaining to their field(s) of expertise.
In some fields, a consultant may be required to hold certain professional licenses (e.g., a civil engineer
providing consulting on a bridge project may have to be a professional engineer
In other types of consulting, there may be no specific qualification requirements. A legal consultant may have to be a member of the bar or hold a law degree. An accounting consultant may have to have an accounting designation, such as Chartered Accountant
status. Some individuals become consultants after a lengthy and distinguished career as an executive or political leader or employee, so their lengthy and exposed experience may be their main asset.
Various accreditation bodies for consultants exist today:
Code of Ethics
Ethics in the field of business consulting and organizations is still a subject under research.
A thoroughly discussion of ethics in the field of consultation is giving in Lippitt & Lippitt
(see also 2nd edition in English
). Here the authors mention several guidelines and definitions including Shay
, the Association of Consulting Management Engineers (1966), American Society for Training and Development (1977), Academy of Management (1976) and conclude their own codex with the following attributes (see below). Additionally, the authors mention the difficulty in applying the codex and scenarios of how to track adherence and how to judge violations in accordance with other bodies, such as APA (American Psychological Association
) and CSPEC (or CSCE) (Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics)
and conclude that "The most important aspect in the formulation of a code of conduct however, is the recognition of a fundamental moral standard. Only then is compliance with the rules guaranteed."
Professional consultant codex of Lippitt & Lippitt:
- Moral and legal standards
- Misleading information
- Client well-being
- Announcement of services
- Cross-professional relationships
- Responsibility towards the organization of origin (employer)
- Promotional activities
For management consultancy services, ISO 20700
standard has been available since 2017.
There exist various forms, types and areas or industries of consultants. The following list provides some examples:
- Business transformation consultants - Specialists in assisting business stakeholders to align the strategy and objectives to their business operations.
- Human resources (HR) consultants - Specialists who provide expertise around employment practice and people management.
- Interim managers - Often independent consultants who act as interim executives (any CxO) with decision-making power under corporate policies or statutes. They may sit on specially constituted boards or committees.
- Process consultants - Specialists in the design or improvement of e.g. operational processes in specific sectors, e.g. medical industry
- Marketing consultants - Advisors around areas of product development and related marketing matters including marketing strategy.
- Public-relations (PR) consultants - Experts with public relations matters external to a client organization and are often engaged on a semi-permanent basis by larger organizations to provide input and guidance.
- Performance consultants - Consultants who focus on the execution of an initiative or overall performance of their client.
- Sales consultants - Professionals who focus on all levels of sales and marketing for the improvement of sales ROI, moving share from competition, etc.
- Strategy consultants (more generally known as Management consultants) - Professionals working on the development of and improvement to organizational strategy alongside senior management in many industries.
- Financial consultant - Providing financial advice and services to clients (individuals, small companies, large corporations, financial institutions, etc.)
- Project Management Professionals (PMP) and related (e.g. Program Management Professional, Risk Management Professionals) - Certified experts in project planning, execution and management.
- Engineering consultants - Engineering-Specialists (certified or years of experience) providing services such as design, supervision, execution, repair, operation, maintenance, technology, creation of drawings and specifications, etc. in various fields such as chemical, aerospace, automotive, etc.
- Information-technology (IT) consultants - Experts in Computer-technology disciplines such as computer hardware, software engineering, or networks.
- Educational consultants - Assist students or parents in making educational decisions and giving advice in various issues, such as tuition, fees, visas, and enrolling in higher education.
- Immigration consultants - Help with the legal procedures of immigration from one country to another.
- Consultant (medical) - the most senior grade of hospital doctor in the United Kingdom.
Types of consultants
- Nissen, Volker, ed. Advances in Consulting Research: Recent Findings and Practical Cases. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2019. Print.
- CMI - Management Consulting Journal
- CMC - Management Consulting Journal
- Treichler, Christoph. “Consulting Industry and Market Trends: A Two-Sided View.” Contributions to Management Science. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2019. 253–272. Print.
- Journal of Business and Management
- Journal of Management Studies
- Global business services: obsolete or more relevant than ever? by Stephan Hartmann of Roland Berger Switzerland, 2021
- Management Review Quarterly
- Marsh, Sheila. The Feminine in Management Consulting. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009. Print.
- McKinsey Quarterly Magazine
- Seebacher, Uwe G. Template-Based Management: A Guide for an Efficient and Impactful Professional Practice. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2021. Print.
- Strategy+business by PwC
- Roland Berger's Think:Act Magazine
- Susskind, Richard, and Daniel Susskind. The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts. Oxford University Press, 2015. Print.
- Kipping, Matthias, and Timothy Clark, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Management Consulting. London, England: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
- TCS' Management Journal Perspectives
- Weiss, A. (2016). Million dollar consulting: The professional’s guide to growing a practice, fifth edition (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.
List of notable (management) consultants
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- ^ Verlander, Edward George (2012). The practice of professional consulting (1st ed.). San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN 978-1-118-28605-0. OCLC 789150405.
- ^ a b Block, Peter (2011). Flawless consulting : a guide to getting your expertise used (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN 978-1-118-00087-8. OCLC 706452070.
- ^ Wulf, S. A. (2020). "Successful Project Consulting". IEEE Engineering Management Review. 48 (2): 12–14. doi:10.1109/EMR.2020.2978797. ISSN 1937-4178.
- ^ a b "Consulting Is More Than Giving Advice". Harvard Business Review. 1982-09-01. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
- ^ Tordoir, Pieter P. (1995). The professional knowledge economy : the management and integration of professional services in business organizations. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 0-7923-3668-2. OCLC 32855907.
- ^ a b Scheer, August-Wilhelm; Köppen, Alexander, eds. (2001). "Consulting". doi:10.1007/978-3-642-56459-8.
- ^ Freedman, Rick (2016), Freedman, Rick (ed.), "The Agile Consultant", The Agile Consultant: Guiding Clients to Enterprise Agility, Berkeley, CA: Apress, pp. 3–17, doi:10.1007/978-1-4302-6053-0_1, ISBN 978-1-4302-6053-0, retrieved 2021-04-11
- ^ Library, HBS Baker. "Consulting | Baker Library | Bloomberg Center | Harvard Business School". www.library.hbs.edu. Retrieved 2021-04-16.
- ^ Weiss, Alan (2011). The consulting Bible : everything you need to know to create and expand a seven-figure consulting practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN 978-1-118-02359-4. OCLC 715159619.
- ^ Hartenstine, Christopher (2017-09-08). "Glenn Subject Matter Expert Connections". NASA. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ "Subject matter expert". IST Project Management Office. 2014-12-09. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ "Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessments (SME‑QA)". United States Digital Service. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ "Difference Between and Expert and a Consultant". 2010-02-12. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ Council, Forbes Coaches. "Council Post: Key Differences Between Coaching And Consulting (And How To Decide What Your Business Needs)". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ Agriculture, Tabitha NjoguTabitha graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University of; Commerce, Technology with a Bachelor’s Degree in; organizations, whereby she specialized in Finance She has had the pleasure of working with various; Management, Garnered Expertise in Business; Administration, Business; accounting; Operations, Finance; Marketing, Digital. "Difference Between Subject Matter Expert and Team Leader | Difference Between". Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ a b c Chaplin, Dave (2012). Contractors' handbook : the expert guide for UK contractors and freelancers. ContractorCalculator.co.uk (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: ContractorCalculator. ISBN 978-0-9560745-2-2. OCLC 843787367.
- ^ Kakabadse, Nada K.; Louchart, Eddy; Kakabadse, Andrew (2006-01-01). Andrew; Kakabadse, Nada (eds.). "Consultant's role: a qualitative inquiry from the consultant's perspective". Journal of Management Development. 25 (5): 416–500. doi:10.1108/02621710610666268. hdl:1826/1911. ISSN 0262-1711.
- ^ a b c ASTD handbook for workplace learning professionals. Elaine Biech, American Society for Training and Development. [Alexandria, Va.]: ASTD Press. 2008. ISBN 978-1-60728-596-0. OCLC 317598854.
- ^ Seidel, Gerhard (2001). Inhouse Consulting: Wie Sie Unternehmensführung, Marketing und Finanzen in den Griff bekommen (in German). Gabler Verlag. ISBN 978-3-322-86972-2.
- ^ Sturdy, Andrew; Wright, Christopher; Wylie, Nick (2015). Management as Consultancy: Neo-bureaucracy and the Consultant Manager. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139108065. ISBN 978-1-107-02096-2.
- ^ PMBOK guide + Agile practice guide : Agile practice guide bundle. Project Management Institute (6th ed.). Newton Square, PA, USA. 2017. ISBN 978-1-62825-382-5. OCLC 1192484076.
- ^ Orr, Linda M.; Orr, Dave J. (2013). "When to Hire—or Not Hire—a Consultant". doi:10.1007/978-1-4302-4735-7.
- ^ "Rate Yourself as a Client". Harvard Business Review. 1977-07-01. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved 2021-04-13.
- ^ HBR's 10 must reads on change management. Boston, Massachusetts. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4221-5800-5. OCLC 606783865.
- ^ Lack, Jonathan H. (2013). "How to Hire and Manage Your Turnaround Consultant". Plan to Turn Your Company Around in 90 Days: 163–173. doi:10.1007/978-1-4302-4669-5_11.
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- ^ Desai, Falguni. "The Rise Of Digital Consultancies". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
- ^ "Mastering Digital Transformation: A Case Study (Part 1)". ThoughtWorks. 2020-02-19. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ "Technology means growth: Lessons from SMEs". The Official Microsoft Blog. 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
- ^ "How to Have a Coaching Conversation | Center for Creative Leadership". CCL. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
- ^ Concordia, Elizabeth E. (1995). "Maximizing the Benefits of Using Consultants". Healthcare Information Management Systems: 327–331. doi:10.1007/978-1-4757-2402-8_27.
- ^ Pozzebon, Marlei; Pinsonneault, Alain (2012-03-01). "The dynamics of client–consultant relationships: exploring the interplay of power and knowledge". Journal of Information Technology. 27 (1): 35–56. doi:10.1057/jit.2011.32. ISSN 1466-4437.
- ^ "What Does a Consultant Do (Non-Cliche Answer)". MConsultingPrep. 2019-06-15. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ Ackery, Alun D.; Adams, Jeremy W.; Brooks, Steven C.; Detsky, Allan S. (May 2011). "How to give a consultation and how to get a consultation". Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine. 13 (3): 169–171. doi:10.2310/8000.2011.110268. ISSN 1481-8035.
- ^ Kalaimani, Jayaraman (2016). "Enhancing Your Consulting Skills". SAP Project Management Pitfalls: 309–317. doi:10.1007/978-1-4842-1389-6_24.
- ^ "Job characteristics, motivators and stress among information technology consultants: A structural equation modeling approach". International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. 37 (1): 51–59. 2007-01-01. doi:10.1016/j.ergon.2006.10.005. ISSN 0169-8141.
- ^ Pries, Kim H. (2019). Project management of complex and embedded systems : ensuring product integrity and program quality. Jon M. Quigley. Boca Raton. ISBN 978-0-367-38662-7. OCLC 1120057017.
- ^ Gross, Willi; Söhnlein, Walter (1990), Gross, Willi; Söhnlein, Walter (eds.), "Werkvertrag", Bürgerliches Recht 3: Fall · Systematik · Lösung · Schuldrecht · Besonderer Teil. Kauf und Tausch · Schenkung · Miete und Pacht · Leihe · Verwahrung · Darlehen · Bürgschaft · Dienst- und Werkvertrag (in German), Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag, pp. 127–135, doi:10.1007/978-3-322-99402-8_13, ISBN 978-3-322-99402-8, retrieved 2021-04-11
- ^ "Revisiting the matrix organization". McKinsey & Company. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ Turner, Susan G.; Utley, Dawn R.; Westbrook, Jerry D. (1998-09-01). "Project Managers and Functional Managers: A Case Study of Job Satisfaction in a Matrix Organization". Project Management Journal. 29 (3): 11–19. doi:10.1177/875697289802900304. ISSN 8756-9728.
- ^ Wellman, Jerry (2007-06-01). "Leadership Behaviors in Matrix Environments". Project Management Journal. 38 (2): 62–74. doi:10.1177/875697280703800207. ISSN 8756-9728.
- ^ Pitagorsky, George (1998-12-01). "The Project Manager/Functional Manager Partnership". Project Management Journal. 29 (4): 7–16. doi:10.1177/875697289802900402. ISSN 8756-9728.
- ^ "Career Path at Top Consulting Firms". MConsultingPrep. 2020-08-26. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ Buchenau, Peter, ed. (2019). Chefsache Interim Management: Praxisbeispiele für den erfolgreichen Einsatz in Unternehmen (in German). Gabler Verlag. ISBN 978-3-658-18050-8.
- ^ "Second in Command - The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer". Harvard Business Review. 2006-05-01. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
- ^ "Bosses have given in to demands for more a more flexible workplace". Financial Review. Retrieved 2016-03-15.
- ^ Oliveira, Luciana; Mesquita, Anabela; Oliveira, Adriana; Sequeira, Arminda (2021). Abreu, António; Liberato, Dália; González, Elisa Alén; Garcia Ojeda, Juan Carlos (eds.). "Emergency Remote Work in Portugal: Evaluation, Effects, and Recommendations". Advances in Tourism, Technology and Systems. Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies. Singapore: Springer: 304–313. doi:10.1007/978-981-33-4260-6_27. ISBN 978-981-334-260-6. PMC 7980880.
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