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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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#35: Keeping Your Online Accounts Safe

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, April 24, 2009
Updated: Friday, April 24, 2009
Several of my online accounts are asking me to change my passwords frequently and I notice they are asking for more complex passwords. How can I be sure that my passwords and usernames are secure?

Online security is important for more than just financial and medical accounts. Any account that has information that may be used to crack your more sensitive accounts should be protected. Using your dog's name or spouse’s birth date for every nonsensitive account creates insecurity. Once someone figures this out, they have access to all your accounts. You also are likely to have client confidential data on your company system or stored in online collaboration accounts.

Here are two ideas: create strong passwords automatically and evaluate password strength. First, there are many "password robots" on the market (RoboForm is a popular one) that will recognize URLs of your online accounts and store (in a file on your computer) passwords. A robot either remembers passwords you create or can generate really strong passwords (randomly generated combination of upper and lower case, numeric and symbolic characters). When you go to an online account site, the robot pulls up your login information and (if you choose) automatically fill in the login fields. You can generate and remember separate passwords for all your accounts.

Second, you can evaluate how strong your password is. Several online services will quickly show you how long it will take to crack a particular password. Use this application to check your passwords. If they don't pass minimal standards, it's time to beef them up.

Tip: Long gone are the days when you could keep your passwords on a 3x5 card or in a small notebook. May of us have dozens of accounts and password management is no longer an incidental exercise. Use the techniques above to insure your personal and client data remain protected.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  confidentiality  information management  security 

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#34: Consultant as Mediator

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 23, 2009
How much should a consultant get involved in mediating disputes among client staff? As a trusted and objective advisor, client staff come to me to with problems with other staff and looking for me to broker a solution. Is this appropriate?

There are two issues here: should you and can you? First, what is the scope of your engagement? Is your assigned role that of staff counselor or is doing so outside the specific scope of work? If your role, as discussed with your sponsor, is to work with staff and the relevant HR department to mediate and counsel, then do so. If it is not, and you have not discussed with your sponsor whether you are empowered to do so, then back away from this activity. This does not mean you can't talk with staff and hear their concerns. It does mean, however, that you should not be taking on a role for which you have not been engaged.

Second, are you qualified to counsel staff? Just because you are technically adept in one area and perceived by staff as a trusted advisor does not give you cause to involve yourself in interpersonal relationships among client staff. Like consulting, coaching/counseling is a profession, and too many consultants assert their qualifications as coaches without have the training or competence. Staff are usually asking not just for your opinion (easy for a consultant) but for some advice (which obligates you to have competence and creates accountability for the outcomes of your actions).

Tip: Some consultants just seem to be trusted implicitly by clients and staff. If you are one, then it is likely that in most engagements, staff will come to you for advice. This is diagnostically relevant, because it likely means there is insufficient opportunity, culture or mechanisms to support feedback, communication or problem resolution in the organization. If this is the case, share this information with your sponsor and, only if appropriate and you are qualified, discuss extending your role to advising staff.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  coaching  consultant role  roles and responsibilities 

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#33: Keeping Your Computer Data Secure

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I keep a lot of client confidential data on my laptop. I am not so much worried about someone hacking into it online as much as I am leaving the machine somewhere. Do you have some tips for keeping data secure?

We all cringe when we hear stories of someone leaving their laptop in a taxi or coming back to a conference room from lunch ("don't worry, your laptop is safe here") to find it missing. You can certainly use a password to start your operating system or encrypt your sensitive data folder or your whole drive. However, these techniques reduce performance and often are abandoned because of their inconvenience. More elaborate and potentially more effective security methods are available, such as biometric devices (facial recognition through your webcam is an interesting one, smart cards, or fingerprint recognition).

An alternative is to not keep any data you can't afford to lose on your laptop at all. If the impact of losing control of your machine is sufficiently great, you can keep confidential data on a machine in your office and access these data remotely using a service like GoToMyPc.

Tip: Probably the first strategy is to reduce the risk of losing your data is to minimize how much is exposed to loss. Know which data are confidential and only store on your laptop those data that are essential to your work for a work session. Remove these data from your laptop when you return to your office. At a minimum, set your screensaver to activate after a short period of time of inactivity and require a password to get back to your desktop. Bottom line: to keep your client data safe, you will have to pay for it and be somewhat inconvenienced.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  confidentiality  security 

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#32: The Five Percent Rule

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I sometimes have a hard time getting started with my engagements. Even with a project plan, in my kind of custom jobs there is a lot of prep work to assemble people, diagnose the situation, create and vet solutions, all before getting to deliver the final work product. It sometimes seems like I am doing all the work at the end, redoing early tasks in new ways. Is this common?

I suspect many consultants, early in their careers, had issues with time and project management. However, even the best trained consultants can get caught on complex projects and face the circumstances you describe. What seemed like a good approach didn't work out so well. The survey plan didn't return acceptable data. The recommended design didn't fly with the client staff as well you expected, nor as well as with every other of your clients.

Here's something you can do to reduce the likelihood of "getting behind the power curve" on your custom projects. Take a period of time equal to no more than five percent of the project life. While you are assembling your team, doing preliminary diagnostics and developing a relationship with your client, finish the project. If you are staring a ten week project, set aside two days to go from kickoff meeting to final deliverable.

By "finish the project," I mean proceed through all the steps of the project: diagnostics, data gathering, analysis, training, design, facilitation, focus groups, and client briefings. The whole thing, generating draft deliverables for every task. Of course, you will be missing a lot of information, but you are sharp enough to come up with a good guess of the scope, sequence and content of each task as it feeds into the next. Lay out the agenda for a facilitated session, design the training program, "evaluate" the results of a survey, and prepare the final client briefing. You bet there will be holes but you will be amazed by the insights you get. Better now than nine weeks from now.

Tip: This exercise is more than project or contingency planning or a "thought experiment." It forces you through each step and to be accountable for the outcomes of individual tasks. It works really well with a team project, where all can critique each work task, and make the theoretical real. Once you are done, you might even run this by the client, showing him or her the probable work products along the way, albeit highly incomplete. You may get feedback you'd rather hear now than in ten weeks.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  engagement management  planning  project management 

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#31: When Making Your Client a Star Can Backfire

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Sunday, April 19, 2009
Like most consultants, I want to make a big impact quickly. It seems that if I can make my client sponsor a star, this will demonstrate the value of my services without focusing on myself. Make sense?

Assuming that the client is the organization, not just the client sponsor, focusing on the client sponsor has pros and cons. On the upside, the sponsor may be impressed by your skills and appreciate his or her being able to take credit for improvements (either for engaging you or the actual improvement). On the downside, the "quick win" you seek may be at odds with the best interests of the client organization.

Make sure that the quick win you seek is in the best interests of the organization, even if it seems to be in the sponsor's interest. A January 2009 article in Harvard Business Review, The Quick Wins Paradox, addresses this issue in terms of a new executive wanting to make a splash. The authors warn that quick wins done in isolation from the organization and without good change management processes risk backfiring. Consultants act in the best interest of both their sponsors and the client organization when they help the sponsor accomplish a collective quick win that is well planned, communicated and supports a broader vision.

Tip: Before you approach your client about the role of quick wins related to your engagement, make sure these activities can be managed and communicated to staff sufficiently to be successful. Your sponsor may even appreciate reading the article for benefit of other initiatives they may be planning without your help. As long as you are careful to put the interests of the client before your own, it certainly will help you plan to make your own impact.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  customer understanding  roles and responsibilities 

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