A critique of the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SME's Lean improvement projects
ABSTRACT:\ud This thesis critiques the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs’ lean improvement projects. SMEs, which are crucial to China’s economy, encounter many challenges during their development. Management practices, such as lean, have been developed to improve organisational performance. In their application to SMEs, resource constraints mean that business assistance from external agencies, such as management consultants, is required.\ud Drawing on multiple theoretical lenses, including organisational learning, institutional theory and contingency theory, a research framework is established. This framework is employed to identify three research themes: organisations’ abandonment of existing practices; organisations’ learning of lean practices; and the consultant - SME client relationship during lean improvement projects. As well as the established consultants’ role, “consultants as external advisors”, a new role, “consultants in residence”, is identified. These two roles are studied through the three research themes.\ud This thesis employs a multiple-case study approach. Consultancy-involved lean projects undertaken in five Chinese SMEs are investigated using data collection methods of semi-structured interviews, direct observation and documentation. Both within- and cross-case analyses are applied.\ud The main contributions of this thesis are fourfold. First, it sets out the changing nature of the consultant - SME client relationship throughout the projects by comparing and contrasting the consultants’ and clients’ perspectives. Second, a framework which defines the impact of SME structural characteristics on the consultant-client relationship is developed. Thirdly, two organisational learning frameworks in relation to the two consultants’ roles are established. Furthermore, the approach employed to deinstitutionalise organisations’ existing practices is compared between the two consultants’ roles.\ud In the conclusion, the implications of this research for academia, practitioners and policy makers are discussed. A checklist which can aid SME managers in employing consultancy services is proposed and areas for future research are identified.
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