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MANAGEMENT OF CLIENT-CONSULTANT RELATIONSHIPS: BARRIERS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF TRUST AND CREDIBILITY

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James A. Phills, Jr. Graduate School of Business Stanford University 518 Memorial Way Stanford, CA 94305-5015 Phone: (650) 736-0137 Fax: (650) 725-7979 Email: phills_james@gsb.stanford.edu

Mitzi S. White Department of Psychology Harvard University William James Hall Cambridge, MA 02138 E-mail: mswhite@fas.harvard.edu Under Revision for Journal of Management Studies Revised: January, 2000 Please direct all correspondence to first author
© 2000 James A Phills, Jr. and Mitzi S. White

* We are grateful to Deb Gruenfeld, Barry O’Neill, Victor Vroom and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper. In addition, earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2nd Congress on Careers and the Creation of Employment, at IESE University de Navarro, in 1996 and the 1996 Academy of Management Meetings. The former appears in Spanish in the conference proceedings as: Tensiones en la relacion cliente-consultor. In J. L. Alvarez (Ed.), Empleo y Carreras directivas: Practicas avanzadas y retos de futoro, (pp. 337-361). Bilbao, Espana: Deusto.

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ABSTRACT

During the 1980’s, in the face of questions about their value, management consultants became more concerned with ensuring the implementation of their recommendations. A number of firms endeavored to improve implementation through greater collaboration with their clients, an approach that increases the importance of the client-consultant relationship. This paper reports findings from a two-year field study at a leading management consulting firm. In the course of this study trust and credibility emerged as important dimensions of the clientconsultant relationship – meaning they were of concern to both parties and that their dynamics influenced the effectiveness of consulting engagements. We examined consultants’ efforts to establish trust and credibility and clients’ attempts to assess consultant’s trustworthiness and credibility, as well as the resulting behavioral dynamics. Our results show that contextual features of the client-consultant relationship create significant barriers to the development of trust and credibility, and further that consultant’s and client’s responses to these barriers can limit the effectiveness of an engagement – particularly the quality and implementation of the recommendations. Implications for theory and practice of consulting are discussed.

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MANAGEMENT OF CLIENT-CONSULTANT RELATIONSHIPS: BARRIERS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF TRUST AND CREDIBILITY

THE “IMPLEMENTATION” PROBLEM AND THE EMERGENCE OF A COLLABORATIVE
APPROACH TO CONSULTING

One of the perennial challenges faced by management consulting firms that work with organizations on issues of strategy has been the problem of “implementation,” which is that consultants’ costly advice often does not produce significant or enduring change in the strategic choices and actions of client organizations (Ginsberg, 1989; Kahn, 1984; Kelley, 1979; Nahavandi & Chesteen, 1989; Schaffer, 1997; Turner, 1982; Zaltman & Moorman, 1988). Sometimes clients may reject the advice as impractical, incomplete, or simply wrong. In other cases they may agree with the advice but lack the understanding or skill necessary to implement it effectively. A number of observers as well as consultants have attributed the implementation problem to the nature of the conventional approach to strategic consulting (see Kahn, 1984; Perry, 1987; Schaffer, 1997; Solomon, 1998; Turner, 1982). The stereotypical view of this approach is that consultants descend on the client organization to collect data, leave to analyze the problem, and return months later to deliver a voluminous report to senior management. Consultants provide little guidance or assistance with the actual execution of their recommendations. In an attempt to improve the degree and quality of implementation a number of consulting firms adopted a more collaborative approach to the consulting process. The central feature of this approach is that clients actively participate in the analysis of their strategic

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challenges and in the formulation of recommendations about how to address them. In contrast to the conventional model, consultants meet frequently with a wide range of clients. Moreover, these managers have formal roles as members of a joint case team or a project steering committee. This shift to a collaborative model appears to be based on consultants’ inductively derived belief that collaboration should lead to better implementation (Martin, 1993; Schaffer, 1997). This belief is consistent with research showing a general link between participation and implementation (Vroom & Jago, 1988; Walton, 1985). In principle then, the collaborative approach to consulting should be an ideal solution to the problem of implementation. However, by their own accounts, consultants often encounter difficulty in working collaboratively with clients (see for example Argyris, 1985). The present research builds on earlier work by Argyris (1985; 1991a) by examining in greater depth the nature and causes of the difficulties associated with a collaborative approach. Based on an a qualitative field study of a number of consulting engagements we show that, in part, these difficulties stem from contextual features of the client-consultant relationship. More specifically, the collaborative approach creates ongoing working relationships between consultants and clients that are not unlike the relationships between managers and their subordinates, or peers and superiors. The quality of the latter relationships is an important determinant of individual and organizational effectiveness (Gabarro, 1978; 1987b; Kotter, 1982; Mintzberg, 1973). Yet client-consultant relationships exist in the context of multiple organizations, non-hierarchical social structures, and ambiguous roles and responsibilities. These characteristics stand in stark contrast to the intra-organizational working relationships described in the literature (Gabarro, 1987b; Kotter, 1982). Moreover, they contribute to behavioral dynamics that systematically interfere with the development of

judgments. we have reserved our review of the relevant empirical findings regarding the causes/consequences of trust and credibility for the discussion section. that influence clients' and consultants perceptions of each other's value and effectiveness and/or the validity each others substantive assertions. We identified two dimensions of the client consultant relationship that were critical to a collaborative approach to addressing the problem of implementation. and actions connected to motivational and character-related attributes. 1995). this distinction is consistent with the meanings that both consultants and clients attach to these terms.Trust and credibility 3 effective client–consultant relationships. & Schoorman. The dynamics surrounding each set of concerns were relatively distinct in the minds of both consultants and clients. 1995. and conceptual confusion (Gambetta. Drawing on these conceptions. As our data will illustrate. For the reader interested in a discussion of relationship between our conception and the voluminous literature on trust and credibility we offer a lengthy analysis in Appendix A. Trust refers to concerns. First. and b) those related to demonstrating/evaluating trustworthiness (especially signaling interests. definitional heterogeneity. 1 . Indeed. and their concerns about these relationship tended to fall into two categories: a) those related to demonstrating/evaluating competence and expertise. such as interests and values. Mayer. allegiances. the terms are often used to refer to the same phenomena and the literature on trust and credibility is plagued by considerable fragmentation. 1988. In addition. trust and credibility overlap significantly. it is necessary given the inductive nature of this study. We found that consultants’ and clients’ attempts to build effective working relationships. and actions connected to competence-related attributes. like knowledge and expertise. Lewicki & Bunker. and values). judgments. While our introduction of yet another conceptualization contributes to the proliferation of definitions. that influence clients or consultants willingness to make themselves vulnerable. These were trust and credibility. we identify contextual and behavioral features of the client-consultant relationship and In both common and academic usage. we present evidence in support of two key findings. Consistent with this naturally occurring distinction between trust and credibility we used the following definitions:1 Credibility refers to concerns. Davis.

this type of consulting is very different from the “purchase of expertise model” that underlies strategy consulting (Schein. . in a number of cases consultants found themselves caught in relationships with clients that reinforced these defensive routines -. RESEARCH ON CLIENT-CONSULTANT RELATIONSHIPS Empirical research on management consulting processes and the nature of the clientconsultant relationships is sparse. Argyris (1985) found that technically sound solutions to strategic problems were often ineffective because they were implemented poorly or altered due to counterproductive political dynamics in the client organizations. however. the lack of research is in part due to the difficulties associated with securing access to such firms due to the highly confidential and sensitive nature of the engagements these firms undertake for their corporate clients. 5). we relate our findings to the extant research on trust and credibility and discuss the implications for both theory and practice.further compounding the implementation problem. Schein. 1990. 1988). Second. In one of the few studies that involved direct observation of strategy consultants in a major firm. In the area of strategy. While there are studies of organizational development or process consultation (for reviews see Beer & Walton.Trust and credibility 4 show how these can interfere with the development of trust and credibility. we show how common attempts to deal with these barriers produces dynamics that undermine the effectiveness of consultant assisted strategy formulation and implementation efforts. Prior to developing this argument. 1988 p.” Moreover. we review the literature on client-consultant relationships and implementation and outline the study's methodology. which he calls "defensive routines. 1992. In the final sections of this paper. Porras & Robertson.

Bashein and Markus (1997) found IT professionals' effectiveness was dependent on non-technical or interpersonal skills and their ability to develop relationships with their clients.g. their notion of credibility appears to draw on the idea of "credit" or the value clients placed on IT professionals services. persuasion and communication) skills must be tightly linked for information technology (IT) consultants to be effective in helping their clients to develop and implement information systems. than in terms of prevailing views of consultants as "professional helpers" (1995 . He argues that the consulting process can be more usefully understood in terms of the metaphor of a theatrical performance and "impression management". Bashein and Markus' (1997) view of trust appears to be used to refer to more general elements of the working relationship like affinity and understanding. Furthermore. Although the authors do not define either of these terms precisely.Trust and credibility 5 Argyris (1985) also found that with training. consultants could develop alternative approaches that begin to interrupt these dynamics in client organizations. Bloomfield and Danieli (1995) found that technical and socio-political (e. Clark (1995) shows how certain characteristics of consulting services influence the client-consultant relationship. 15). In particular. In a study of consultants based on survey and interview data.. their observations also highlight the importance that consultants place on developing good client relationships and illustrate the way in which behavioral dynamics influence the evaluation and selection of technological judgments and choices. Clark focuses on how the intangible nature of the product and the inherent difficulty clients face in selecting and evaluating consultants heighten consultants ' efforts to "manage the relationship in such a way that they convince the client of the value and quality of service" (1995 p. they focus on credibility and trust. In another study that involved direct observation. Similarly. In particular.

In another study that involved interview and survey data. His critique. these studies highlight aspects of the client-consultant interaction. and some consequences of these attempts. 1997. Similarly. Clark attributes the failure of the latter perspective to the lack of a robust and agreed upon body of knowledge on which management consulting is based. and competence in the client consultant relationship. 108). and resistance to. (especially expertise. Sturdy (1997) describes the dynamics of threat. knowledge. though provocative and well argued. The present study examines these phenomena – particularly as they affect implementation in collaborative approach to strategic consulting – focusing on attempts to establish trust and credibility. like OD literature. consultancy which is shown to be founded on the threat consultants pose to their own sense of competence. His description echoes these the notions of expertise and value which are central to our definition of credibility: Consultancy is fueled by their provision of a sense of reassurance to management and at the same time reinforcing or creating insecurities.Trust and credibility 6 p. METHODS . and validity of advice) that we characterize in terms of credibility. insecurity. p. 397) Taken as a whole. (Sturdy. The consultants' sense of control may however be challenged by the increasing sophistication of clients and their criticisms of. they also devote the attention both clients and consultants give to each other’s interests and motivations – part of the phenomenon that we define as trust. resistance. In part. is based on research that involves executive search consultants and management gurus (individual speakers on change or management theory) and is. probably less applicable to more technical types of consulting such as strategy.

Europe. telecommunications. 1973. These ranged from a relatively passive observational role to a more active participant-observer role. Putnam. and various industrial manufacturing businesses. This approach corresponds to what Argyris. Yin. In a few instances. retailing. The first author played a number of roles within the host organization. The work was conducted in an international management consulting firm specializing in strategy formulation and implementation. and Asia. participants (as opposed to subjects) have a stake in the validity and usability of the knowledge generated by the research.” It is predicated on the notion that the most useful and valid data for developing narrative theory about organizational phenomena is obtained in the course of efforts to solve important organizational problems. Their clients represented a range of industries including consumer products. While it might have been interesting to study multiple firms. This was unusual given the highly sensitive and confidential nature of strategy consulting. financial services. which I will call Strategic Technology Associates (STA). 2 . this role included acting as a consultant to STA in their internal training efforts.Trust and credibility 7 Overview The current project used a field-based multiple case study approach (Schatzman & Strauss. the access provided by STA would have precluded gaining a comparable access to other firms. Data and Analysis One of the major considerations in selecting this firm was its willingness to provide a remarkable degree of access. the quid pro quo for gaining research access to STA’s consultant and clients was an agreement to share the findings from this research with members of the firm. and Smith (1985) refer to as "action science. the firm operated offices throughout North America.2 At the time of the study. Under such conditions. Indeed. 1989) to explore client-consultant relationships.

Multiple Inter-Organizational Relationships Individual relationships between clients and consultants were embedded in a network of other relationships that spanned (at least) two separate organizations. Each consultant had relationships with a number of clients. The goal was to understand the critical themes and challenges in the development of the client-consultant relationship with respect to implementation. divergent interests.Trust and credibility 8 This investigation drew on multiple sources of data including formal retrospective interviews with consultants and clients. Data collection occurred over a two-year period during which the researcher typically spent two to three days each week observing the STA consultants. Trust and credibility emerged as central aspects of this phenomenon. informal conversation with consultants. although for each client there were multiple case teams working on different issues. who in . Analysis of the data entailed the iterative and inductive approach characteristic grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss. In the subsequent analysis of how consultants and clients actually deal with issues of trust. Most of the formal observations and interviews occurred on STA projects with three different client organizations. and documents prepared by consultants. 1989). observations of consultants at their office and on-site with clients. we will show how these factors were manifested in the current study. THE DYNAMICS OF TRUST Contextual Features Related to Trust In the course of observing client-consultant interactions. and constraints on information flows. we describe each of these at a conceptual level with some references to their description in the literature. 1967) and case-study research (Yin. Below. we identified three major contextual factors that shape the dynamics of trust: multiple inter-organizational relationships.

Pfeffer. Finally. project profitability. Tichy. As this literature highlights. consultants have their own interests. 1963. 1961.Trust and credibility 9 turn had relationships with each other as well as with other consultants. introducing a political element to strategic decision making (Bower & Doz. 1954. 1997). responsibility. such as maximizing client billings. 1979. or conflicting for consultants and clients working collaboratively. overlapping. Each person was also embedded in his or her own distinct organizational hierarchy. such studies are highly consequential for clients and often produce resistance to change. rewards. and allegiance were often ambiguous. recommendations for change are likely be evaluated differently by consultants and clients. Moreover. lines of authority. Pettigrew. Burns. Divergent Interests Fundamental changes in the operation and direction of a firm generally have significant implications for managers of that organization. or control over scarce resources. 1996. the different interests of consultants and client managers can be exacerbated because consultants are frequently hired by the CEO or corporate staff departments to circumvent defenses that conceal and reinforce performance problems in firms (Argyris. In contrast. Lawrence. Together these various interests work to further increase the potential for fragmentation among members of client-consultant teams and disrupt client-consultant relationships. Hence. Sturdy. Given this differential impact. 1992. Cyert & March. . consultants are not directly affected by their recommended changes to the same degree as their clients (Kanter. and the utilization and development of their human resources. 1985. Lipton. Because consulting studies often recommend changes that affect the distribution of these important interests. change produces a struggle among organizational actors and subgroups for power. 1973. 1983). 1985).

This led to situations in which information available to a consultant or client. or controlled access to. Zaltman et al (1988) note the role of information exchange in creating trust. could not be communicated to other individuals with whom they had relationships. (1964 p. This was especially true for consultants who were often privy to restricted information. exchanges of information became a fundamental element in the dynamics and development of trust. they regulated access to customers. because of real and perceived divergent interests and the large number of channels created by multiple client-consultant relationships. Thus.Trust and credibility 10 Constraints on Information Flows In the complex web of relationships there were often restrictions on the flow of certain kinds of information. Clients were the source of. Yet. Indeed. consultants’ analytical tools are only as good as their inputs. and accurate collection of objective information. The constraints on the exchange of information that led to censoring are somewhat ironic considering that the technical model which informs the consulting process is an empirical one which emphasizes the importance of extensive. for estimates of product or customer profitability. the sharing of information was often used to signal related interests and allegiances. For example. 3 . or assessments of market performance. especially of a political nature. much of this information.3 Behavioral Dynamics Surrounding Trust Bennis et al. Nevertheless. competitive cost analyses. a key window onto a firm’s strategic capabilities or relative cost position. timely. They controlled internal financial and accounting information. there were often constraints on the flows of information. 513) have highlighted the fundamental role of "Information transaction" in instrumental relationships. a key source of information about a firm's competitive position. by virtue of one relationship.

or as one consultant put it. consultants often used the disclosure of information as a way to signal allegiance to clients and concern for their interests. to "keep them happy". but also as a way of testing consultants' allegiances. For example. On occasion.Trust and credibility 11 Many of the dynamics surrounding trust involved the sharing and control of information. some clients even tried to influence the course . In principle. When the client's superior. they sometimes sought information. however. clients were typically in a more vulnerable position. While consultants’ goal in the relationship was primarily to acquire information from the client in order to perform their analyses and evaluations. Problems. not only for its own sake. It was not uncommon for the information that consultants collected to reflect unfavorably on their past performance. Thus. clients tended to actively solicited information from consultants that they believed would help them to protect their interests. in one awkward incident a consultant had shown some financial results to a client before the formal presentation. subsequently showed this information to him ⎯ the client had to pretend that he had not already seen the material. arose when there were restrictions on disclosure of such information. a common practice among STA consultants was what was called "prewiring" or sharing information with a client prior a review or presentation. In order to build trust in their relationships with clients and gain cooperation and information. this practice allowed clients to be prepared for a meeting and to raise any objections they might have to the analysis prior to the meeting. For example. sharing information would seem like a sensible way of building trust and securing commitment. clients were less likely to use information sharing as a means of building trust. Rather. Under conditions where the information was not restricted. Moreover. who had been prewired by a different consultant.

middle managers (like the vice president and his staff) will trust them less. Indeed. Finally. [They] are obstructing the collection of some pieces of data.. some clients actively tried to influence consultants' allegiances.” The consultant then related other examples in which this type of conflict arose with clients.. For example. Specifically. or recommendations in order to protect their interests.. "[The vice president] has his people on the client case team. In effect.Trust and credibility 12 of a project by withholding or distorting the information sought by consultants. However. in one episode. illustrating how trust can influence consultants’ ability to collect the data necessary for valid strategic analyses. then top management will trust them less because of the potential for strategic missteps for which they will be held accountable. a consulting study was commissioned by the corporate planning department of a large utility to evaluate possible diversification by one of the firm's divisions into a new line of businesses. Porter. in cases where consultants were able to acquire the data that they needed. they encountered what they saw as a bias in the strategic focus of the division president. if they acquiesce to attempts to constrain the collection or analysis of information. 1985).. Another consultant noted the difficulties that this pressure created for the joint project team. analyses. if consultants choose to protect top management’s interest by collecting the potentially threatening data." because he urged the consultants to limit the scope of their analysis to the structural attractiveness of the industry ⎯ and not to conduct analyses that would evaluate the division's competitiveness in the industry. As the project team examined the new business opportunity. this omission would have biased the conclusions in favor of the diversification (cf.. clients sometimes tried to restrict the dissemination of the results of the consultants' analysis .empire builder. One consultant described the division president as an "ambitious.

.. The manager was resistant. consultants and clients used information exchanges to assess and establish trust. For the consultant.Trust and credibility 13 (output rather than input constraints stemming form collection of data).. When we questioned the [fit between his business and the corporate goals] he said. recommendations about plant closings or major cost reduction initiatives). In effect. Generally. Regardless of which choice the consultant made. but if asked [by your boss] I will have to say [there are questions about your business]. especially if the client expected such information to be communicated to them. An STA partner described how one division manager had tried to prevent him from discussing an analysis of the division's problems with corporate: There was a problem with the business unit manager and [our senior consultant]." Dilemmas Surrounding Trust As the above examples illustrate.” I said. clients expected personally relevant information to be shared (e. trust might be diminished. On the other hand.. "I'm sorry. she risked damaging trust with at least one client. the combination of divergent interests. if the consultant communicated such information to the client. not seeing the corporate perspective. she might diminish trust with another client who expected the information to be kept confidential. However. the consultant and the client each faced a dilemma with regard to the sharing of information. the dilemma was that if she withheld or censored important information from a client with whom she had a relationship. and constraints on the exchange of information limited their ability to develop trust in this manner. I'm happy to work with you. and I'm not going to go around you. . multiplerelationships.g. "We don't need to bore [my boss] with this.

and then tried to deal with the limitations of their choice by enacting it in a way that was covert. Nevertheless. it seems reasonable to assume that both parties were aware that trust was opportunistic and that the possibility of deception existed. consultants and clients had to choose an option that was unsatisfactory. While covert actions allowed for the development of some level of trust. their only alternatives require them to violate the expectations of at least one other party and risk the disruption of the relationship. and fairness. exchange. Under these conditions.g. the underlying behavioral patterns (e. Furthermore. we might raise concerns about a trust that is based.. but on reciprocity. and an illusion of convergent interests and fleeting allegiances. 1970). deception or distortion . Faced with these dilemmas.Trust and credibility 14 The client's dilemma was that if he withheld or distorted information in order to protect his interests. Moreover. this was based on the withholding. he might be seen as political or not acting in the corporation’s best interest. in the case of covert approaches. or distortion of restricted information. When either party experiences conflicting demands based on this notion of trust. if the client provided the consultant with sensitive or negative information. compromise. The consultants’ goals of encouraging client participation or cooperation in providing information were achieved ⎯ but at a cost. both parties were at constant risk of discovery⎯either for having exchanged information⎯or having withheld or distorted information. trust continued to exist as long as clients and consultants did not detect covert exchanges or the withholding of information. On the other hand. consistency. 1979) or resource allocation games (Bower. not on principles of integrity. From a normative perspective. this might also harm his interests ⎯ especially if other clients were protecting their interests covertly as in the case of budgetary politics (Wildavsky.

Trust and credibility 15 of information) became routinized and implicitly legitimized.. Top management simply transferred him to another division. key details of the recommendations had not yet been communicated to the CEO. Consider an incident that occurred at the conclusion of one STA study. could easily be seen as adversely affecting his interests. During the meeting the client asked the consultant directly what STA's recommendations would be. These recommendations proposed reductions in the department head's staff and responsibility and. in one incident in the present study a senior financial manager had intentionally manipulated accounting information to increase his bonus. and was supposed to reassure him. [which was not] my personal view. the manager’s behavior was never confronted.. The consultant explained she was constrained by a number of factors: I did not have time to go through the details of the report with him. [Nor did I] know what his boss had told him [about the imminent changes]. When they persist. For example. A senior consultant had to meet with the head of a functional department to give this client a summary of the findings. but also around problems of incompetence... I could not talk specifically about [aspects of the change in which he would be interested]. 1985). Because of the timing of the meeting. Sometimes the fundamental inconsistencies in this de facto notion of trust became readily apparent. [but was] what the partner and the CEO wanted him to be told. A number of consultants on the project reported that this approach was widely used in the client organization. not only in instances of parochial behavior.. Though the consultants' analysis brought this to light. hence. such routines ultimately inhibit organizational learning (Argyris. The consultant found herself in the awkward situation of trying ..

We did not make specific recommendations. the partner needs] to go over them with [The CEO]. 4 ..4 Consultant: We have developed recommendations for a number of changes. the client became upset anyway and the level of trust in his relationship with the consultant was diminished. The crux of this alternative is that it makes the dilemma explicit. constraints on the disclosure of information. While an extensive discussion of the practical implications of this analysis is beyond the scope of this paper.. when I am able to discuss them with you. In terms of [specifics. but are not supposed to tell me? Consultant: I wouldn't say I'm not supposed to tell you. consider an alternative approach to dealing with the dilemma around trust. Client: So you mean you know. when the full extent of the recommendations was eventually communicated to him.Trust and credibility 16 to avoid disclosing the restricted information while not damaging the trust that she had worked methodically to develop in her relationship with the client.. We can help you to assess [how to implement the changes]. Consultant: There will [have to be some changes].. However. Moreover. I don't think I am the right channel. I can’t discuss the specifics with you now because the partner needs to review and approve them with the CEO first. I’d like (For a more complete description on this theory of intervention see Argyris et al.. this interaction diminished trust in the relationship between the client and the consultant. and divergent interests.if not destroyed. 1978). Argyris & Schön.. in the short term. 1985. because no one told me not to. The discomfort captured in this exchange reflects the essence of the dilemma created by a trust based on covert exchanges of information in the context of multiple relationships. Presumably.

we can reexamine the changes.is fragile. Client: So you mean you know. but are not supposed to tell me? Consultant: Yes I do know. For example.g. 1984.Trust and credibility 17 to talk about any concerns they raise and see if we can find a way to address them within the constraints of the study. STA's approach always relied heavily on the systematic collection and analysis of quantitative economic data on the client company and its industry. but no. clients’ and consultants’ common responses to these pressures tend to involve behaviors and strategies that are primarily covert. Porter. and I understand that you would like to know as well. I can’t tell you yet because of the constraints I just mentioned In sum. While the specifics of these analyses varied across engagements. the powerful influence of the contextual constraints shapes the dynamics of trust in the client. and sophisticated data and financial analysis evaluating acquisition candidates. Moreover. these frameworks are grounded in industrial economics (e. Typically. if you see issues that we have not considered. I am sorry. Of course. Oster. elaborate statistical procedures for identifying customer segments. Caves. The result is a trust that – even when it is developed -. If you wish.consultant relationship. THE DYNAMICS OF CREDIBILITY In their efforts to solve clients’ business problems strategy consultants employ some type of conceptual framework. the firm had detailed quantitative methodologies for measuring and modeling the behavior of product or plant costs. 1994. . 1985) and involve complex analyses. we would also be willing to help you to assess how to implement the changes. This was true for STA and the components of a typical STA study were usually quite intricate..

the rigorous nature of the approach was the basis of consultants’ ability to provide valuable advice to clients and hence. At the same time. consultants sometimes compounded this problem by using the technical complexity of their framework analysis as a defense when clients challenged their credibility.Trust and credibility 18 With respect to the dynamics of credibility. this approach had a dual significance. the specialized and complex nature of the approach was often threatening and intimidating to clients. . First. Moreover. the primary source of their credibility.

Poulfelt (1986) characterizes the ideal as "a task force in which both partners contribute their . 1996). it suggests that these firms are quite different from their typical client organizations in terms of basic tasks. we might expect clients and consultants to have fundamentally differentiated skills. Mintzberg. For example. 1971) paint a picture of an industry populated by young graduates of elite professional and undergraduate institutions. In describing collaborative client-consultant relationships. 1973) contrasts sharply with the typical analytical and empirical activities of consultants (Argyris. STA's clients (particularly the midlevel managers assigned to joint project teams) tended to work fewer hours. demographics. the basic nature of managerial work (Kotter. and orientations (Lawrence & Lorsch. and earn less than the average consultant. knowledge. knowledge. and orientations Although the literature on strategy consulting firms is scant. While it is difficult to generalize about a heterogeneous client base. and orientations. knowledge.Trust and credibility 19 Contextual Features Related to Credibility As in the case of trust. 1991b. 1982. and high levels of compensation. we identified three major contextual factors that shaped the dynamics of credibility in the client-consultant relationship: differentiated skills. cultures in which long hours and intellectual and analytical ability are highly valued. and the centrality of influence. competitive pressures and client vulnerability. especially at entry levels. 1985. Miner. skills and knowledge are one of the most salient differences between consultants and clients. Thus. Phills. Moreover. The data on STA collected in the present study were consistent with this image. and reward systems. Differentiated skills. possess and value industry or functional experience over formal business education. 1967). culture. on average. In fact. descriptions of major consulting firms (Argyris.

1012) downplays the actual importance of knowledge in consulting but highlights the importance of the appearance or "claims of knowledge" in the central task of persuasion.. Thus. hence. Ultimately. However. it also represented a risky journey into the unfamiliar and arcane territory of complicated financial and statistical analyses -.. the consultant knows. consultants had to teach clients strategic tools and concepts before the two could collaborate on the analysis. Working with consultants as a member of a joint case team represented an opportunity for clients to develop new skills and knowledge and to demonstrate these in a highly visible context.” This imperative stemmed partly from the need to address the clients' problem. Likewise. it was also driven by the consultants’ desire to establish their credibility with clients in order secure their cooperation in the initial process of gathering and analyzing data. . a marriage of these two knowledge bases should enhance the quality of strategic analysis. most consultants believed that the quality of their overall analysis and recommendations would be the basis for their credibility. Indeed.under conditions where failure could have severe personal and organizational consequences. the knowledge that each party lacked was often as important as the knowledge they possessed. this was part of the rationale behind STA's use of a collaborative approach. In practice. They referred to this challenge as having to "get up to speed on the client's business. Thus. More specifically. planning techniques and tools and has experiences from other companies" (1986: 87). The client knows the industry and the organization.Trust and credibility 20 knowledge and experience. clients lacked significant experience with the strategic tools and concepts used by consultants.5 In principle. At the same time. consultants began projects with a deficiency with respect to company and industry-specific knowledge. they felt that the sooner they 5 Alvesson (1993 p. In addition. many consultants saw early impressions of credibility as enduring and. however. likely to affect their ability to influence clients' strategic decisions and actions later in a study.

Every word out of your mouth builds or lowers your equity. like most major consulting firms. Not surprisingly. 402) found that "cost/value for money" and "lack [of] industry experience" to be among the most common client concerns about consultants. resources. Yet. These strategic issues were typically associated with a sense of urgency and risk for the company. Although this could have been due to lack of time. Pressures around credibility were particularly intense early in an engagement and exacerbated tensions related to these differences in skills and knowledge. it was . one STA partner cautioned new consultants. during an orientation session. consultants' compensation tended to be high in comparison with clients? This combination created an environment in which consultants experienced a compelling need to establish their value by demonstrating expertise and capabilities which clients lacked. or information. and by generating insights that clients were unable to produce on their own. the fees charged by STA. For example." Competitive Pressures and Client Vulnerability Although companies hired STA for a variety of reasons. most were prompted by a performance deficit with roots inside the firm and for an external competitive threat/opportunity. we discovered that metaphors of value pervaded consultants' culture and language. These pressures stemmed from the economic stakes involved in consulting. the decision to engage a consultant reflected a judgment that management was unable to address the situation on its own. as noted earlier with the exception of STA partners and top executives. First." the sooner early proxies of credibility and value would become less salient for clients. represented a significant expenditure for clients. Sturdy (1997 p. Indeed. Second. "The first five to ten things you say to a client will determine their opinion of you for the first two to three months of a study.Trust and credibility 21 produced what they called "deliverables.

1996. 1989. as well as successful organizational change (Kanter. Kipnis. Martin. the contextual factors around credibility created a situation in which clients needed help. Yet this meant accepting help from individuals who ⎯ based on their age and . Pettigrew." The Centrality of Influence Once consultants completed the data collection and analysis for a study. 1985). Yukl. 403) observation that the very insecurity which leads clients to hire consultants is reinforced by the threat they "pose to managers identities as competent and 'in control'. 1983. the recommendations had to be conveyed and "sold" to the senior decision-makers and other constituencies within the organization as the first step toward implementation. this theme is echoed in Sturdy's (1997. Consultants in conjunction with selected clients endeavored to persuade organization members to accept the study’s conclusions and implement the recommendations. The implicit question that clients admitted to thinking (but not saying) was. Falbe. Cohen & Bradford.g. "Why couldn't we solve the problem on our own?" As a result. 1993). This is consistent with evidence that social influence is a key determinant of consulting (Ginsberg.. Behavioral Dynamics Surrounding Credibility Initial Interactions Surrounding Credibility Overall. 1993) and managerial effectiveness (e. p. In effect. clients often experienced intrinsic pressure to demonstrate their competence and defend past strategic choices. & Youn.Trust and credibility 22 often construed in terms of a lack of competence or initiative on the part of the company. Schmidt. 1980. Again. Kotter. The latter interpretation tended to increase the threat associated with consultants' arrival. influencing clients' beliefs and values was one of consultants' primary tasks. 1990. On the one hand. but were ambivalent about this need. & Wilkinson. they needed the expertise that consultants could bring to bear on their problem.

clients' initial reactions increased the existing pressures on consultants around credibility. given the first two contextual conditions. but could not help until they learned the clients’ business and collected the necessary data. a client's . Then a group of people without your expertise make a suggestion that is 90 degrees from where you are .. For example.Trust and credibility 23 industry experience⎯ did not immediately appear qualified to offer such help. how come you couldn't figure it out? What is wrong with you that you couldn't see that?” So for the team to be right. do you have to be wrong? Some people will see it that way. Moreover. consultants were asked and expected to help. To do this. clients were often understandably threatened by consultants' arrival with their proliferation of unfamiliar jargon and sophisticated models. One reflective client expressed this ambivalence poignantly: You have been running a business for twenty to twenty-five years and have had a positive impact. New consultants were regularly asked by clients. "How long have you been with STA?” Consultants interpreted this question an attempt to assess or challenge their seniority and experience and hence their ability to generate insights to the client or situation which would be valuable. In one instance. There are a lot of people who have been in the business for twenty years who resent the hell out of that.” And we're paying a half million dollars for a couple of twenty-eight year old MBAs to fix our problems. "If these twelve people who don't understand this market can come up with this. and historically been successful... clients frequently challenged consultants' credibility in the first interaction. they needed the clients’ cooperation and support at a point in the process in which clients were uncertain of consultants’ value. Similarly. That's a tough thing to accept [there is the] sense that. at first cut you are still walking in here with a twenty-eight year old MBA saying "I'm going to fix your problems.. When this happened.

Consultant focus on work inputs and outputs In response to these pressures around credibility.. or to their own. and clients' expectations. suggests one explanation for some of the observed excesses in their efforts to establish credibility (see also Sturdy's 1997 discussion of the sources of consultants insecurities ). you are a hell of a lot younger than I expected.. such as the amount of time spent working (inputs) and the volume of competitive data and analysis produced (outputs). In addition. I'm paying a lot of money. The defensiveness such conditions produced in consultants. On a new project [the clients feel] "I bought this case.Trust and credibility 24 response to a rookie consultant's honest answer suggests that concerns around credibility (as we defined it) are behind the question. partners'. The client responded to the consultant's admission that he had just joined the firm with the somewhat joking retort "So you mean you are being trained on our time!" Another younger. as well as how these interactions might be threatening to the consultant.. most consultants attempted to establish credibility by relying on proxies of credibility and value. One consultant's view of how to establish credibility illustrates this approach: . we also found that both senior and junior consultants at times expressed apprehension about their ability to add value relative to their cost. Who the hell are you to tell me how to run my business? Second. Where is he?.. Is this what he thinks we should do here?" These two examples illustrate the types of interactions in which clients challenged consultants' credibility. though experienced. The guy who sold me this project was a lot older and more impressive [consultant laughs] . consultant related the skepticism he often encountered from clients on new cases: Everyone is questioning why STA is there.

Consultants’ responses to these tensions were often defensive. That's when [the clients] see that.” Another was more contemptuous: [The clients] don't work hard. "These guys are smart. because of differences in orientation and demographics.m. which it took me six months to realize that an "off-site meeting" means "I am going home to play with my kids." Unfortunately. consultants acknowledged this excessive reliance on .and they have these off-site meetings. they are working really hard. It is a trade-off I'm well aware of . In some instances... So there was some culture conflict around how hard [the team] would work. A comment made by one client revealed the friction that often arose around these types of input proxies: The level of intense work it takes to be successful as an STA consultant is different than the level to be successful [in our firm]. this seemingly straightforward approach often simply served to exacerbate tensions between clients and consultants. and all this stuff is getting done that wouldn't get done if they weren't here. I won't be in tomorrow. They are out before the secretaries.. and work a lot harder than they do.. One consultant confessed. It is true for me that I would not leave my wife and family to make more money." The second proxy for credibility that consultants relied on was the sheer quantity of output produced. some [client team members] felt put upon by a disproportionate emphasis on work. They come in at 9:30 and they are out by 5:00 p. "We look down on our clients because they don't want to work hard. They have one of the cushiest jobs I've ever seen.Trust and credibility 25 At the start up of every case you have to basically bust your ass. a particularly common reaction was the tendency to disparage clients.

allowing the clients more time to absorb the information. the early dynamics around credibility sometimes created a pattern of reciprocal denigration that at the end of some engagements. most of the clients interviewed. they are not impressed." One consultant described the negative consequences of this practice: "In [my current project] we give too much . consultants did sometimes avoid overwhelming clients. In fact. left a legacy of negative attitudes. Thus. For instance.. acknowledged the thoroughness and rigor of the firm's analyses. Cautioning. Although STA's empirically driven approach contributed to this tendency. While there were sometimes questions about the feasibility of STA's recommendations. the quality of their analysis once the full measure of analytical tools and concepts had been brought to bear on the clients' problem appeared to help establish the consultants’ credibility. "I know I've bludgeoned you with numbers. a few consultants designed projects to stagger the presentation of complex or dense material across multiple meetings. Where the [clients] are so confused by the volume of things we are telling them that they can't absorb it all. These attitudes were reflected in consultants' and clients' comments about one another. If they absorb 20% [which tends to be the case] they cannot act.” This quote suggests that the intention behind consultants' reliance on large volumes of material was.” Another consultant framed the dilemma that he thought led him and others to knowingly overwhelm clients: "If the client absorbs and understands 100% of what you say. this behavior on the part of consultants was a source of . consultants referred to large presentations metaphorically as the "acetate enema..” Moreover. to establish their credibility and value. Nevertheless.Trust and credibility 26 output to clients before a presentation. as part of this research. at least partially. "You may feel like you are taking a drink from a fire hose. within STA. to the point where it hurts us.” In other instances. they apologized after the presentation saying.

" While this may not be a verbatim account of what the consultant actually said. alternative ways of managing the dilemmas around credibility involve making the contextual pressures and the dilemmas explicit. Yet. the impact of his behavior on the client was quite different than what he intended. One client recalled his perception of the message conveyed by a senior STA consultant during the initial meeting of a new project: Here is why you've had the problems you've had for the last X years. Again. it was the client’s interpretation of the interaction. You're going nowhere and you're getting there fast. and may have even represented caricatures of what a few consultants said about clients. an internal memorandum attributed the following negative statements about clients to STA consultants." "I'm not going to waste my time holding the client's hand" While these comments were made privately. Presumably. "What an idiot! When I said 'industry structure' he thought I was talking about the construction industry. A consultant facing this dilemma might say something like the following: . If you don't listen to me you're dead. while also trying not overwhelm clients by the volume or complexity of these analyses. For example. the consultant in was simply trying to convey a sense of confidence and authority in order build his credibility. in some instances clients clearly experienced consultants as condescending.Trust and credibility 27 concern for STA's managing partner and contributed to his willingness to participate in this research. For instance. I'm going to set you straight. recall the challenge consultants have in trying to establish their credibility using the thoroughness of their analyses. You've screwed up.

Each individual must make choices about what information they can disclose to other actors in the network of relationships within . one of the difficulties we face in conveying this analysis to you is gauging the appropriate pacing and amount of information to present. "Clearly there is a level of intellectual power. Thus. And in fact. we want to present a rigorous and compelling case for our recommendations. In the case of trust." Nevertheless. the most common tactics for establishing credibility often lead to tensions that make effective collaboration between clients and consultants more difficult. DISCUSSION Trust We found that contextual features of the client-consultant relationship create significant dilemmas for consultants and clients. these dilemmas are manifested primarily with respect to exchanges of information. For example. particularly early in the client-consultant relationship. there is a danger that in doing this we might inadvertently overwhelm you. or if you have doubts about the analysis. we would ask that if. value. In sum. which is part of what we are buying ⎯ the best and the brightest. Consultants believe that by working hard and producing prodigious outputs and analyses. and establish a basis for influencing their clients’ strategic choices. these examples illustrate tensions that exist between consultants and clients around credibility.Trust and credibility 28 We have completed a significant amount of work and produced an analysis which we believe captures the complexity of your business. please let us know. at any point. On one hand. you find we are moving too quickly. they can demonstrate their expertise. one manager acknowledged. On the other hand. However. clients are often impressed by the end result of consultants’ efforts.

and identification-based trust. building on the earlier work of (Shapiro. Calculusbased trust rests on an individual’s assessment of the negative consequences of failing to do what he says versus the positive benefits of sustaining the relationship. 1992). These choices simultaneously influence their own and others’ interests as well as the level and type of trust in multiple relationships. It occurs when each party understands. Their model captures many of the dynamics that we observed between consultants and clients. Identification-based trust is based on an internalization of the other person’s desires and intentions. often overlap with relationships at times containing elements of more than one type of trust. As individuals in the relationship gather more information about each other. Calculus-based trust is the first type of trust that develops in a relationship. some relationships may move to an identification-based type of trust. agrees with and empathizes with the other person to the degree that he or she can act for him.Trust and credibility 29 which they function. Finally. and the nature of relationships and interests evolve. These stages. It occurs when one has enough information about a person to predict their behavior. Moreover. however. More specifically. Knowledge-based trust is grounded in behavioral predictability. this process occurs continuously throughout a consulting engagement. as new information is generated. knowledge-based trust. the relationship may regress to a lower level of trust . Lewicki and Bunker (1995) conceptualize these bases of trust as representing stages in the development of trust in a relationship. Lewicki and Bunker (1995) propose three sources of trust: calculus-based trust. This complex and dynamic aspect of trust in working relationships is apparent in Lewicki and Bunker’s (1995) developmental view of trust as an ever-changing process. Moreover. Sheppard. they can more accurately predict each other’s behavior and knowledge-based type of trust may develop. & Cheraskin.

In the calculus-based stage. A collaborative approach to consulting requires a more stable and robust trust. relationships are particularly fragile and violations can result in a termination of the relationship. The second stage involved a period of learning and exploration. As Lewicki and Bunker (1995) note. in which the parties tested the limits of trust in the relationship and attempted to arrive at a mutual set of expectations. which in some cases evolved into a third stage. While knowledge-based and identification-based trust typically only develop over longer periods of time (cf. some of the data from this study suggests that the most senior . The first two stages appear to be similar to Lewicki and Bunker’s (1995) information collecting phase which precedes the development of knowledge-based trust. this is a tenuous type of trust that can easily deteriorate. He found that effective managerial relationships evolved over time and went through predictable stages. These relationships involved calculus-based trust in which both clients and consultants calculated what information they could safely reveal to the other parties and tried to influence the calculus of others through elaborate signaling of allegiances. Lewicki and Bunker’s (1995) characterization of the dynamics of trust also reinforces our observations about the fragility of trust in client-consultant relationships. 1987b). typically taking at least eighteen months to stabilize. Gabarro. This risk is even greater given the contextual factors that constrain client-consultant relationships. Gabarro's (1987b) findings provide empirical for support Lewicki and Bunker’s (1995) conceptualization of trust as the product of a developmental process. such as that provided by knowledge or identification-based trust and not moment to moment calculations and transactions.Trust and credibility 30 when one party violates the other’s trust. The first stage involved a period of impression making and mutual orientation.

) definitions of trust and credibility differ from our own. it is unclear to what degree this actually enhances consultants’ credibility. These dilemmas lead clients and consultants to devalue each other. it can lead to polarization and defensiveness. in the initial stages of the client-consultant relationship. they found that a pure reliance on expertise was not sufficient for effective client-consultant collaboration. Gabarro’s (1978) study of managerial relationships found that influence was dependent on elements of both trust and credibility. at least. “stressing one’s expertise and track record early in a new project will not improve credibility. These findings are consistent with research by (Bashein & Markus.Trust and credibility 31 consultants devoted considerable effort to building trust with senior client executives that was based on identification. Since influence is logically related to behavior change. contextual features of the client-consultant relationship create dilemmas around credibility. Yet. They note. 1997) and Gabarro (1978). Consultants often respond to clients’ questions regarding their value and credibility by working harder than the clients and generating tremendous amounts of data and analysis.” Similarly. it may even hurt. CONCLUSIONS Implications for Theory and Research The evidence presented throughout this paper shows that clients and consultants' typical responses to the contextual features of strategy engagements can systematically inhibit the . Moreover. Credibility As with trust. it seems reasonable to suspect that the development of both trust and credibility are critical to more effective implementation. While Bashein and Markus’ (1997 p.

These findings suggested a number of directions for future research. In addition. concern with credibility evident in our research is consistent with Clark's (1995) study of executive search consultants and management gurus in which he found that issues of credibility underlie the consulting relationship. In contrast to Clark (1995) subjects. as well as the factors that limit the generalizeability of such mechanisms. we found STA consultants try to establish credibility through quite different mechanisms. Nevertheless. the link .Trust and credibility 32 development and maintenance of trust and credibility. The basic forces contributing to the dynamics and the findings described in this paper presumably occur in other technically-oriented consulting firms. while the present study suggests that difficulties around trust and credibility can limit the quality and implementation of strategy consultants' recommendations. additional research is needed to identify the various mechanisms that different types of consultants use to establish trust. While this may be a function of the fact that in strategy consulting the knowledge base is more clearly defined and accepted. For example. additional research is needed to explore the degree to which these tensions and problems surrounding the development of trust and credibility are generalizeable to other firms and models of consulting. however. engineering. They relied on knowledge and analysis. Like STA and other strategy consultants. By this we mean firms operating in a domain where there is a recognized body of technical knowledge – such as IT. or operations management. {.1988 #866:5}. whereas Clark’s relied on impression management. these firms should share a history of operating in the “purchase of expertise” model of consulting described by Schein. This is especially true in the early stages of an engagement.

By acknowledging these forces and behavior patterns surrounding trust and credibility. and as Argyris (1985) notes. In fact. conducting constructive conversations about these dilemmas and tensions requires considerable skill. but also on the challenge of building effective relationships. . if issues around trust and credibility were discussed explicitly. is a recognition of the underlying contextual forces and behavioral patterns.Trust and credibility 33 between these dimensions of the client-consultant relationship and these two outcomes should be examined directly. For instance. Implications for Practice Unfortunately. A second step would be for consultants and clients to maintain an on-going dialogue focused on making these tensions and dilemmas more explicit. however. consultants and clients might at least anticipate some of the difficulties and dilemmas they each face in the course of their relationship. The first step. an extensive discussion of how consultants and clients might manage these dynamics around trust and credibility is beyond the scope of this paper. the relaxation of the restrictions on information and expectations around what kinds of information might be shared could be negotiated explicitly at the outset of a consulting study. many of the contextual factors that contribute to the dilemmas might be altered or eliminated. they would become more manageable. Approaches such as these would enhance clients' ability to collaborate with consultants not only on the substance of the analysis. Nevertheless. A caveat here is that raising and discussing these issues involves elements of threat and embarrassment.

e. (Johnson.Trust and credibility 34 APPENDIX A Conceptual Confusion and the Meaning Trust and Credibility In both common and academic usage. Stiff. Gabarro's (1978. have been found to be based partly on perceptions of interests and intentions. motives) and "competence based" sources (expertise. what we refer to as "trust"). 1981:62-65). or because they see the person as likely to misrepresent the information they do have. in the main body of research on credibility. These studies found that subjects' evaluation and acceptance of persuasive messages were influenced by information about the communicator's expertise as well as potential motives (Hovland. knowledge. someone might reject an assertion either because they see the communicator as ill-informed or misinformed. Gabarro describes trust as a multidimensional construct which encompasses two broad domains. skill). Specifically. In particular. & Poprick. 1974. in much of the literature the terms have often been used to refer to the same phenomena. under a range of conditions. His . Hovland & Weiss. 6 Similarly. communicators who lacked issue-related knowledge or experience or who had a vested interest in an issue were viewed as less credible. Credibility first received attention in early studies on attitude change. Torcivia. credibility in the most generic sense means "believability" or the extent to which one can have confidence in the veracity of someone's assertions. "character based" sources of trust (integrity. or credentials that would make it likely that he or she would possess valid information about a topic. 1953. trust and credibility overlap significantly. 1986) judgments about credibility (in this case. For example. we see two distinct considerations. Thus. and partly on expertise (Petty & Cacioppo. 1978. 1951). expertise. In effect. discretion. The second is the question of whether the communicator has an interest or motive that would lead him or her to convey that information accurately (i. Indeed. & Kelly. believability). One is the question of whether the communicator has the knowledge. openness. Janis. While subsequent research has revealed the effects of credibility-related attributes on persuasion to be far more complex. Liska. 1987a) longitudinal field study of working relationships between new general managers and their colleagues also highlights the overlap between trust and credibility.

." (1978 p. examples of overlap between trust and credibility in scholarly research (e. 1985: 6 There is also the possibility that the information the individual collects may be biased by their motives or preferences. a manager may trust a subordinate’s integrity but not his business judgment. Lewicki & Bunker. Rusaw. and identity (Coleman. .. 1995.Trust and credibility 35 research illustrates how attributions of trustworthiness become increasingly differentiated as managerial relationships develop. Our definition also encompasses a range of mediating factors that theorists have associated with these expectations including motivation. 1996). Deutsch. 1972). we would note that as these theorists developed the above conceptions of trust they also outlined the features of situations in which trust becomes important. Hosmer. 1979. Mayer et al. 1993. in order to treat then separately in this paper. Bashein & Markus. 1979). While Gabarro distinguishes credibility as the link between trust and influence. he found that managers' descriptions of credibility were similar to those of trust. Gabarro focuses on "influence. 1995." defined as "one person's ability to affect the behavior and thinking of another. 1995. 1995. For example. In exploring the consequences of trust. 1995. For example.g. one of the early social scientists to write about trust. framed it in terms of beliefs about the likelihood that someone will act in a way that is in conflict with one's own interests (1962). 1992. Kouzes & Posner. Gabarro. simply seem to reflect popular usage of these terms. While this separation is driven by the distinctiveness of the two dynamics in the client-consultant relationship. we will use our specific definitions presented above. we would note that our definition of trust is consistent with core features of the literature on that construct. and that trust can exist in one domain but not in another. Shapiro et al. 1990. in his later writing. Luhmann. 1997. Finally.. 1978. Despite the overlap and interrelationships between many of the prevailing notions of trust and credibility. values and morals. illustrating the overlap between the two in everyday usage. For example. A range of other theorists conceptualize trust as a set of positive expectations about the future behavior of others (Hosmer. 298) and notes that managers made frequent references to "credibility" as one of the most important bases of influence for new executives. interests and incentives. Deutsch identified such situations as relationships or interactions where "an individual may enhance his own satisfaction to the disadvantage of another by not adhering to the moral expectations or social rules governing the situation" (Deutsch. Zand. Luhmann. past behavior. Lewicki & Bunker. Indeed.

our own definition moves away from a simple notion of believability. In fact. the key element in our strategy for dealing with the overlap between credibility and trust is the exclusion of competence-related attributes from the definition of trust. . other theorists have noted the contextual salience of vulnerability and dependence. 1951).. 1962. Our conception is also consistent with treatments of credibility that emphasizes the element of "credit" or economic value (Bashein & Markus. contemporary studies of attitudes and persuasion have tended to study "expertise" or "authority" rather than credibility (cf. 1990. 1993. Thus. 1978). Finally. 1994). because (in contrast to trust) credibility has received considerably less attention since the initial boom during the early days of research on persuasion and attitude change (Hovland & Weiss. Shavitt & Brock. Mayer et al. It is somewhat more difficult to connect our definition of credibility to the current literature. In part. Again. knowledge and expertise. Coleman. Similarly. Rusaw. which are consistently identified in discussions of credibility (Kouzes & Posner. to one of the key antecedents. Deutsch. 1995. in accordance with more precise conceptualization. This decision is directly aligned with Hosmer's (1995) decision to explicitly exclude competence attributes in his recent attempt to integrate various definitions of trust in the literature. Hosmer. 1996). 1997). and conflict among the interests of multiple actors in a social system (Chiles & McMackin. 1996. 1995).Trust and credibility 36 122). this shift reflects the recognition of the conceptual problems with early operationalizations of the construct (Liska. risk and uncertainty. we believe that our definition of trust is particularly applicable to client consult relationships which are often characterized by the above contextual features.

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