Five symbolic roles of the external consultant: Integrating change, power and symbolism

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32 Scopus citations


Power and politics have long been accepted as often detrimental elements of change processes. An element of the political arena that has received limited attention, however, is the inadvertent symbolism associated with the presence of an external consultant or change agent. Presents a retrospective analysis of role symbolism of two consultants during a 14-month change project. Using concepts drawn from theories on organizational power, stages of change, and symbolism, a framework of five symbolic roles of the external consultant is presented. These roles include symbol of change-to-come, symbol of changing norms and values, symbol of power redistribution, symbolic wishing well, and symbol of organizational empowerment. The emergence, significance and implications of these symbolic roles during different change stages are explored. Implications are developed for researchers, change agents and external consultants in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-561
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Organizational Change Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Consultants
  • Managerial power
  • Organizational change
  • Organizational politics
  • Roles
  • Symbolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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