Management Consultants Navigating Competing Systems of Engagement

Hartley, Jeanette; Holti, Richard and Carli, Giacomo (2021). Management Consultants Navigating Competing Systems of Engagement. In: Academy of Management Proceedings (Taneja, Sonia ed.), 2021(1).



The consultancy-facing role of the management consultant, which often involves ongoing responsibilities for the day to day operation and ongoing success of their consultancy alongside client work, has not been researched sufficiently. Management consultants must balance their participation between the three, often competing social systems of their client, their consultancy and their personal and family life. Their skills in managing transitions between these systems are worthy of study. In this paper we draw on empirical research performed with practicing management consultants in 2019 to explore how management consultants experience and navigate between these competing systems of engagement. We draw on the concept of liminality to provide a theoretical framework for our research (Turner, 1967, 1969). We based our research design on Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, a qualitative approach concerned with in-depth exploration of lived experience, and with how people make sense of that lived experience (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009). Data collection focused primarily on semi-structured interviews across three consultancy settings. We contribute to management consultancy theory by establishing that management consultants have a consultancy-facing role which may be significant. We contribute to theory on liminality by establishing that management consultants experience different kinds of liminality when navigating different systems of engagement. We also contribute to the slowly growing body of work using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) in business and management research.

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