5.4. Generating knowing
5.4.5 Management consultants as agents of rationality The interaction between
management consultants and the client organization is never
uncomplicated. It has been illustrated how knowing is generated and
14 Authors note in parentheses.
15Authors note in parentheses.
65 developed through a hermeneutical process where negotiations of meaning generate learning opportunities and trigger generation of new understandings. In the following will I depict how these negotiations of meaning are subject to contested knowing and are expressed through the continuum above.
Blackler (1995:1039) notes that power and knowledge are interrelated.
Blackler (1995:1040) refers to Ortner (1984) who argues that while attempts that try to integrate social, economic and political factors with values, ideals and emotions, have been fruitful to describe societies and cultures as whole entities, they note that all social systems are unequal. Blackler (1995:1040) denotes that “any theory of knowing as a cultural activity must acknowledge the, often self-reproducing, dynamics of domination and subordination that are a feature of everyday life”. This underlines the importance and relevance of the relation between knowledge and power.
The collaboration between management consultants and organizational members in business process innovation projects depart from different standpoints.
Because management consultants often are constrained and limited to the data they attain and are provided with, they hold few or no attachments to the client organization and their arguments so forth often builds upon a rational logic (Florida 4010, Oregon 6502). The client organizational members on the other hand hold a number of personal and emotional attachments towards their organization and the understanding of it.
Texas (4555-4558) emphasizes that analyses made by management consultants are based purely on numbers and cold facts. Oregon (6479-6486) argues similarly that the client organization, unlike management consultants, have to consider a broader variety of consequences and complexities to any given action, such as laws and regulations but also sentimental and emotional attachments. Dakota seems to suggest that management consultants are sometimes trapped in the iron cage16 (1383-1385) “Many times they sit there, with their cold minds and theories, models, and spreadsheets, and they state that something should simply be done in a certain matter”.
These beliefs and perceptions produce and reproduce the idea of management consultants as agents of rationality because their social status and role
16 The iron cage is a concept developed by the German sociologist Max Weber. Weber describes a societal tendency that is permeated by a rationalization process to such an extent that it is losing the ideals and meanings of existence. The iron cage does so forth trap individuals in systems of efficiencies and control, and rejects notions of human compassion (Månson 2007: 108).
66 builds on the purpose and expectation of them to be rational and to use this rationality in a given context. As agents of rationality they are expected to provide analyses that build on ideas of rational choices and calculations since they are constrained from other notions such as values, emotions and ideals of the client organization. In Blackler’s (1995:1042) conceptualization of contested knowing he argues that economic, social and technological changes act as incitements for domination and subordination.
Management consultants’ roles as agents of rationality in business process innovation projects would accordingly generate issues that relate to power distribution.
Interestingly, while management consultants’ social roles are conceived as agents of rationality, this seems to generate a subordinated rather than dominating position. The conception of management consultants suggests that because their perception is restricted to their intellectual capacities and theoretical knowledge claims their arguments seem to be subordinated compared to arguments coming from within the organization and the hirers in particular. This is exemplified and expressed through stories that depict decision making in business process innovation projects as highly based on subjectivity and client organizational experience.
Kentucky (5507-5512,5708-5722) describes a business process innovation project that took place as an effect of a major acquisition. One of the challenges with this acquisition was to find out how they should deliver their services in this new organization that now held more dimensions and technologies. Kentucky appointed McKinsey to help him resolve this issue. McKinsey suggested at that point that the organizational structure should be differentiated in accordance with the technologies of the organization, in such a way that the different technologies drove the organizational structure. Kentucky explains
I knew instinctively that it was a mistake to go down that path. (…) As an old entrepreneur from the world of projects I said that it might be that such a thing is possible (the organizational structure)17, but it is suicide because if you don’t let the organization follow the geographical division, which means that within a certain geographic position it’s the same persons who will execute the project afterwards, if that isn’t done it will all fall apart.
All experience demonstrates this, that if it’s not the same that is responsible for the project in the sales phase and the phase where it is executed, it all goes to hell (Kentucky 5529-5547).
17 Authors note in parentheses.
67 He later argues that while McKinsey’s idea might be applicable in many situations and have a grounded theoretical argument, it would never work in this context and he knew this from experience (Kentucky 5734-5740). Kentucky clearly illustrates the significance of intuitive and subjective knowledge of a given problem that the members of the client organization develop. It moreover illustrates how management consultants’ arguments are thought of as subordinate because they base their accounts solely on rationality and lack an understanding of the consequences that the practices of the rational accounts will generate.
Dakota describes a similar occasion where he had hired McKinsey to analyze how his company should services in the northern part of Sweden
We were looking at Norrland in Sweden, how it should be operated and they presented a few models because that was a part of the assignment. Should we operate in Norrland or should we not? Should we operate in collaboration with Amber (a rival company)18 or should we not collaborate with Amber and improve the capacity of our own processes?
And their solution was that we should operate in collaboration with Amber. In that situation I contested this solution and said: I don’t want to do that. You have to come up with other solutions (…). You cannot do it differently they said, but I did and I just said: in this case I know more than you do (Dakota 1338-1358).
At a later point Dakota (2312-2314) explains: “You shouldn’t just buy the financial sheets, so to speak the facts that they put forward. It is also the matter of, no, I don’t believe in this”. Because both Dakota and Kentucky expect and evaluate that management consultants’ advice is restricted to cold facts and rational accounts they produce and reproduce the image of management consultants as agents of rationality.
The implication of this is that the arguments that management consultants present become subordinate in comparison to what their subjective perspectives, intuitive feelings and experience tell them. When I asked Dakota to what use the management consultants are when he disregards their proposals? To this Dakota responded that the perspective and solutions that McKinsey proposed had increased their understanding of the business and “they have given us tools that we can bring along to other parts of the organization and perhaps use in another context. So in that way we have learned something and we have gotten a stronger organization”(Dakota 1402-1404).
18 Authors note in parentheses.
68 Blackler (1995:1042) argues that the foundation for contested knowing is issues of domination and that these help develop the praxis of knowing. Dakota’s example illustrates how the distribution of power is fruitful for the development of contested knowing because while Dakota chose not to utilize McKinsey’s recommendation the alternative proposals strengthened Dakota’s own assumptions of the context, because the alternatives for actions were not adequate enough in the eyes of Dakota. The context of dominating and subordinated arguments furthermore stimulates opportunities for learning as the process of presenting different arguments within the business process innovation project enhances and widens the perspectives for potential actions.
It becomes evident that the generation of contested knowing is a construction of conflicting arguments that develops through dialogue. Given Blackler’s (1995:1042) conceptualization that issues of domination and subordination are foundational for the praxis of knowing, rather than separating management consultants’
arguments of rational accounts and the client organization’s arguments of subjectivity, this contrasting perspectives should be united. It is then more fruitful to depict the business process innovation project as a context where the dynamic of opposing arguments creates the generation of contested knowing.
To elaborate this notion that conflicting arguments are manifested in how they are constructed, Wyoming (3093-3107) suggests management consultants’
arguments and reports also to be subjective. Wyoming (ibid, see also Florida 4010-4017) further explicates his argument by saying that management consultants are subjective because their reports and arguments are also submission to choices. These choices might be based on a different basis, but are still choices and therefore also subjective. This is important to Wyoming (3097-3099) because it manifests the idea of relativeness and that decision making so forth can never be based on a complete fundament of reasoning. This underlines Blackler’s (1995:1035) notion that knowing is an active and multidimensional process that needs to be created and is subjected to the situated, distributed and material conditions. Blackler’s (1995:1042) conceptualization of contested knowing emphasizes on the fruitfulness of conflicts. The continuum presented in the beginning of this section portrays two opposite dimensions, rationality and subjectivity. While these dimensions portray the hirers’ view of the basis of
69 management consultants’ arguments and the client organization’s argument, rather than separating these notions, Blackler’s (1995) conceptualization of contested knowing stresses the fruitfulness of these contrasting views.
5.4.6 Summary and discussion