Game of experts: Management consultants vying for power in unfamiliar fields
Paper in proceedings, 2014
We critically examine management consultants in their work to inculcate “new” ideas, subdue resistance and enforce their value in, hitherto for them, an uncharted field. Our empirical data are drawn from a longitudinal study (2005-2014) examining strategy work in a large Swedish construction organisation. In this paper, we focus on a particular strategic-development project carried out in 2011 to consolidate a new strategic direction in the organisation. Contrary to previous strategic endeavours, business-school management experts were commissioned to design and run this project. It comprised leading a three-day mandatory away-days strategy workshop for all top, middle and project managers in the organisation: in all 30 iterations of the workshop were planned.
We describe the unfolding of the power dynamics in three of these workshops: one with top-managers, one with middle managers and one with project managers. In this case, the management experts failed to achieve buy-in at all managerial levels for their advocated models and practices, and the project was aborted half way. The workshops became sites of contention in which struggles for power were played out between two very different fields of expertise. In our analysis, we focus on the resources, both available and used, by the management experts to establish and legitimate their social order. We also discuss the resources used by the construction managers to resist, and to reinforce their own social order.