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Change and Learning in Management Consulting Companies : An Activity Theory analysis of the consulting business in Finland

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Title: Change and Learning in Management Consulting Companies : An Activity Theory analysis of the consulting business in Finland
Author(s): Huang, Jing
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Institute of Behavioural Sciences
Discipline: Adult education
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2017
Objectives. This research investigates the challenging changes, learning processes, and strategic adjustments made by consulting companies in Finland during the recent global economic crisis of 2009 onwards. In particular, this research aims to answer the following questions: a) What major changes have consulting companies encountered in the economic crisis? b) What strategic adjustments did the companies make in response to these changes? Were novel strategies developed in response to the changes? c) how can the changes and strategies be interpreted from an Activity Theory perspective? d) did the companies exhibit Expansive Learning in the development of novel strategies and in what forms? Methods. This work analyzed five management consulting companies of different sizes and business scope with representation in Finland. The data for the reported analysed consisted of interviews with managers from these firms. The analysis of the data proceeded in three steps: First, themes relating to changes and strategies were extracted from the transcribed interviews using Thematic Analysis; second, the themes identified were interpreted using the framework of Activity Theory in order to identify changes encountered and strategic responses developed by the companies; third, the themes were interpreted within the Expansive Learning framework, identifying individual Expansive Learning cycles and the overall structure of the learning processes. The empirical analysis was complemented by a discussion of the origins and characteristics of management consulting and consulting companies. Results and conclusions. Several of the consulting companies displayed features of Expansive Learning in understanding and responding to the changing economic situation. Deviating from the historically established consulting culture, these companies implemented systematic and proactive selling and marketing of their services. In addition, several companies changed the structure of their products and services. However, when reflecting on the situation of their companies, most managers primarily emphasized cost pressures and a need for improved efficiency. Efficiency improvements not accompanied by structural changes were not generally considered representative of expansive learning. It is found that the interviewed companies fail to engage in expansive learning process and are unwilling to make feasible changes until pressured by the economic crisis. Indeed, a greater sense of threat appears to have made companies more likely to embrace expansive learning.
Keyword(s): Change Strategy Activity Theory Expansive Learning Management Consulting Companies

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