Deepening, widening and spreading
The use of consulting services is seen in our operational milieu, erroneously and unfortunately enough, as an admission of incompetence in our organisations. It is small wonder why problems seem to remain with us forever and consulting capacity is not made use of, writes Dr Jamal Khan
MANAGEMENT consulting and management services, buttressed by political/policy will, can serve Bangladesh now and in the future in ways more than one. Consulting can be operational, effective, accessible and available in, for instance, each of the 64 geographic areas/districts in Bangladesh. It is employable for nearly all kinds of need or work, ranging from human resource development and management, industrial relations, motivation and leadership issues to procurement, security, safety, and employee assistance. By getting work done competently and professionally by management consultants or specialists as and when necessary, scarce staff time or expertise does not get tied up, scrambling for experts in a workplace who are not there is avoided, or settling for someone who is politically appointed and is unable to do the required job is eschewed. Consultations bring much-needed, valuable and contemporary knowledge, skills, attitudes, practices, orientations and values to bear on a local management situation, when such competencies are not available internally. Consulting — when it is external to operating organisations — helps mobilise and utilise management skills and helps disseminate problem-solving capacity in target population or areas.
Personnel, having been exposed to periodic consulting, learn to live in an open and learning environment and process, where knowledge, skills and attitudes are not static and stationary but dynamic and changing. Urban bias in our management and development activity has been a persistent feature. Consulting activities can effectively neutralise such bias and bring in greater balance in resource allocation and utilisation by making strategic crossovers to rural communities and being inclusive. Public management is not exactly known universally for its people-friendliness, community orientation, and customer service. Consulting as a management function has the potential of bringing management closer to citizens, customers, taxpayers and people, their lives, their aspirations, and their struggles. For example, like agricultural extension and rural credit strengthening and diversifying agriculture, consulting with its outreach wherewithal and capability can serve client organisations over and beyond their personnel and jurisdictions.
Local-level, community-oriented and people-centric problem-sensing and problem-solving capacity can be honed and sharpened by consulting. Rather than toeing the conventional top-down approach, it can popularise the bottom-up, grassroots, indigenous and feedback-intensive operations. Target-group participation is yet another payoff of the consulting approach to organisation management. Modifying hierarchy-controlled non-participative and non-responsive conformity, non-innovation and non-involvement into target-focused participation, enthusiasm, interest, spontaneity, involvement and ownership can substantially transform management’s essence and character via the consulting mode. Target-group penetration and empowerment in terms of key development functions and their implementation/maintenance have not been a strong feature of conventional management. Likewise, consulting can consolidate operating organisations’ capacity-building, bridge-building and trust-building — three important aspects of organisation development — at precisely those contact/clearance points where they are needed most and needed urgently.
Traditional hierarchy, impersonal remoteness, customary inaccessibility and vertical employee-customer relations do not allow for resource search, tapping, mobilisation, and utilisation. The older management model that has been our historical baggage for more than a few centuries is neither interested in it, nor is it competent to do the job, nor is it in its own interest. By taking organizations and management closer to people/customers, by focusing less on bureaucratism, power-play, turf-fighting and interest maximisation, by focusing more on customers concerns, interests, problems, struggles, run-arounds and benefits, by consciously creating and sustaining an activist customer culture and by deemphasising the authority-flexing self-seeking culture, target group-based consulting can locate and tap resources, maximise potential, turn process into reality, explore opportunity and locate and nurture talents and abilities. Genuine multilateral consulting is facilitative of beneficiary and customer-related problem-focusing and solving, reviewing and counselling, thus informing planning, decision-making, policy-making, process-streamlining, procedure-simplifying, resource allocation, control, and coordination. Transparency and accountability can be enhanced and deepened by putting consulting services in place. This becomes possible, and even attractive, by dovetailing target-group interests, customers concerns, counselling focuses and organisational engagement.
Much sought-after in almost every country’s quest for growth and development, decentralisation can be effectively advanced and achieved as a way of relieving pressure, congestion, crowding, tension, and pileup. Long in use, centralisation has shackled organisation/management development in the public sector by remaining suffocatingly dependent on time-consuming and initiative-killing central directions and vertical command and control and staying relatively passive, hesitant, defensive, timid, slow and overcautious with respect to decentralisation issues. Such an obsolete stance fails to serve a postcolonial, fractured, conflicted, populous, poor, rural, disaster-prone, unequal, inegalitarian, environmentally-challenged and work-needy country like Bangladesh.
Certain misunderstandings commonly attend the concept and practice of management consultancy. Lot of people in Bangladesh, for instance, tend to think that consulting involves engaging the professional services of specialised individuals who are external to a hiring organisation. While this is true, it is equally true that a consultant can be an insider, too. A consultant can be either an individual or a group, with such functions being carried out by either one individual/group functioning in one geographic area or several individuals/groups dispersed on a large area. The consulting process can be generally viewed as any form of assistance on the content, process or structure of a task or a series of tasks, where the consultant is not actually responsible for doing the task itself but is helping those who are. A consultant is a helper or enabler, acts in an advisory capacity, serves within or outside the scope of his/her job, is viewed in a professional/specialist capacity, is contracted or specially assigned, is specially trained and qualified, assists in an objective and independent manner, identifies and analyses management tasks and challenges, recommends solutions to problems, helps with implementation as and when requested, and helps facilitate and execute change.
By not going for the mode of management consulting and management services in Bangladesh’s public sector, we are missing out considerably on assisting organisations and personnel in improving management practices as well as individual/organisational performance. In our context, we are not doing well with respect to developing the capacity of our management system to cope continuously with problems and challenges which are created by ongoing and ubiquitous social, cultural and attitudinal change. More to the point, we are not doing well with regard to developing a process of and commitment to improving the management process and updating the existing management structure and keying it into development plans and objectives.
The entire consulting process — providing professional knowledge and skills relevant to daily organisational and operational problems — is being diminished and the important organisational link between the theory and practice of management in terms of concepts, methods and systems and applying them to practical situations is being blurred. In the modern concept of consulting, the learning dimension is stressed, as it is seen more than merely providing assistance. Our system is sorely missing out on the real or potential role of a consultant who identifies the need for change and provides assistance in planning, implementing and overcoming change resistance. We are overlooking, to our detriment, our home-grown, older and experienced consultants who see consulting as a natural avenue for them to share their expertise, insight, sensitivity and cumulative experience with organisational leaders and personnel.
In Bangladeshi organisations, the various modes of consultation — provision, prescription, collaboration and mediation — could be more frequently and intensively used. Especially, the collaboration mode — where a diagnosis and remedy are requested — and the mediation mode — where a consultant works with different personnel, organisations, functional areas and geographic areas — is analytically and operationally capable of intensifying problem-solving capacity considerably.
Putting our cards on the table, we remain indifferent to the process of management interaction/intervention, thereby failing to recognise the importance, as well as the significance, of balancing the tactical, conceptual and human skills in personnel and faltering to undertake strategic training in the more cognitive, conceptual, theoretical, analytical, behavioural and human facets of management. We are missing out, and it comes as no surprise, on a strong possibility of personnel acting as change agents and prime movers as they steadily overcome the dysfunctional tendency to do things the old and unproductive way. We are negligent about consultants engaging in corrective, progressive and creative problem-solving for and in organisations.
Except for high-cost and high-profile donor agency-led consulting, in Bangladesh’s public sector operations consultant interests have been limited in number, scope, frequency, and duration. Even under the most optimum conditions, interaction has been temporary as well as intermittent. Our management systems, sub-systems, sectors and sub-sectors have been, more or less, de-linked from valuable organisation-centred consulting skills, such as entry, exit, counterparts, collaboration, intervening skills, listening skills, implementing skills, diagnostic skills, report-writing, presentation, ethics, marketing, and costing. Talking about defensiveness, a funny side appears regularly — perhaps it is not so funny. The use of consulting services is seen in our operational milieu, erroneously and unfortunately enough, as an admission of incompetence in our organisations. It is small wonder why problems seem to remain with us forever and consulting capacity is not made use of.
A pressing need arises for routine operations and productive sectors/sub-sectors to speak with a collective voice as overall development and dependency reversal are sought on manifold fronts in Bangladesh. But such a united voice is almost mute and such a concern is almost subdued. Not unrelated to it, the need to pull away from a generalised omnibus approach toward a specialist/professional mode has remained unmet for long in this country. In far too many instances nowadays, the outputs from the cadre-based/centralised personnel fail to match the numerous, varied and complex task demands and needs. The role of consultants and the basic orientation in the consulting process lie not so much in reports and protocols, but in planning forcefully and creating a more proactive role in the solution and resolution of organisational problems. Management consulting’s one big dividend is anticipating the needs of management and the trends in the larger society. It must identify the opportunities emerging out of the economic, social, cultural, regulatory, environmental, technological and other trends. More so, it must help organisations/ managements meet their needs and challenges and seize the opportunities. What the public sector operational environment needs now — far more than ever before precisely because knowledge and skills are so unevenly spread — is for intra- and inter-organisational consulting to grow and stay in the acceptance, growth and institutionalisation mode. Dynamic, visionary, mobilisational and transformational organisational leadership is what we need to get us through.
Dr Jamal Khan was professor of public sector management at the University of the West Indies. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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