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#147: Evidence-Based Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I have refined my consulting approaches over the years and my clients seem to appreciate them. Is there any reason I need to validate these approaches to improve them?

This is a touchy question for many consultants. We tell our clients to apply proven approaches to process improvement but we don't necessarily apply the same rigor selecting methodologies for our own businesses. Often, we spend most of our time delivering client services or in marketing and relatively less time researching and developing new or even better approaches. Some large firms devote the resources to research and develop new consulting services but most firms rarely spend sufficient time seriously creating services based on evidence. We know clients are enamored with “innovative” so we are happy to oblige.

Consider where your consulting practice is in terms of these suspect decision making practices:
  • Selecting the Wrong Model - Consultants are known for generating a steady stream of "the latest" approaches to management. Some managers and consultants presume these models are appropriate when they are not. The attractiveness of an approach is often based on how clever they appear or the logic that if they worked for one company, they will work for others. A write-up in a management magazine is not a justification that an approach will work for your client. So too is it wrong to abandon an approach because someone says “The XYZ method is dead.”
  • Repeating What Worked Recently - The world and business are constantly evolving. While some truths are timeless, as business changes, so must your consulting business. Just because your approach worked so well for your last client does not validate its use for your next client. Each client warrants a zero-based review of how best to approach a problem. Using your "standard" approach without a proper diagnosis is unprofessional. At a minimum, you must validate that the success of your last client was due to your intervention and not some other factors before you propose the same approach.
  • Not Examining Your Ideologies - We need to constantly evaluate whether our deep seated beliefs about training, incentives, strategy, morale, and other ideologies based on our culture, experience or education are really true. For example, mergers are often proposed as a way to capture market share and offset corporate weaknesses in a competitive market. The fact is that most mergers, even those with prodigious due diligence, fail spectacularly and most actually destroy shareholder value, yet consultants still eagerly propose M&A as a strategy.
Tip: This lack of evidence-base management is a serious problem with both management and consulting. A good treatment of this issue is Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Pfeffer and Sutton. The authors discuss how we are guilty of the above three approaches to avoid the hard work of proving our methods are effective. This is a must read for management consultants, both for the benefit of your own business as well as those of your clients.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consulting process  innovation  market research  professionalism  recommendations  your consulting practice 

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