What Do Management Consultants Do?


Most of us probably think of management consultancy as a technocratic function, helping companies fix internal problems in order to become more productive. But Institute for New Economic Thinking grantee Kimberley Chong thinks about it in a different way, by viewing management consultancy through the lens of cultural anthropology.

For her, maximization of shareholder value is centrally a cultural value, a value that individuals absorb from the culture around them. Or not, and that is where the management consultant comes in. The role of the consultant, Chong argues, is to serve as an agent of cultural change. And the first task of change agents is to change themselves to embody the culture they seek to transmit.

From this perspective, management consultancy in China, the focus of Chong’s research, is about bringing a culture of profit maximization to a world that has grown up on different principles and different values. In part, it is about making Chinese companies more productive. But it is also, and maybe more importantly, about making Chinese companies more acceptable to Western investors by aligning cultural values.

Chong chose to study anthropology rather than economics because she wanted to understand the reality of economic behavior. And she has pursued her passion by studying real individuals living in real organizations. That’s new economic thinking.

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