Management Consultants Don’t Spread Ideas


A new study says management consultants are more project managers and less innovators than is commonly believed.

The popular impression that management consultants are key to spreading new ideas in organisations is exaggerated and misleading, according to a unique fly-on-the-wall study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The consultant's image as an expert outsider bringing new knowledge or understanding to clients is firmly contradicted by findings from the three-year long project led by Professor Andrew Sturdy, of Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick.

I know some of you are management consultants, or have used them in the past. I'd be interested to hear what you think… do you agree with the findings of this study?

  • Rob,

    It sounds right to me. I’ve been an organizational consultant to Fortune 1000 companies for 30 years.

    I can’t say that I’ve brought many new ideas at all. Nor have I seen others do it, including the big name firms.

    When I have asked clients why they continue our relationship, the answers are always the same:

    1. You see connections between ideas and between people/departments that we don’t see because we’re just too close.

    2. You organize and execute developmental projects for which we don’t have the expertise (the project management part).

    Honestly, I’ve never run into a company whose people didn’t really know their business and what it took to succeed. What they do want is someone to help them see it differently when they are stuck.

  • The study has a sample size of 4, which is a limitation. That said, I’m more surprised that they would say that the traditional view is that consultants just bring in new ideas to a company. If it were just about new ideas, they could just write a book instead of having to come on site.

    The point of management consulting is to implement particular ideas that are appropriate for a particular client. Not all new ideas are appropriate, and part of change management is getting the organization to accept new ideas as if they were just as easy-to-use as the old. Management Consultants actually don’t even want to be perceived as bringing brand new ideas into the organization because that attitude leads to rejection 99% of the time.

  • There are consultants and consultants, i.e. of different specialisms and experience levels. For more than 20 years, I have been a business/management consultant to small, medium sized organisations covering sales, process improvements and executive coaching (for CEOs/MDs). Most of my projects materialised because my clients could NOT do it themselves, thereby using me as the action catalyst. It could be a case of giving them the proverbial light or watch with a more accurate time. In some cases, they need someone whom they can trust for superior decisions, which minimise their perceived risks with reassurance. Occasionally, you will meet the lonely top man (very few top women!)who likes to be listened to or needs some impartial direction from an experienced mentor. I have actually listed the types of projects and clients’ responses in my new book: “What Clients Don’t Tell Management Consultants in Consulting”. Its webpage is: for those who are interested. But a word of warning, you may be shocked or surprised by my frank revelations of the consulting profession!