The Agent's Agent: Power, Knowledge, and Uncertainty in Management Consultancy



Fincham R (2002) The Agent's Agent: Power, Knowledge, and Uncertainty in Management Consultancy. International Studies of Management and Organization, 32 (4), pp. 67-86.

The existence of so many metaphors for the management consultant (e.g., as performer, as witchdoctor) betokens the fundamental uncertainty of consultancy work. This article suggests that the application of agency theory to the client-consultant relationship may be a useful way of exploring and mapping this uncertainty. The image of consultants as the "agent's agent" (hopefully, not just another metaphor) pictures consultancy as defined by an extended agency role: The consultant is the agent of management, which is itself the agent of capital. In seeing consultancy in this way, as a kind of extrusion of managerial power, attention is drawn to its tenuous legitimacy in client firms, as well as to a kind of parity between consultancy and management. The article highlights two central aspects of uncertainty-power and knowledge-and explores these in research conducted in large-scale firms like the Big Five. The data confirm the importance of consultancy as "relational work" and the subordination of consultancy. Typical agency problems were mirrored in the limits of power tactics employed in client firms and the difficulties of transfer between consultant and local managerial knowledge.

International Studies of Management and Organization: Volume 32, Issue 4

Publication date31/12/2002
PublisherME Sharpe

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Professor Robin Fincham

Professor Robin Fincham

Emeritus Professor, Management, Work and Organisation