Identity Formation and Emerging Intentions in Consultant-Client Relationships
My original contribution to theory and practice formulates management consultancy as a social act evolving within interaction with clients whereby identity, as an emerging process, can form and be formed within consultant-client relationships. Drawing on Stacey's work on complex responsive process thinking, I have described a reflexive, social self, highlighting the implications for management consultants of this open-ended responsiveness of identity formation. Within the prevailing management literature there is a sense that consultants design interventions that change organisations, whether through working on leadership development, executive coaching, providing expertise or facilitating organisational change. As part of my original contribution I pick up on the emotional, relational and occasionally messy nature of consulting, which is frequently overlooked in the literature. My research into the emergence of intentions and the formation of identity within consultant-client relationships analyses my work as a researcher-practitioner working within large financial service organisations through a variety of consulting projects. The inquiry examines my professional practice, researched through a social, iterative and temporal method centring on reflexive, narrative inquiries. I illuminate the fundamental conversational nature of consultant-client relationships; challenging the view of consulting as a transaction whereby the consultant provides a service, withdrawing relatively unchanged. I postulate consulting as a series of conversations with interdependent people wherein emerging themes organise new ways of relating and novelty evolves. Drawing on Elias' process sociology I extrapolate the fundamental interdependence of consultant-client relationships; conceptualising management consulting from a complex responsive processes way of relating. I challenge the notion of intention as located in the individual; an independent, disembodied, thought before action predicated on an 'if-then' notion of causality, underpinned by an assumption of human beings as autonomous and rational. I develop the work of Joas arguing that intentions are emerging, social and embodied; a theme organising conversations. In particular I detail how strong emotions and embodiment occur in those arresting moments, where experiences of inclusion and exclusion, can alert the consultant to new ways of relating. My inquiry has highlighted the significance for management consultants of realising the fundamentally social nature of human interaction and the importance of responsiveness in the living present. With reference to Mead's view of conversation as a pattern of gesture/ response I highlight the consultant-client relationship as co-created and therefore not to be ordered by the consultant who can, nevertheless, pick up on and influence new patterns of relating as they evolve.
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