Sub-theme 50: Management Consultancy: Exploring the Boundaries and Alternatives

Stefan Heusinkveld
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Andrew Sturdy
University of Bristol, UK
Andreas Werr
Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Call for Papers

In recent years, management scholars have witnessed the expansion of the management consulting industry. Here, particular attention has been given to the increased economic and ideational significance of consultants and consulting firms. While recognising the scepticism that consultancy and consultancy-led changes often attracts, the industry has achieved a remarkable and almost continuous growth in size and status.

Research on management consultancy has progressed significantly during the same period, but what can we say about the boundaries of this industry and alternative, perhaps less high profile, approaches to achieving its functions? Management consulting has typically been considered as a particular, albeit notoriously ill-defined, part of a broader field of professional services. However, such an understanding runs the risk of both exaggerating the extent and impact of consultancy and underestimating the multiplicity of forms of management advice and alternatives to organizational innovation (Sturdy, 2011). Rather, a more profound understanding of the occupation of consulting and its influence on management and organizational practice, requires a conceptualization of management advice as more diverse and something that can take hybrid forms (e.g. former consultants as managers) which often cross-organizational and occupational boundaries.

For instance, various occupational and functional management groups such as internal consultants, auditors, accountants, project managers, HR managers, purchasing managers, interim managers and IT specialists, have sought to appropriate the position and discourse of consultants as a legitimate advice giver by colonizing 'external' roles and practices or even transforming themselves in their image – 'we are all consultants now'? Related to such changes are those which impact directly upon traditional managerial and consulting roles and identities such as the increasing 'professionalization' of purchasing (Bäcklund & Werr, 2008), the development of firms' own management advisory services, and the transformation of traditional consultancies into 'multidisciplinary business services providers'. This draws attention to our questioning of the nature of management as well as consultancy.

This sub-theme aims to explore conceptualizations of management advisory and related services, beyond the traditional management consultant and consulting firm. The hope is to develop fruitful research directions into both consulting as an occupation/profession and organizational innovation, but also in relation to management and managerial identity. Encouraging the use of both critical and established, and empirical and theoretical approaches and perspectives, we invite papers that deal with the issues outlined above as well as the following, non-exclusive list:

  • Managers' and other actors' constructions of the consultancy-management boundary-roles, identities and dynamics of advice and other services
  • Colonization and appropriation of consultancy, and the evolution of new consulting areas or advisory services (e.g. PR/communication, CSR)
  • The politics and dynamics of defining consultancy – occupational identity moves towards and away from consulting
  • Non-consulting activities of consulting firms and consultants
  • The consultancy (non) usage by managers and others, or active rejection of consultancy as a form of organizational innovation
  • Internal and external alternatives to consultancy in relation to its diverse functions such as innovation
  • The emergence and 'professionalization' of actors mediating the relation between clients and consultants (e.g. advising on the purchase and use of consultants)
  • Management consultancy and broader and historical discourses of advice



Sturdy, A. (2011): "Consultancy's consequences? A critical assessment of management consultancy’s impact on management." British Journal of Management, forthcoming.
Bäcklund, J. & A. Werr (2008): "Constructing the legitimate buyer of management consulting services." Journal of Organizational Change Management, 21 (6), 758–772


Stefan Heusinkveld Stefan Heusinkveld is an assistant professor at the Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. In addition to having attended every EGOS conference since 2000, he was involved in the organisation of a number of well-evaluated EGOS sub-themes. Stefan’s research concentrates on the production and consumption of management ideas and in particular the role of management consultants and management gurus.
Andrew Sturdy Andrew Sturdy is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Head of the Department of Management at the University of Bristol in the UK. He has successfully organised numerous conference streams, including at EGOS, and edited various journal special issues around them (e.g. Management Learning and Organization). His research relates directly to the proposed stream. He is currently leading a UK research council funded project on internal management consultancy.
Andreas Werr Andreas Werr is associate professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, and the head of the Center for People and Organization at the school. Andreas has been involved in the organisation of several conferences and conference streams, including streams at EGOS and the Academy of Management. Andreas’s research interests include questions regarding the use and work of management consultants as well as the nature and development of management knowledge.