Towards Corporate Professionalization: The Case of Project Management, Management Consultancy and Executive Search
Current Sociology, Vol. 59, No. 4, pp. 443-464, 2011
25 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2011
Date Written: November, 24 2011
The knowledge economy has been characterised by the proliferation of new forms of expert labour such as IT (Marks and Scholarios, 2007), advertising (Alvesson, 2004), and as discussed in this paper, project management (Hodgson and Muzio, 2010), management consultancy (Fincham, 2006; Kirkpatrick et al, 2011) and executive search (Faulconbridge et al., 2008). Many of these occupations would lay claim to the mantle of ‘professionalism’; interestingly, however, they have adopted strategies, tactics and methods which depart in significant ways from the example of established professions such as law, chartered accounting and medicine. The relevant literature has explained this situation with reference to the peculiarities of an occupation’s knowledge-base (Reed, 1996; Fincham, 2006) and to the historical challenges of a context which is increasingly sceptical of professional claims (Hanlon, 1999; Muzio and Ackroyd, 2005). In this context, professionalisation, with its emphasis on monopolistic market closure, restrictive practices and self-regulation is, in some quarters, seen as neither desirable nor achievable; rather new knowledge intensive occupations are expected to succeed through innovation, entrepreneurship and active engagement with the markets. Indeed, the success of these new occupations has been presented as evidence of the crisis of professionalism as an occupational template and its displacement by more entrepreneurial and managerial forms of organization (Brock, et al, 1999; Dent and Whitehead, 2002).
Against this background, this contribution looks at recent attempts at professionalisation in project management, executive search and management consultancy. These three occupations have been chosen because, despite some rather different structures and histories, they do share a number of common characteristics in the way they are conducting their own professional projects. Specifically, a series of semi-structured interviews with key individuals in the respective professional associations, the Association for Project Management (APM), the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) and the Institute of Management Consultancies (IMC) , and the consideration of published information reveal that whilst elements of ‘traditional’ professionalization strategies can be identified within in these fields, professionalization processes are guided by new conceptions of professionalism and supported by some novel strategies and tactics. In this context, this paper seeks to develop and assess the prospects for a new model of professionalisation in knowledge-based occupations. In doing so, it highlights the strategies and tactics recently developed by the APM, the AESC and the IMC as part of intricate attempts to negotiate occupational settlements with other actors and especially with the large professional organizations which inhabit and dominate these fields of practice (see also Abbott, 1988; Burrage et al, 1990). In particular, our analysis illustrates the way these new tactics attempt to overcome the challenges that a more hostile institutional and ideological context poses for professionalization as a mode of work organization. Based on these insights it is suggested that the cases of management consultancy, executive search and project management may indicate the emergence of a new model of professionalization, which, following Kipping et al’s original definition (2006 – see also Muzio 2010 on this) we term ‘corporate professionalization’ and which may be more suitable for the contemporary economic landscape and more acceptable in the current political economy.
Keywords: professions, executive search, management consultancy
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