Debating Point – What is Excellence in Consulting

With the launch of this new Centre for Management Consulting Excellence, this is a relevant question.

There are plenty of standards for consulting – for example, those for Certified Management Consultant, promoted by the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes, shown here.

These and other standards usually focus on professionalism – the ethical and business standards by which all consultants must abide – and competence in conducting their work.

Sometimes the standards are precepts applying to a whole consulting firm, as for example the Consulting Excellence framework promoted by the UK-based Management Consultancies Association, shown here.

There are also qualifications in consulting – for example, those offered in professional consulting by the Institute of Consulting shown here.

Earlier this year an ISO standard for consulting services (ISO 20700: 2017 Guidelines for management consultancy service) has been published; this follows on from an earlier European standard EN16114 for management consultancy services.

These standards are mainly about the quality of consultants and consulting firms; what clients are perhaps more interested in is the quality of the results they achieve.

‘Quality ‘of course is one of those words in the world of management, along with ‘strategy’ and ‘communication’ open to a variety of interpretations. One writer has come up with a number of different definitions for the manufacturing sector;

  • The transcendent approach where quality is synonymous with “innate excellence”
  • The manufacturing based approach where the concept is to make products “free of errors”
  • The user based approach where the object is to make sure the product is “fit for purpose”
  • The product based approach which views quality as a precise “measurable set of characteristics” that are required to satisfy the customer
  • The value based approach which takes the manufacturing approach a stage further and defines quality in terms of “cost and price”

Management consulting is perhaps less amenable to such a set of product based definitions; where consulting projects are more like bespoke tailoring than an off-the-peg suit.

So for me, the interesting area of study – and debatably the concern of this Centre – is what it is that enables management consultants to achieve outstanding results for their clients. I believe that management consulting is a performance art: one like music. The concert pianist may know the theory of music, but there is something more that results in a delighted audience.

And that is why this piece is under the heading of ‘debating point’. What are the factors that enable management consultants to deliver outstanding results to delight their clients?

Please feel free to contribute to the debate.