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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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#65: Are You Answering the Right Question?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 5, 2009
Updated: Saturday, June 6, 2009
After a dozen years as a consultant, I now realize that as often as not, answering the question the client poses at the start of an engagement is not the right question. Is this common with other consultants?

Physicians, psychologists, consultants and probably most helping professions expect that the presenting issue by the client is likely to not be the core question. It is, however, the issue that the client can see, feel and understand enough to want help solving it. It is our responsibility as consultants to conduct due diligence and make sure we are answering the right question before we start our investigation.

Every consultant should have a formal procedure to assure that the facts and assumptions around an engagement are fully investigated. Of course, you should respect the client's point of view and perspective and work through that presenting question until you are sure you are confident you are addressing the right questions, understand the facts on the ground, have access to the right people and information and are competent to solve the "right" problem.

Tip: There is a serious ethical dilemma to this process of getting to the right question. It may be that you were retained on the assumption that you are solving one problem. If, as you clear away the uncertainty and confusion around the real issue, the skills and behaviors required to effectively solve it maybe beyond your capability. At any time, if you feel you are not qualified to solve the problem as it currently stands, you are obligated to offer to withdraw from the engagement.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  customer understanding  engagement management  ethics 

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#64: Will Your Solutions Last?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, June 4, 2009
Updated: Thursday, June 4, 2009
How much should I be helping a client develop skills and perspective compared to solving the problem at hand?

Assuming you are clear about what is in the scope of work for your engagement, there is often a tendency to go a little farther to help the client for the long term. We like to think our solutions will sustain themselves and won't require more than modest effort to keep on giving results long after we are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our work will not erase old habits and resistance to change. We need to build in the ability of the organization to continue to build a case for the new way of doing things so that there are staff and management that are both knowledgeable about and champions for your implemented recommendations.

Tip: Educate your client about the natural sources of resistance to change, mechanisms successful companies use to sustain change and specific approaches you think are needed to work in this organization. Start this conversation early so everyone is clear that this is not an afterthought raised as the project closes. Your reputation as an agent of change hinges on your work not being swept away by those who are just waiting for you to leave (there is always someone like this in an organization). Sustaining change starts at the kickoff meeting.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  consulting process  sustainability 

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#63: Using Heatmaps

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, June 3, 2009
How can a consultant use "heatmaps" to display information?

Consultants absolutely must have strong command of a variety of ways to displays data. Previous Daily Tips have discussed these different styles and formats but not heatmaps. Heatmaps are two-dimensional representations of data that combine position, size and color for a rich presentation of complex data in a simple format. An example of a heat map for stocks shows sectors and subsectors (position), trading volume (size of blocks), and price trends (text and color). This allows, at a glance, to see what subsectors and sectors are advancing or declining, where trading is concentrated and the exact current share price movement. Although color is often the primary feature of a heat map, the layout can take the form of a grid, map, or table.

Tip: Several companies offer software to generate heat maps, some of whom also provide tutorials on their use. Think about a complex consulting engagement where you need to present status and trends for dozens of items and want to show al the data at once. For example, you have just evaluated thirty company offices in four divisions and have sales volume and trends data. A heat map will instantly show which stores in which sectors are most attractive and which ones are problems - much more effective than with a table.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  data visualization  presentations 

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#62: Is It Time To Go Out On your Own?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, June 2, 2009
I have been working for a mid-sized consulting firm for several years and am considering leaving to start my own practice? What factors should I consider?

More than perhaps any other decision in consulting, this is a personal one that depends on your circumstances as well as your preferences and tolerances. Many of the factors that led you to choose a consulting career (intellectual stimulation, desire to help people, work environment, coworkers, compensation, travel, lifestyle, etc.) also affect your choice of what kind of practice you work in. Leaving a larger practice to go out on your own will put you in good company. Many firms are being started by "refugees" from large consulting firms seeking new challenges. Turn your decision into the equivalent of a consulting engagement (be your own client) and make a risk and benefit-based decision.

One of the most common reasons for departing a larger firm is the desire for independence. You may begin to feel constrained by the limitations of the corporate business model, bureaucracy, having to balance client service and practice traditions and, sometimes, getting a nudge from their clients to find a different service model. You can usually see this as a progression. When you start to feel that the corporate environment is limiting your ability to pursue and serve clients of the type and in the manner you prefer, thoughts turn to going out on your own. The tremendous number of boutique firms being started these days by partners or senior managers of large firms reinforces the attractiveness of independence. That clients are increasingly willing to retain individual consultants instead of larger firms reinforces the desire of consultants to take their clients with them and leave to set up their own practice.

Tip: Large consulting practices have some advantages and you will probably miss those if you leave. However, the availability of technology and a sizable consultant network (this is where IMC helps tremendously) lets you to compete with and deliver services equal to some of the largest consulting firms. If you don't have the technological skills or network, going out on your own will be more difficult. However, independence will provide a lot of new found benefits. You might even be surprised at how frequently clients call in independent consultants (many of whom came from large firms) to shadow or replace large firms.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  career  consulting lifestyle  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#61: Effectively Passing Off Your Recommendations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 1, 2009
How can I increase my ability to get my recommendations implemented?

Passing from recommendation to implementation can be a complicated process. However, there are a few components that consultants frequently forget to manage well. Let's assume that your recommendations are on target in terms of defining the correct approaches and your recommendations are well articulated. At this point, the control of implementation starts to pass away from you to the client. After you pass off your recommendations, your influence over outcomes depends on specifying the implementation steps your clients should take.

The key concept is "responsibility flow," in which you define the sequential responsibilities and accountabilities for implementing, evaluating and operating those functions you have recommended. Answer the following questions. Who have you worked with during your development of recommendations who really understands their rationale? Who has the client designated to manage the actions you recommended? Who will be accountable for performance? What processes will be used to evaluate whether the recommended actions are "better" than existing ones? How will the recommended actions displace existing functions? Who are the enablers and resistors?

Tip: Assuming you are not retained to manage and evaluate implementation, work with your client to specify in detail the responsibility flow for initial implementation, operation, evaluation, realignment and integration. Far too many high potential consultant recommendations die a slow (or quick) death and dissipate as "the way it always was" reasserts itself. Help your clients understand that implementation and integration are where value is created and that working with you on responsibility flow is an important part of your engagement.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  consulting process  implementation  recommendations 

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