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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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#225: Where Volunteering Really Pays Off for Management Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 22, 2010
Updated: Friday, January 22, 2010
I feel obligated to give back to my community by using my skills as a management advisor. I'd at least like to make sure my time is well spent and my experience is used well.

There are some management consultants who feel no need to contribute their expertise to their communities, so it is gratifying to hear how you feel. The presumption seems to be, "why should I give my time to others when I can get paid for it?" However, doing pro bono or volunteer work does not have to be entirely without benefit. You can "give back" without "giving it away."

One of the most valuable experiences I have had in this regard is to serve as a volunteer Baldrige examiner. For more than 20 years the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program has served as an exemplar for organizations to reach for best practices in areas ranging from leadership to knowledge management to process management. The awards program is based on applications by public, private and nonprofit organizations and evaluation by volunteer examiners. Panels of examiners from diverse backgrounds spend several days on the equivalent of a "super case study" of the company, discussing and critiquing the organization's performance.

In addition to the valuable service you provide to organizations across the country or in your community, the learning is unparalleled and the contacts are tremendous. Defending your principles of management and observation with hospital administrators, engineers, business executives, management academicians, military officers - all of whom serve as volunteer examiners - is a great insight builder. My seven years as a lead examiner rank among the greatest skill builders in my management consulting career.

Tip: Look into serving as an examiner for the Baldrige national program or a parallel program run by most states (exact same criteria but local organizations). It only takes a week or so per year and you give back and get better at the same time.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  goodwill  innovation  learning  performance improvement  pro bono  professional development  quality 

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#224: Analytical Thinking

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, January 21, 2010
Updated: Thursday, January 21, 2010
I am more of a people person and built my consulting practice around HR, training and personnel assessments. How important is it to have strong analytical skills?

Analytical skills are important whether your practice is highly technical or focused on what some call "soft" skills. Analytical thinking involves how you approach a problem, not that it uses quantitative techniques. Analysis is about making sure that your approach, findings and recommendations are firmly grounded and defensible.

Effective analytical thinking includes the following characteristics:
  • Double check your assumptions - the error in the your final answer may have occurred before your analysis even began.
  • Confirm your team has the needed diversity - blind spots are more likely the narrower the perspective of the people on your team.
  • Define the data, information and knowledge you need - despite uncertainty in any project, identify those elements that most affect the outcome and take the effort to acquire what you need.
  • Keep the usefulness of the answer in mind - consider whether you are headed for an interesting or innovative solution and whether your answer is feasible or realistic for the client's need.
  • Don't be blinded by the elegance of your approach - not every problem requires, or even benefits from, your favorite consulting process.
Tip: Occam's razor says that, all things being equal, the simplest solution is usually the correct one. Your client is looking for a good answer based on solid analysis. Developing a tested set of analytical guidelines and processes will provide better value for your clients, regardless of your type of consulting services.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  performance improvement  quality  recommendations 

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#223: Among Friends

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
How do you respond to consulting colleagues who, with no prior relevant experience, take on contracts in your area of specialty and then come to you for help? Am I being competitive by not wanting to share my years of education and experience that give me an edge?

It is difficult to see someone with less experience serving a client for whom you presume you could provide better service. There are two responses, either of which might reduce the odds of this happening in the future.

First, determine how the client selected your colleague instead of you. What does your colleague provide, in the client's eyes, that you do not. It may be that you are not known to the client and your colleagues was the only presumably qualified consultant available. In this case, (sort of) shame on you for not having a better market presence, and it is something you can address. On the other hand, consultants usually think they are selling competence, when in fact clients are buying confidence. There are lots of consultants around with enough skills and experience, many with more than enough for the job at hand. It is possible that the client trusts your colleague even without the superior technical expertise you know you have.

Second, decide under what conditions you will help your colleague with your expertise. Treat them like any other client for whom you would devote time. Of course, you can provide 15 minutes of general advice as a friend, but at some point it becomes paid consulting. Just like you could ask a friend who is a doctor about what kind of flu is going around without feeling you are crossing the line, but you wouldn't want to ask them to do a complete physical outside of a in a professional setting.

Tip: Offer to work together for a fee - don't be embarrassed about asking, this is what you do for a living and you invested a lot in the acquisition of that knowledge.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consultant role  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  knowledge assets  teaming 

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#222: The Value of Consultants Playing "Second Fiddle"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Having spent decades building my firm and procedures, I enjoy designing and managing my own engagements. Why should I team with others and compromise my standards and practices?

I can certainly understand your pride in the processes and practice you have developed. However, part of our value as consultants comes from the continuous advancement of our skills, perspectives, independence and objectivity. Part of that is not becoming stale in our skills or limited in our perspective. Whenever we have opportunities to learn new consulting skills or behaviors, we should take them.

Whenever we can expand our scope or perspectives, we should also do so. One way we can do this is to work with other consultants on teams. Sharing the design or management of an engagement helps us see that our approach is not the only one. Even when we don't agree with the other consultants on the team, who is to say that there is not some value in seeing how other industries or disciplines look at a management issue? Being part of a team does not require you give up your standards or professionalism, just that you let someone else take the lead.

Tip: There is something to be said, regardless of our level of experience, for playing "second fiddle" on a consulting engagement. After so many times of running the show, we are in a different position when we are asked to take direction from another experienced consultant. Seek out opportunities where you are providing just subject matter expertise and not serving as engagement manager. You will be surprised at how clearly you might better understand how your own approaches could be improved.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consultant role  consulting colleagues  engagement management  learning  roles and responsibilities  teaming  virtual teams  your consulting practice 

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#221: Are You a Push or Pull Consultant?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 18, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010
How is it that some independent consultants can make a living in just one discipline? Doesn't it seem that you need to be part of a larger firm that provides a range of specializations?

Henry Mintzberg refers to the difference in "push" (concepts) and "pull" (issues) in studying management. The push starts with some conceptual basis like cost control, strategy, or operations. This is the province of business schools and some consultants, and Mintzberg appropriately likens this orientation to the adage "to the child with a hammer, all the world's a nail." An academic's research and teaching centers on this concept and applies it to every situation. As a management consultant, if you are a "process" or "strategy" or "culture" person, then your tendency to see the world in these terms can be overwhelming. This approach, and the inability or unwillingness of some managers to see this for what it is (being sold the product rather than the solution), often leads to consultants being engaged for the wrong reason and ends up with a disappointed (or more) client. Any of a dozen books that pillory the consulting profession for this, including some of the largest consulting firms, provide ample evidence.

The pull concept is more like a skilled artisan, who sizes up a situation and brings to the solution the years of experience and the appropriate tools. This is the more ethical approach to consulitng, one that may not land you an engagement but delivers the right solution. The phrase "prescription without diagnosis is malpractice" comes to mind. In practice, this means a management consultant's education and perspective has to be greater than just an industry orientation of disciplinary specialization. Even if you are not part of a large firm (or more than one person), you always are obligated ethically to assess the client's needs from a number of perspectives.

Tip: It is hard for any individual to have a comprehensive view, but it is possible to operate your practice ethically without being part of a large firm. Read well outside your comfort zone. Spend time with colleagues with different skills on case studies, where you must defend your point of view and learn new ones. Attend professional development sessions in an area that may not be obvious as your "type" of session. Finally, whenever possible, team with another consultant or firm with different perspectives and skills.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  consulting process  engagement management  ethics  learning  your consulting practice 

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