Consultancies ‘more interested in billable hours’ than expertise

Consultancy firms are more concerned with billing hours to their clients than developing expertise within their own teams, according to research by the BI Norwegian School of Management.

Consultancy companies sell themselves on the basis of their expertise, yet they do not pay much attention to its development, Siw Marita Fosstenløkken, of the BI Norwegian School of Management argues. Instead, responsibility for professional development is often entirely left to the employees themselves. 

Fosstenløkken interviewed 51 managers and staff members across four different companies, and focused on finding out the long-term strategic methods used to improve employee expertise. 

Far from being sophisticated at developing measures for the systematic development of expertise, she found that the majority of consultancy firms are “more interested in billable hours, customer requirements and short-term profit”, with the need to make money meaning that “good intentions are not borne out by practice”. 

Declaring herself “very surprised by the results”, Fosstenløkken said: “In practice, the companies’ attitude towards improving their expertise is almost one of indifference.” 

The findings come at a time when staff knowledge is being touted as increasingly important if such companies are to maintain their competitive edge. 

“Professional service-providers are seen as role models for effective learning. They are knowledge-intensive, their personnel possess high expertise, and they earn their living from selling their knowledge,” explained Fosstenløkken. 

Although “management and organisation are almost completely lacking” when it comes to professional development, the ability of staff to learn on the job “compensates for the low priority” afforded to developing expertise, she added. 

Developing expertise through day-to-day project work with customers is “indisputably” the best source of learning, she believes. However, companies are often unaware that such learning is taking place and are “very poor” at sharing it through their workforces. 

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