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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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#961: Taking Good Meeting Notes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 9, 2009
During engagements, I take extensive notes of meetings, interviews and discussions with staff. However, since these notes are not required as project documentation, it is unclear it is worth the effort.

The ability to capture information by taking notes is an important part of a consultant's toolkit. Whether you are capturing information from a meeting, interviews, focus groups, or research, your notes are a way of structuring relevant information for later evaluation, reduction and transformation. Thomas Edison was a prodigious note taker, amassing over 5 million pages of notes in his years of research and development work. His notes were so effective that they served as a thorough archive of his activities and basis of staff doing their own derivative research years later.

Good note taking has several important features. First, be prepared to take notes. Don't just show up for an interview or meeting with a blank sheet of paper and start writing down what is said. Create an interview script with space for capturing responses or a list of key "ask its" for a meeting.

Second, create a consistent system of notes so you can understand them long after they are taken. One way to do this is to create for your use a standard set of symbols and formats. for example, use one symbol to indicate items that are your opinion vs. something another person said, or for items that require you to follow up.

Finally, set aside time immediately after taking notes to confirm the clarity and accuracy of your notes, evaluate their significance, verify any questionable data, reduce them to a vital core of information, and interpret any aspects requiring it. Don't take notes and wait several days to look at them, lest you find you can't read your handwriting, recall important facts, or are overwhelmed by dozens of pages of notes you transcribe or interpret.

Tip: Treat note taking as a deliberate, intentional business process to be planned, evaluated and improved.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  meetings  planning 

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#960: Keeping Up With Management Issues

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, January 8, 2009
Consultants have to read so much to keep up with general management topics, not to mention their own industry and discipline. Armed with my trusty mp3 player, I have found lots of podcasts about business and management but a lot of them are not so useful. Do you have any recommendations about ones that are worth my limited time?

Podcasts are a great way to keep up with emerging management trends. They are quick to access, you can listen to them in the car or while exercising, and you can erase them or archive them easily. You are also right that it is hard to locate content that is right for your needs.

It does depend on what you are looking for. There are podcasts for marketing, management, finance, production, project management, strategy, etc. However, some of the best for general management are ones that are interviews with business leaders or management book authors or researchers. Here, you can get a short (usually 15 to 30 minute) summary of a key topic in business, with enough depth to help you fully understand its implications for your practice and clients. These podcasts usually start with a premise of explaining an emerging topic, explore why it is now relevant where it might not have been in the past, and discuss the research or experience required to validate the concept, and how it will affect business or management going forward.

Tip: One good general podcast the AMA Edgewise Series. With a good sized archive and the ability to subscribe through iTunes, Yahoo and other applications, Edgewise brings you current discussions on leadership, strategic thinking, innovation, human resources, and other topics. Each week you can hear a topic discussed that you can and should relate to your practice. Other sources are available on iTunes under management (or marketing or whatever topic you like) but look most closely at sources with an interview base of people you have heard of and ones who have been around for a while (longevity does have merit in choosing a source).

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  education  knowledge assets  professional development 

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#959: Making Your Numbers

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, January 7, 2009
When I was a partner at a major consulting firm, I worked hard to "make my numbers" for my group every quarter. Now that I have started my own firm, many of the performance measures are not as relevant. What "numbers" are appropriate for a solo practitioner?

This is a common question, whether one has left a large firm or is a new consultant as an independent. The short answer is that the performance objectives are largely the same but how they are characterized may differ slightly. They may also differ as a function of what you plan to accomplish with your new firm as compared to your old one. At a minimum, the "numbers" you make at your new firm are based on your individual values, not the collective values of your fellow partners at your old firm.

Without being presumptuous to suggest which specific measures are "best," here are some that you should consider. Think in terms of balanced scorecard categories: customer, process, assets (innovation and learning), and financial. Customer measures should address the health of your pipeline, such as how many prospects are at each stage and the alignment of each prospect with your firm development objectives. Process measures should address the use and improvement of processes and protocols to market and sell, deliver services, and run your practice. Asset measures (called innovation and learning in the balanced scorecard methodology) should address how you are growing as an individual and a firm, specifically in terms of what new skills, data, and capabilities you have created over the last period of time that you can monetize as higher valued services to clients. Finally, financial measures should address the revenue and profit targets you have established for this quarter/year as part of your multiyear business plan.

Tip: Although you presumably manage what you measure, small firm management should work with a vital few metrics. It is reasonable to set a target and track only one or two in each of the above categories. If you are not meeting these targets, you can drill deeper.

P.S. A common reason consultants leave larger firms to be independent is to have more control over consulting service delivery and their personal lives. Given that independent consulting can consume a lot of time, consider including a metric of how much leisure time you are making available for you and your family. Making your consulting numbers should not come at the expense of these other important "non-business" considerations.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  fees  planning  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#958: Proper Nomenclature for Consulting Engagements

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 6, 2009
It is frustrating to have a client defeat your best efforts to maintain consistency in naming work products and project activities. Should I push this further?

Consistent and deliberate language and nomenclature is an important function you can serve for managing your own engagements but also has significant value for your client. Have you ever startedwork with a client and heard them refer to "the green report" or "Dave's speech." This makes it hard to appreciate the nature or history of important documents or contributions to the culture or operations of an organization. As a consultant, you have an opportunity to recommend the importance of naming work activities or products in a way that, years later, will provide proper context for understanding.

Also important is the use of clear and consistent language in activities such as organizational change projects. A recent project had various people calling the effort "the change project," "the transformation," "the transition," or "Rob's work team's project." Each of these carries different connotations. Therefore, the perceptions of the activities and work products (including the product that might be called "the transition report") are different. This is not what you want as a consultant trying to align the strategy, operation and culture of an organization.

Tip: At the start of an engagement, discuss with your client the importance of language and terminology. Discuss key terms and processes you might use to reach consensus on nomenclature. Talk with staff about why they prefer some terms over others and how they feel about terms you have recommended. Help your clients use language to reinforce the impact of organizational change on sustained and clearly accepted activities and work products.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consultant role 

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#957: The Dry Run

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 5, 2009
As experienced a consultant as I am, I am occasionally surprised at how often I have to "relearn" things I used to do but had let lapse. That's one reason I like your Tips. One practice I have gotten back into is doing dry runs for client briefings. I highly recommend them.

It's hard to disagree with either point: that we constantly need to be on the lookout for practices we have forgotten or let get stale, and that practice is a good idea. Both points are tied to a commitment to life-long learning. It is easy for some of us to feel so busy that we don't have time for these critical practices. But it only takes one time being not as prepared as we thought we were to make us realize that we need to keep dry runs on our client briefing checklist (and, if you don't have a list of items to make sure you have or do before each client briefing, you should).

The dry run serves three purposes. First, it is a check on timing of a presentation. You'd rather not realize an hour into your two-hour presentation that you are only one-fourth done. Second, you'll always want to practice under conditions similar to those you will experience during the actual event. Having to project in an auditorium or move around a training room is a different experience than a read through at your desk. Third, having it recorded means you can listen to see how it sounds, albeit not entirely objectively. Even better is doing your dry run in front of another person who will provide constructive feedback.

Tip: The origin of the concept of a "dry run" was to simulate what would actually take place in a critical event, but under controlled test conditions, used first for trial runs of fire departments (without water in the hoses, hence "dry"). Plan to give your presentation, training, briefing or speech in an environment as similar to the one you will be speaking at as possible. Plan the scope, sequence and content to adhere to the client's needs and have a colleague or two critique it. As much as you think you know the material, you can't be sure until you do a dry run.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  planning  practice management  process 

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