Internal Consultant Managers

Management is changing. It is becoming more ‘market and change’ oriented. This has been happening through lean organisations.

New ‘consultant managers’ include specialist internal staff who provide change advice, facilitation and management, typically on a project/program basis. These individuals see their role as associated with a form of consultancy, even if they use various job titles.

Senior managers look to harness the opportunities this new development presents, especially when there is pressure not to use external consulting. While some consultant managers operate individually, most work in different organisational units responsible for achieving change across diverse organisations and sectors.

There are four main options for senior managers and civil servants seeking to organise change internally – the TESI model –  and considers the broader implications for management occupations, such as Human Resource Management (HRM) and Information Technology (IT) managers.

The TESI model of organising change internally
The ‘TESI’ model represents the four dominant types of change delivery unit in which consultant managers operate:

  • Transformers
  • Enforcers
  • Specialists
  • Independents

Each one addresses particular strategic pressures and can be distinguished along two dimensions:

  1. Structural integration – embedded in organisational structures
  2. Impact scope – whether change mostly occurs at organisational or lower levels such as a department

‘Transformers’ are units achieving large-scale change. Often such change is strategic, leading to broad impacts. They are detached from particular business units or departments. They contain a combination of internal specialists and former external consultants with a strong project management focus.

Be aware of risks involved. It is likely to have a high profile in the organisation. These units face suspicion from operational managers keen to retain control over initiatives in own areas. Creating disputes over responsibility for impact, it can threaten the potential benefits of the change. Tensions can be created – the pressure to adopt a more directive approach to change. They often have limited timescales for achieving impact.

Enforcers are more likely to be embedded in the organisational hierarchy, most notably in the form of a support unit for chief executives (CEOs). Their role is to help CEOs translate strategic goals into specific projects and enforce a form of central control to ensure consistency. Consequently, Enforcers often have a quasi-policing role and are used to signal the strategic priorities of senior management across the organisation. Enforcers contain former external consultants whose relative independence from (other) sectional interests meant that they were more likely to be considered as trusted advisors to senior management.

However, it can be regarded with suspicion amongst operational managers, leading to antagonistic relationships. Enforcer units may also be subject to the whims and short-term interests of a particular senior manager.

When more incremental change is required, a Specialist (change delivery) unit is an option. These have a more limited (although not necessarily less important) impact scope because they are embedded in organisational structures, often in service functions such as IT or HR. They are staffed by SME (subject-matter experts) who are likely to see opportunities to manage change through consultancy practices. They will also be funded through existing departmental budgets and have the expressed purpose of seeking to offer advice and guidance where needed. In this way, Specialists present opportunities to develop the status and credibility of service functions by combining distinctive knowledge with change management insights.

Specialist units face challenges – they may struggle to overcome long-standing assumptions about service functions. Specialists with an HR focus faced particular difficulties because they found that they had to overcome traditional, negative perceptions of their role as well as that of management consultancy! The sometimes narrow focus of Specialists could also mean they offered fairly limited problem-solving solutions, particularly if change issues did not map directly onto their interests.

Where managers identify the need for the persistent presence of a more generalist change unit, Independents are an option. The impact scope of these units tends to be localised as they deliver change through specific projects within business units or departments. At the same time, Independents are detached from core operational areas and managerial hierarchies. In this way, Independents most closely resemble external consultancies because they are required to source their own work and to become self-funding. This is a clear point of contrast to the other units, which are designed to deliver pre-defined projects and are not subject to the same level of resource constraints. As with Transformers, Independents can combine former external consultants and managers from within the organisation in an attempt to benefit from both the ‘exotic outsider’ status and detailed insider knowledge.

Independents may offer a lower-risk form of change delivery unit in that they have some autonomy over their work. However, the need to guarantee a pipeline of work may mean that the unit’s focus shifts to fairly insignificant projects with the result that they may lose credibility. They can also find that a great deal of their role is involved with ‘relationship management’ activity to ensure that they are the first choice for change delivery work within the organisation. Problems may also emerge from complex funding arrangements as well as their extreme dependence on client resources and preferences in an internal market. But this can also be an incentive for Independents to work with external clients, something that successful units can use to enhance their status.

  • Use of internal change units presents an important opportunity to enhance their status and credibility.
  • However, change units are often transitory and experience uncertainty about their role and value. Change management can be a crowded domain, with other occupational groups seeking to establish jurisdiction and control over change agendas.
  • The emerging role of the consultant manager presents organisations with a challenge of how best to use, develop and adapt their skills and capabilities.
  • The need for change is often well understood or, at least, confidently asserted, but allocating resources and identifying the expertise available to best drive this change is more challenging.

Implications for management occupations
An occupational group considering reframing their role around the notion of the consultant manager must be clear about how they offer a distinctive insight into change.
Organisations should consider internalising management consultancy practices as a way of saving money and making better use of internal resources.


Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise

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