Professional Service Consulting

The other category of Consulting described as Professional Service Consulting (PSC) is the focus of this thesis. This area of consulting has been intentionally chosen in view of the prominence such firms enjoy in the consulting industry. More so, the bias of the thesis partners influenced the decision, to a large extent, as one of them has some experience working for one of the big professional service consulting firms (PSF). Though the word consulting and consultant have been described as overarching at the initial parts of this section, we will use it interchangeably with words such as professional service and professional respectively. This is not to override the earlier assertion that consulting is an apex term for corporate and professional service consulting but it will be used for the sake of convenience and largely means professional service.

Professional Service Consulting (PSC) is defined by Lowendahl (2000:18) as “services delivered by professionals or services delivered according to professional norms or rules of conduct”. He further asserts that such services should be a vocation with the following characteristics:

·         There should be a body of knowledge, which qualifies a person

·         The services should apply the body of knowledge and experience in dealing with challenges that connotes selfless service to clients; and

·         There should be a code of ethics that guides conduct.

Lowendahl, however, agrees that some PSCs such as management consulting may not necessarily have all these characteristics explicitly but their conduct acknowledge elements of professionalism, which guides their behaviour and the services they provide. This caveat from Lowendahl tends to agree with Greiner and Metzger’s (1983:3) view that consulting “will not sit for a clear definition”. Greiner and Metzger, notwithstanding, attempts a definition of management consulting that can be adapted to PSC since it is broader enough to capture the key elements noted by Lowendahl. Greiner and Metzger (1983) says “…consulting is an advisory service contracted for and provided to organisations by specially trained and qualified persons who assist, in an objective and independent manner, the client organisation …” From the definitions above, the personality of the consultant is described as well as the way services are provided. Therefore, the subsequent literature discusses professionals, the services they provide and professional service firms.


Professional or Professionalism has been used quite loosely in describing services provided by people or the people themselves just like the word “consulting” as noted by Sandberg (2003). Lowendahl, (2000) and Kyro (1995), however, attempt to draw a dichotomy between the two ways that the word can be used. They indicate that the word can be used to describe the person (individual or organisation) that offers the service or the process by which the service is performed. Whilst both authors agree on describing persons in a certain industry with a global certification as professionals, they tend to have different views on the second use of the word. Kyro (1995:17) indicates that the second view of the word “profession” is used to describe “quality or nature of the process” of providing the service. That is, work done in line with some quality standards or the process was according to some procedures that assure quality. Lowendahl (2000:18), on the other hand, describes it as “services according to professional norms or rules of conduct”. It can be inferred that Lowendahl’s view connotes definition of quality as working according to agreed norms or rules. Notwithstanding, both authors seem to tow the line of describing professional service as relating to certain presumed qualities or qualification possessed by the person providing the service and the process of providing or end result of the service.

Akella (2003:57) mentions “formation of professional association” to certify entry of practitioners as one key determinant of professionalism in any industry. Akella indicates that such associations help to weed out incompetent persons and therefore preserve the integrity of the industry. In other words, PSCs are considered the preserve of those who have completed the required education and certification procedures. Professionals are therefore considered as people with high education and certified by a vocational organisation from industries such as Engineering, Law, IT, Project Management, Finance, Accounting and Management among others (Nachum, 1999; Haywood-Farmer and Nollet, 1994, Greiner and Metzger, 1983). There is further consensus among these authors that the certification and required education is a continuous process and all requirements must always be adhered. As indicated earlier, Lowendahl (2000) cautions that some practitioners may not have any certification from a body of knowledge but their approach to work can be compared to that of those with certification; and therefore they can also be described as professionals .

Again, vocational organisations or professional associations ensure that professionals strictly adhere to the norms and rules of conduct in order to ensure quality. In line with this, any deviation by an individual may prevent the individual from providing services to clients (Akella, 2003, Lowendahl, 2000). Professionals who do not belong to such organisations also tend to conform to accepted norms (best practices) of their vocation in order to keep their clients; since such norms become an integral part of clients’ expectations (Lowendahl, 2000).

In view of the high academic qualification (Nachum, 1999) expected of professionals, Consultants are considered as knowledge carriers (Alvesson, 2002; Kipping & Engwell, 2002; Kyro 1995). This supports Lowendahl’s view that clients perceive professionals as possessing specialist knowledge or what Sonnerby (2007) describe as experts. The growing awareness of knowledge management (Zack, 1999) and its emergence as a tool for competitive advantage (Walker, 2004) have led to a focus on the consultant or professional as a knowledge carrier and disseminator (Kipping & Engwell, 2002). To this end, professionals are seen as movers of knowledge and business innovation from one client to another (Kubr, 2002). Since PSC also employs graduates annually and collaborates with academic institutions, they also ‘drive’ research knowledge from institutions to the marketplace (Kipping & Engwell, 2002).

Sonnerby asserts that professionals are “truth tellers” as they create value by subscribing to procedures that ensure trust and builds a strong brand image. As truth tellers, clients and the public rely on professionals’ information and guidance to make critical decisions. Akella (2003) supports this view by indicating that certifications given to professionals have legal backing within particular jurisdictions, which imposes obligations of trust on clients and hence a duty on professionals to keep up with the expectation of truth telling. In other words, professionals are esteemed in the society in view of their education, expertise, certification and approach to work.

Though mentioned earlier, it is important to discuss further the role of Professionals as advisors. Kubr (2002:7) mentions that consultants provide “advice and assistance”. This is supported by Haywood-Farmer and Nollet (1994) who also brings in another dimension that the advice should be problem related. In talking about assistance, Kubr indicated that professionals should go beyond just suggestions and recommendations and rather help in the process of achieving results. This demands support such as training, providing encouragement, moral support and at times negotiating on behalf of clients. Such extra efforts are well provided by small firms or sole practitioners rather than all consulting firms (Greiner and Metzger, 1983).

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