The Advice Business: Essential Tools and Models for Management Consulting

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9780130303738: The Advice Business: Essential Tools and Models for Management Consulting

The dramatic growth of the consulting industry in the last 20 years can, in part, be traced to rapid changes in technology that have provoked dramatic changes in the ways companies compete. Consultants provide companies facing such rapidly changing environments with an important means of developing, acquiring, and processing much-needed know-how. Increasingly, consultants have proved to be a vital strategic weapon that companies rely on to improve their competitiveness in a world characterized by technological convergences, strategic consolidations, and growing interdependence. The Advice Business introduces readers to the art, the practice, and the problems that consultants face. The book sheds light on the complex roles that consultants and consulting firms play in enhancing the effectiveness of their clients. Contributions of both academics and practitioners to this emerging field include original case descriptions based on real consulting assignments, and career advice. For consultants in varying areas of expertise, and for the clients and potential clients in need of their services.

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About the Author:

Charles J. Fombrun is Executive Director of the Reputation Institute and Professor Emeritus of Management at the Stern School of Business of New York University. Before discovering the social sciences, he earned a B.S. in Physics from Queen's University (Canada) and did his early research on magnetic levitation. Tired of staring at oscilloscopes in lonely labs, he turned first to mathematical economics before edging closer to the social sciences at the University of California (Berkeley) and then at Columbia University where he completed a Ph.D. in organizational theory in 1980. He was the youngest professor at the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) when he taught there from 1979 to 1984.

Dr. Fombrun is the author of Strategic Human Resource Management (1984), Turning Points: Creating Strategic Change in Corporations (1992), and the best-seller Reputation: Realizing Value from the Corporate Image (1996). He has published over 100 articles in leading research and professional journals, where he writes principally about how companies build and sustain valuable reputations, and how they should manage their resources strategically.

Dr. Fombrun's perspective on corporate reputations has made him an invited speaker at many corporate or industry gatherings and international conferences, as well as an advisor to such companies as Royal Dutch/Shell, Interpublic Group, and Amway. He has served on numerous editorial boards, including Administrative Science Quarterly, Strategic Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Human Resource Management, and Human Resource Planning. In 1996, he ran into Cees van Riel, a professor at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, from which a fruitful collaboration started that has fostered executive programs, annual conferences, a quarterly journal (the Corporate Reputation Review), and the Reputation Institute, a private organization devoted to research, measurement, valuation, and consulting about corporate reputations.

Mark David Nevins is the President of Nevins Consulting; he is an organizational advisor and coach, and consults in the areas of organizational design and development, curriculum creation, leadership and management development, change management, and sales and client-facing effectiveness.

Prior to starting his own firm, Dr. Nevins was Global Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development for Korn/Ferry International, the world's leading retained executive search firm, where he drove organizational and cultural change to help the firm migrate from a private sales-focused partnership to a publicly held professional services firm. Previously, he was for many years the head of professional development and training worldwide for Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the world's leading strategy and management consulting firms, where he had responsibility for all of the firm's formal and informal training and development programs for all levels of professional staff, and was one of the drivers of the firm's HR strategy and people programs as well as primary architect of the Booz Allen Curriculum.

Dr. Nevins has consulted with large and small organizations, both public and private, for more than 15 years; he has studied leadership, management, and organizational development extensively, with a special focus in professional services firms. He is a moderator for The Aspen Institute's Executive Seminar on Values-Based Leadership., and regularly guest lectures on major business school campuses.

Prior to his career in the private sector Dr. Nevins taught at Harvard University, where he also held several administrative positions. He was graduated with honors from the College of the Holy Cross, where he studied sciences, philosophy, and literature. He took his Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard University, during which time he received awards for his teaching, as well as scholarships for research and study in the United States and abroad. He has worked, traveled, and taught in more than 60 countries on 5 continents, and in his free time he enjoys film, wine, reading, snowboarding, and scuba diving.

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Introduction: Of Doctors and Witch Doctors

The film begins as darkness falls. The scene: a remote village in a thick jungle; a small, straw-covered hut; a red-dirt floor. A visibly ill, half-naked young woman lies prone on a tattered mat surrounded by concerned relative's and friends. Hovering over her is a colorfully dressed old man, face marked with paint, wearing elaborate headgear, and clutching at a plumed wand that he waves over the sobbing woman as he chants. The group follows the song; heavy drumbeats mark the rhythm of their chant, which they match by pounding their feet on the dirt. Dust flies, arms wave, the patient moans. Suddenly, her eyes open and spasms shake her body. She rises in fits and starts, her head jerking wildly from side to side. Within minutes, she stands and rocks to-and-fro with the music as the rhythmic chants envelop her. A rumbling sound comes from deep within her . . . she sways, then collapses. The chanting stops, and the woman looks up, her previously cloudy eyes wide open and now clear—she's cured!

We know these clichéd ceremonial rites all too well from movies depicting the tribal practices of ancient peoples. These rituals are just as apt to describe people today as they consult medical specialists, anticipating cure-alls to solve their health problems. They're also just as apt to describe savvy business executives when they approach management consultants: They pose as sick clients coming to a consultant for assistance, anticipating a wave of the magic wand, and poof! a cure. To the outside observer (and the client), the consultant very much resembles a witch doctor capable of redressing ills by conjuring spirits, dispelling demons, and applying magical potions to physical and emotional wounds.

In truth, practitioners of Western medicine and witch doctors have things in common—characteristics they also share with consultants. In remarkably similar ways:

  • Doctors- and witch doctors rely on specialized knowledge and replicable practices to address a specific client problem—as do consultants;
  • Doctors and witch doctors rely on patients' cooperation and belief that the treatment will work—as do consultants;
  • Doctors and witch doctors are well compensated for their work-as are consultants (often very well indeed).

So, what exactly is the value proposition consultants proffer to their clients? Why do consulting firms pay young, often inexperienced MBA students fabulous starting salaries and bonuses for their hard work and brain power? Why the consulting mystique? The answer is actually fairly simple: managers, engrossed as they are in their daily grind, are caught up in the tactical demands of their work, and often blinded to underlying strategic issues of their business. There are times—times of crisis as well as moments of opportunity—when these managers can benefit from an external perspective, unbiased advice, technical expertise and active coaching that consultants can provide—the kind of advice that can help them improve their company's profitability, ratchet up its competitiveness, unlock innovation, or drive transformational change through thick layers of bureaucracy.

The dramatic growth of the consulting industry in the last 20 years can also be traced to rapid advances in technology, which have provoked fundamental changes in the ways companies compete. Consultants provide companies facing such rapidly changing environments with important means of developing, acquiring, and processing much-needed know-how. In challenging environments, consultants can be a vital strategic weapon that companies can rely on to improve their competitiveness in a world characterized by technological convergences, strategic consolidations, growing interdependence, and a changing social contract between employer and employee.

Rapid growth has increased specialization and diversity in the consulting industry itself. Consultants today provide wide-ranging advice to managers at all levels and across most functions, including strategic planning, information systems, marketing, organization, finance, human resources, and change implementation. Indeed, consulting is big business today. Vast numbers of professional consultants work as independent specialists and entrepreneurs in solo practices or small boutiques. Many of the most prominent corporate advisors work either with large consulting firms like McKinsey & Company or as in-house staff in public companies. Whatever their business cards say, all consultants have as their compelling core purpose the imperative to help a company improve its performance.

The purpose of The Advice Business is to introduce readers to the art, the practice, and the problems that consultants face. We try to shed light on the complex roles that consultants and consulting firms play in enhancing the effectiveness of their clients. The Advice Business draws heavily on pragmatic contributions that practitioners are making in this profession. It also relies on the increasingly intertwined literatures of strategic management and organizational analysis to frame discussions and analyze problems. We hope you are inspired by the profession, and perhaps bewitched.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK

The book consists of five parts. Part I introduces the reader to the consulting industry and profiles some of the major changes taking place as the industry converges and clashes with complementary professional services offered by accounting firms and software producers. Part II examines how consultants think, and introduces readers to the approaches consultants take when they frame client situations and conceive and execute a client engagement from start to finish. Part III addresses questions of implementation: how consultants create value by helping companies implement solutions. In Part IV, we call on the expertise of specific consultants to describe representative engagements carried out with "real-world" clients; these case studies provide concrete evidence of the dialogue that takes place between concepts and practice as an engagement unfolds. Finally, Part V raises questions (and meta-questions) about the profession and professionalism: What does it mean to "be a consultant," and what key ethical, marketing, and career issues should readers keep in mind as they consider becoming advisors to corporate clients?

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