Expert or speaking partner?: shifting roles and identities in consulting work
Journal article, 2010
Purpose: Identities are central to the regulation and control of knowledge-intensive work. Rather than being managed on the basis of technocratic or bureaucratic control, knowledge intensive firms are employing knowledge workers who enact and internalize identities and roles that guide everyday behaviour in organizations. However, the concept of identity is relational and contingent on local conditions and interactions in everyday practices, different identities may be complementary or even contradictory. The paper aims to show that consultants are altering between being experts and speaking-partners, two identities that in many ways are complementary but also mutually reinforcing. Design/methodology/approach: This is a case study of a Swedish management consulting firm, Johnson Consulting. Findings: The challenge for consultants is to be capable of effortlessly transgressing the line of demarcation between the two identities - expert and speaking-partner - and their accompanying practices for the benefit of the client. Skilled consultants are trained at moving back and forth between these positions while less experienced consultants may find it intimidating to lose their position as expert. Practical implications: The paper concludes that knowledge-intensive firms such as management consulting firms should articulate and elaborate on the various identities mobilized in everyday work when encountering clients. Originality/value: The paper uses the literature on identities in knowledge-intensive firms and an empirical study of management consultants to show that knowledge-intensive work is always operating on the level of identities and self-images. Understanding knowledge intensive firms thus demands an understanding of how co-workers perceive their own role.