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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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Daily Tips for Consultant's Farewell Message

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Saturday, December 31, 2011
Yesterday’s entry was my last for Daily Tips for Consultants. After six years and 1,700 tips, I am moving on to writing and speaking in other areas, including strategic agility, evidence-based management, business ethics, disciplined execution, innovative social service delivery, and sustainability.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from several hundred subscribers from around the world about the value you received from Daily Tips over the years. I greatly appreciate the wealth of questions that originally stimulated the Tips. I also value your feedback, including some vigorous (and sometimes extended) online conversation in which you engaged me over the years. Hearing from such a range of perspectives (Daily Tips subscribers come from 104 countries) has been enlightening and has sharpened my own consulting capabilities. Thank you.

Many of you asked whether past Tips would be accessible online and whether compilations of Tips would be created. The answer to both questions is yes. The last 800 Tips will continue to be available in this location (www.imcusa.org/dailytips). Tips are tagged so you can search (by free text or tags) for content relating to a specific area (e.g., ethics, marketing, client understanding, consulting lifestyle, trends).

Compilation of Tips into several volumes is underway. Each volume would likely contain about 260 Tips, equivalent to one year's worth of Daily Tips at one per weekday. IMC USA plans to publish topical sets of tips (e.g., ethics, client relations). You have asked for Tips to be available in both electronic and hard copy formats so we are working to accommodate your requests.

IMC USA and I are proud to have provided this contribution to improving the excellence and ethics of management consulting. IMC USA plans to provide continuing advice for consulting and business professionals in the form of blogs and resources, including my future writing, through the IMC USA website. We will advise Daily Tips subscribers of their availability when they are published.

Thank you for your support of the management consulting profession and your contributions to effective and ethical management of our institutions.

Mark R. Haas CMC, FIMC
President, Research and Organization Management

Respecting the phasing out most incandescent light bulbs in the US, we have updated our Tips icon to a compact fluorescent bulb.

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#730: Prove That Your Consulting Practices Are Effective

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 30, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2011
How would you recommend management consulting as a whole improve its effectiveness?

The traditional definition says, "A management consultant is a professional who, for a fee, provides independent and objective advice to management of client organizations to define and achieve their goals through improved utilization of resources." Buried in this widely held definition lies the challenge for consultants. "Independent and objective" often ends up interpreted as thinking in novel ways about business and management, adapting a presumed "best practice" to a new situation or developing entire new management concepts to promote a portfolio of services with which we are familiar and practiced. Nowhere is the primacy of evaluation and proof that what we are proposing actually works. Many of commonly used and highly promoted consulting practices lack validation. To be sure, our approaches are logical, they align with other management theories and our client seem to have done OK after we applied them. Where is our proof of value? Evidence-based intervention is increasingly required in medicine, but not for consulting.

We as professionals need to develop a deeper capability to recommend and deliver to our clients only those practices and strategies that are provably effective. Proving effectiveness is hard, which is why it is rarely pursued. So we develop consulting approaches that are:
  • Too old - we propose approaches that were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.
  • Too new - we propose something we just read about in a management journal (most of which these days are written by consultants) but that has only been tried a few times, much less proven effective widely or over the long term.
  • Too abstract - we propose convoluted and theoretical processes that we understand well but for which the client and staff have no realistic capability to adopt or sustain.
A healthy skepticism to consulting techniques is our best defense against obsolescence as a profession and as individual consultants. Look at most "standard" management concepts from the past thirty years and you can find legitimate and well researched evidence why they are inappropriate for consultants to apply in many circumstances and potentially hazardous in others. We are now fully into a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) where the pace and scope of business exceeds the ability of any individual to think through improvement approaches by him or herself. The standard of proof for consulting effectiveness will continue to increase.

Tip: Seek out disconfirming evidence for every concept, process, approach or technique you have in your consulting portfolio. There are good resources available. For an overview of how to think critically about your consulting approach at a high level, read carefully Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not. For a more specific critique of individual techniques, look at Calling a Halt to Mindless Change: A Plea for Commonsense Management. Being a true professional means that, before we promote approaches we assume to be effective, we make sure we can defend our current practices in the face of logic and evidence that they neither make sense nor really work all that well.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  assessment  client service  consulting process  consulting skills  consulting terminology  consulting tools  diagnosis  education  innovation  learning  management theory  methodology  performance improvement  practice management  professional development  professionalism  quality  roles and responsibilities  sustainability  technology  trust  values  your consulting practice 

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#729: Are You Reaching High Enough in Your Business?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 29, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011
How do consultants generally measure the success of their business? If we were interested in just making money we could just track consulting income, but there are a lot of other reasons to be in this profession.

There is an inherent conflict in your question. Our goal is to create lasting value for our clients but such value is not necessarily fully valued by the marketplace. Measuring our worth by our revenues falsely assumes that the client's business, and the increment of performance we provide, is fairly reflected by market capitalization, revenues, profits, etc. Consider a Navy Seal and an investment banker. Seal s are drawn from a far more selective group, they are better educated, trained and equipped, yet receive far less compensation than bankers. The latter may even receive a financial bonus with no downside risk for "exceptional" performance, while a Seal puts his life and reputation at risk and is paid the same regardless of performance. The market is not a true measure of your intrinsic value or contributions.

A second aspect is that your client may benefit tremendously from your counsel but is not in a position to pay you what you would be worth in more financially advantaged markets. Consultants who advise educational, public sector, nonprofit, government or market-depressed private sector clients know this well. We all know colleagues who are paid far more or less for the same work. We also know that fees can increase or decrease in certain markets even if the value of our services do not.

Do you know how you know when you deliver value? Your client sponsor tells you. Client staff commend your services. You see your recommendations implemented and have the intended effect. Your clients thrive. You get unsolicited referrals. You gain the respect of those colleagues who know your work. You are sought out by others in your client's industry. You are asked to speak to professional and civic or industry groups. You recognize growth your own consulting competencies. "That's all well and good," you say, "but it doesn't pay the bills." It is true that you need to generate an income to stay in business, but don't let compensation substitute as a measure of your value.

Tip: Michelangelo said, "The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." When setting your goals, consider setting some for those indicators of value above, and set them high. Revenue is fungible; it is the impact on your client that is the true measure of value delivered and something that you uniquely provide.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  compensation  evaluation  quality 

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#728: Systemic Change for Your Clients Creates Opportunity for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Given the increasing pace of change in technology, economic disruption, management practices, social and generational expectations, and globalization, would you say change in consulting is evolutionary or revolutionary?

Good question, but it deserves the typical consultant's answer: it depends. You are on point that there are many consulting markets undergoing, or about to undergo, dramatic changes. Anything related to public services, the largest vertical for management consulting, is about to change in a big way. Uncertainty over revenue sources, planned cuts in services and evolving concepts of the role of government mean traditional public sector services, and the consulting services that support them, are changing. High demand services will continue to be provided but in different ways and possibly by the nonprofit or private sectors. Consultant agility in serving this transformation should be high on your marketing research agenda.

One good example is the advent of social impact bonds (SIB) as a financing mechanism for government services delivery. Started in 2011 as a $100 million federal pilot program, this could grow quickly to provide tremendous opportunity (and disruption) for consultants in areas of service delivery, finance, evaluation and program/project management. Instead of a traditional government program paying for delivery of services, an SIB is issued to a group of investors to provide specific service outcomes (e.g., reduction of veteran unemployment rate of 2.5% over 4 years). If the outcomes are achieved, the government pays the bond holders; if the targets are not met, investors get nothing. Taxpayers only pay for performance, not effort. If you are a consultant in the public sector or can advise efficient providers of these services, then you may either be losing a market or gaining a whole new service line.

Tip: Some consulting services will be slow and steady in serving clients much as they have for decades. However, disruptions in business generate corresponding disruptions in consulting. If you'd like to know more about social impact bonds, look at a short paper from the Center for American Progress.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  customer understanding  innovation  learning  trends  your consulting practice 

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#727: Consultants Are Not the Only Game in Town

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Why is it that the same consultant's recommendations, even when fully recommended, sometimes have a huge impact on one client's performance and other times have little impact? The skill or insight of the consultant is just as good but the outcome is different.

There is far more in play here than just the consultant. It is easy for consultants to consider themselves the principal intervention in a client organization. After all, an executive has selected them from among a group of their competitors specifically to address a key challenge or opportunity. The executive team and consultant engagement director spend a great deal of time discussing weighty matters and strategic choices. The fate of the client organization hinges on the effectiveness of the consultant's recommendations.

A nice picture, if only it were true. In fact, a consultant is but one of many simultaneous factors affecting a client organization, before we even get to the flurry of other processes, cultures, and initiatives going on inside an organization while a consultant team is active. We are not the only game in town within the organization.

The same thing can be said of the persistence of our intervention. Both consultants and managers may conclude that a particularly innovative modification of a business model or strategy will take an organization to the top of its market. They are probably right - in a static, noncompetitive market, our recommendations would result in a better outcome. The problem is that there are other competitors, each with their own strategic initiatives (and consultants). We are not the only game in town outside the organization.

Tip: Humility and perspective are among consultant's best friends. Remember these two factors, (1) consultants are only one of many concurrent factors influencing an organization's performance, and (2) the specific impact we have will be disrupted by markets and competitors, each of whom is changing their own strategies to try to outdo our clients. Interventions are valuable if they improve the client's position over the long run, even if success cannot be attributed solely to the consultant.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  customer understanding  performance improvement  recommendations 

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