Government consultant contracts are booming, internationally. Yet such contracts deliver far fewer results than promised.

An in-depth study of the use of global consultancy firms suggests that one reason for this is a conspiracy of silence between senior managers and consultants.

With the UK’s National Health Service looking to fill a funding black hole, senior healthcare executives have turned to major consultancy firms to devise efficiency savings plans. Although this alleviates political pressure in the short-term, time and money are spent on plans unlikely to ever be fully implemented.

In a recently published article, The Silent Politics of Temporal Work: A Case Study of a Management Consultancy Project to Redesign Public Health Care, ACU’s Professor Michael Fischer and his international research team discuss a consultancy project to find 20 per cent efficiency savings in the UK health sector.

Local healthcare managers were developing a bottom-up consultative process that they believed would deliver sustainable change, but with a Government deadline looming, senior executives hired a major consultancy firm to help them produce an efficiency savings plan.

Gerry McGivern, Professor at Warwick Business School said: “The consultants offered a plan that NHS managers ultimately agreed to, yet both realised would be difficult to implement without sufficient time for dialogue with local clinicians. But having a plan kept the Department of Health off their backs in the short term.”

Describing the ‘silent politics of time’, Professor Gerry McGivern added: “The time-frame you view issues through affects what you see. The consultants viewed the NHS’s problems through a short-term lens and drew on standardised global ‘best practice’ to develop an efficiency savings plan within 12 weeks. But they didn’t take the time to talk to NHS managers and clinicians about how it might be implemented in the local services, or to get everybody on board.

Professor Michael Fischer, Director of ACU’s Centre for Sustainable HRM and Wellbeing explained: “Local managers and clinicians view change through a longer time frame. Many have decades of experience of the complex, political and often difficult process of making changes in healthcare, and they are more interested in the sustainability and impact of efficiency savings for local services and patients in the long-term.”

Professor Sue Dopson, of Oxford University’s Said Business School, added: “We found that, faced with what they perceived as simplistic top-down change imposition, an unrealistic deadline and limited opportunities for dialogue, local NHS managers used these temporal differences politically. They superficially agreed changes they knew would fall apart to deflect immediate performance pressure.”

“These differences in time-frames were never discussed, but our research shows that if you use consultants as a quick fix you are just storing up problems for the future.”

The Silent Politics of Temporal Work: A Case Study of a Management Consultancy Project to Redesign Public Health Care was written by Professor Gerry McGivern, Professor Sue Dopson, Professor Ewan Ferlie of King’s College London, Professor Michael Fischer of Australian Catholic University and the University of Oxford, Professor Louise Fitzgerald of the University of Oxford, Dr Jean Ledger of University College London, and Chris Bennett of King’s College London.

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