The press eagerly leapt on a research study published in February 2018 that claimed to show that there was an inverse correlation between health trust performance and the amount they spent on management consultants – in other words, the more they spent, the worse they got!

This certainly attracted the attention of consultants too, who engaged in a lively rebuttal.

I happen to know the academics who conducted this study; they are distinguished and we can trust the integrity of their results, although I personally would not agree with the headline conclusions. But the study raises two important questions:

  1. How can you assess the impact of consultants? In teaching consulting skills I tell students “there is no such thing as a consulting project; they are simply client projects being supported by consultants”. They are therefore joint ventures between client and consultant and it is difficult to unequivocally disaggregate the impact of each on the success of a project.
  2. Why is there a popular narrative that portrays management consultants as charlatans and snake-oil salesmen? One explanation is that consultants are engaged in making change happen; change is not always comfortable or popular, so those affected will resent these agents of change.

These topics were discussed at the appropriately named annual Change Lecture hosted by the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants shortly after the publication. The authors of the controversial study mentioned above explained their research, and then there was a debate which shed some light on the questions above.

You can see a report of the proceedings at https://wcomc.org/2018May31-6

Calvert Markham

Alan Finn
Author: Alan Finn