Deakins, E. & Dillon, S. (2006). Management consultant (process) performance in local government. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 19(1), 40-56.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/1877
Purpose – Broadly conceptualised, a consultant's work can be evaluated by the deliverables produced and by the process used to achieve those deliverables. This paper seeks to report the use of a survey instrument to assess and compare management consultant process performance and client performance (in specifying the contract), enabling meaningful dialogue between the parties. Design/methodology/approach – A validated instrument, previously developed by the authors, was employed to survey all local and regional authorities in New Zealand regarding the expectations they have of their management consultants and their perceptions of process performance. Congruence of the performance profiles was assessed with the aid of profile similarity indices. Findings – While results for the sector indicate that New Zealand local authorities appear to be generally well satisfied with the levels of service they are receiving from their management consultants, individual authorities are experiencing significant gaps between their expectations and what is being delivered. In addition, misalignments between client expectations and benchmark process performance measures indicate a lack of rigour when specifying contracts. Research limitations/implications – The research makes use of subjective measures of excellent consulting practice sourced from industry-respected consultants and authors in the field, rather than attempting to justify their choice from a theoretical basis. Conceptual difficulties with the use of profile similarity indices in alignment research are noted. The generalisability of the benchmark performance standards to consultants operating in other sectors remains to be tested. Practical implications – Benchmark consultant performance standards provide the basis for local authorities to insist upon internationally recognized and recommended standards of contract delivery. The use of well-developed process performance measures to assess differences between local authority expectations and perceived consultant performance, and between perceived consultant performance and benchmark expectations, provides the opportunity for local authorities and their consultants to engage in meaningful and objective dialogue. Skilled consultants will benefit from dialogue that should translate into greater respect and understanding of their true worth, and into the setting of contract specifications and pricing that reflect this assessment. Originality/value – Previous authors have argued the lack of well-developed performance measures and attendant benchmark performance standards expected of consultants. The present study directly addresses these gaps and focuses on the manner in which management consultants work with public sector clients to produce contract deliverables. Validated benchmark measures are used to detect process performance gaps, providing the opportunity for local authorities and their consultants to engage in meaningful dialogue.
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