Conflicting virtues: Honor or objectivity

In his weekly column, Tom Rodenhauser, president and founder of Consulting Information Services, follows trends in e-services and management consulting. This week features a look at the possible loss of objectivity by consultancies.

Fortune magazine provides a glimpse at consulting’s fuzzy future in the current issue (“Old Consultants Never Die: They just Go ‘e’”/June 12). Leaders from the largest firms postulate on “cataclysmic” market changes and worry about objectivity being “compromised” by today’s do-all consultants. Clients take note: the emperor looks in the mirror and sees nakedness.

The term “business advisor” has become truly ubiquitous these days. Fifty years ago, accountants and lawyers provided the type of advice that often defined companies and their corporate strategies. Then came the emergence of professional management advisors like McKinsey, AT Kearney, and BCG, micro-economists excellent at analyzing business problems and eager to provide advice.

Even though these firms pushed pet theories, the industry honor code 20 years ago promoted a level of neutrality that supposedly discouraged consultants from “selling” pre-packaged solutions. “That’s sales, not consulting,” sniffs one veteran.

Now everybody has an alliance with “best-in-class” applications and providers (the Big 5 seem to announce new ones every third day). Unless you believe in pixie dust and fairies, you can bet such alliances are predicated on selling those apps. End-to-end, soup-to-nuts; whatever cliché describes these smothering relationships contradicts the basic premise of unbiased advice.

PwC chief Scott Hartz tells Fortune “consulting isn’t really the word …” to describe the business of most major consultancies. We understand the need to align with third-party vendors to understand and install future technology. And Hartz is right, that’s not consulting. But how many consultants want to carry a business card that reads “sales and service?”

Heard on the street …
The Association of Management Consulting Firms’ 2nd Executive Forum promises more than the apparent hand-wringing chronicled in Fortune. Despite the oxygen-depleting name, Radical Restructuring: How Will the New Economy Change the Consulting Profession? Models for Firms in the E-Business World offers a solid program of senior consulting executives (including yours truly). For more information, call 212-551-7887 or visit
Inside Consulting is written by Tom Rodenhauser as a free weekly supplement to The Rodenhauser Report. The report informs senior advisors and business executives of consulting trends and best practices. Subscription cost is $295 per year for 10 issues. Copyright 2000, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox