Monday, 13 June 2011

Management Consulting Division conference

I have just spent some days in Amsterdam at the Management Consulting Division of the Academy of Management biennial European conference held at the Vu University, where I was presenting a paper, the first time I've presented a paper at such an august forum, so somewhat nervous.

At my viva, the examiner asked me where I could present my work and I mentioned this conference, but he seemed to think it a mere practitioners' conference and asked if I couldn't present at an academic venue. That floored me for a moment because I didn't realise that he didn't realise this was a branch of the AOM, the Academy of Management. You can't get much more academic than that, can you? and it's international. Fortunately, I had enough wit to point this out tactfully, and he seemed reassured.

It was the most stimulating conference I've been to because it was all so closely related to my research, and I've come home raring to finish my corrections and even with other ideas as to how I could have developed my research, or written the thesis.

Academics from Europe and America discussed consultancy, consultants, their relationship with clients, their identity, image, future and impact. As a profession, consultants seem a navel-gazing lot, but it is interesting to note that many conference participants were practitioners who wanted to know and understand theory in order to apply it in practice. Hence, many of them considered themselves as hybrids being both academics and consultant practitioners. However, this hybridicity emphasises to me that much of the research on consulting is from the practitioner’s not the client’s perspective, and there is a dearth of research on this perspective.

Remedying this dearth somewhat, Vu University’s Master’s students, taking the consultancy module, presented posters on the client-consultant relationship from qualitative data they had collected through interviews with clients in a Dutch public sector organisation. They’d identified an iterative process of the growth of trust in the client, finding that soft skills were important to the growth of trust in the middle phases of a project.

The conference seemed well organised, for instance, at the research-based sessions, the three papers presented seeming to slot together well.

I presented my paper in a session on consultants as sense makers, at which there were 14 or so participants including names you recognise from journal publications. Questions included
  • one on clarification of adapting behaviour. Did it cover adapting a mindset, which was something I hadn’t explicitly separated from physical adapting of project processes when I analysed, nor did I immediately have an example to mind.
  • the way I represented some cycles. I should probably change double headed arrows to two single headed arrows. As the questioner had earlier presented an applauded session on diagramming, I think I should take his advice. He did, thankfully, also comment positively on the model.
  • Finally there was a question on tensions, because I hadn’t clearly explained it was a normative model. I elucidated by describing an earlier scenario of an initially unsuccessful case that lacked interaction, and then adapted its conditions and behaviours.
A stream of papers that I didn’t fit in to my schedule was on the value of consultancy, something I think I could have developed more in my thesis, value of engagement and its relationship to value of consultancy. In similar vein, Andrew Sturdy gave a key note lecture on the impact of consultants, the tenor being that their impact is rather less than the industry itself argues for – a critical academic indeed. Wouldn't he have been an interesting examiner for me!

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