The term “frame of reference” describes a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that decide how something is approached, perceived, or understood. Management consultants have a set of mental models, business practices, analytical tools, educational foundations, best practices and experiences that frame their approaches to understanding and solving client problems.
Businesses hire management consultants to give unique and educated “frames of reference” that are outside their own frames of reference. Business leaders know that during times of radical change their frames of reference need to be adjusted if not radically re-engineered.
But Who Are The Consultants Management Consultants?
Ever wonder where management consultants get their frames of reference? For the most part they get them from other consultants who have introduced a theory, a new approach or a new idea that changes business as usual forever. Every two years, the Thinkers50 publishes their definitive list of management thinkers and the 2011 list are the most influential management gurus who have shaped most of the “frames of references” of today’s management consulting firms. There are many others however the point is that the few have shaped the minds of many who have shaped the minds of many more.
Ever wonder where the few management thinkers who influenced the many management consultants get their “frames of reference”? They get them from studying the behavior of markets. The term “markets” represented a study of sellers offering their goods or services in exchange for money from buyers and the related approaches that a business could pursue to improve efficiency, relations, market share and profitability. Notice the emphasis has been on the study of the seller’s approaches and understandings that improve performance. Out of this thinking came management practices such as quality improvement, re-engineering, strategic management, competitive strategies and the list of new seller centric approaches goes on and on.
The Sellers Are No Longer In Charge
For some reason sellers have believed they controlled buyers. Some employers believed they controlled employees and suppliers. Subsequently management gurus have studied the “market” to find out what to do to get more out of what they thought they controlled: buyers, employees and suppliers; stakeholders.
The #1 management guru in the Thinkers50 list, Clayton Christensen, said something that most consultants totally missed. In his book The Innovator’s Dilemma he said “The cursory reading is “don’t listen.” The deep reading is you have to be careful which customers you listen to, and then you need to watch what they do, not listen to what they say.”
Ever since the internet was born sellers have used it to listen to their customers then using those observations to create messages that attract them to value propositions and to improve processes. Some are using it to spy on their employees, leverage their suppliers and even to create marketing tricks to trap buyers.
“Markets” have moved from transaction to conversation to relationship, and from marketing to markets — from the verb to the noun form of “market.” The behavior of the “market” now represents the preferences and desires, the intangibles, of the stakeholders…not just the seller side, businesses.
The new consultants to the management consultants are the stakeholders. They are in control.
That is a different frame of reference.