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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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#726: Don't Sweat the Close Stuff

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 26, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 26, 2011
With the economy lurching in many directions but seeming to not be going anywhere, I am concerned that I will miss opportunities for consulting. Where should I be looking for opportunities over the next year or so?

Richard Carlson's book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - And It's All Small Stuff," focused on keeping control of the less significant elements of our lives, personally and professionally. Carlson became famous for showing up how to reduce stress by focusing on what is important and attending to the big picture. The construct is big vs. small things.

However, size, significance and impact are only one way to look at the world. Consider timing of those events, regardless of size. Depending on your particular practice (e.g., operations vs. strategy) your dominant scope of time may be weeks and months or years and decades, respectively. Views of the world tend to be consistent with the time scope for implementing our advice. This can blind us to events and factors that deeply affect our business and we can't see them because we aren't looking in the right time frame.

Sometimes a microscope is called for, sometimes a telescope, sometimes just our eyes, but it is useful to be able to use all of these and know when to use the right one.

Tip: Spend a fair amount of time each month looking at various prognostications of emerging mid-term trends in business and society. This is not about what is happening in the next 6-12 months, nor is it what will (as if anyone really can foresee that far) take place over the next century. I am talking about the 5-10 year view. For example, read articles like one from BCG on prospects for a mid-term renaissance in US manufacturing. Not all of these will agree but you should have a short, medium and long term perspective about industries in your specialty.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  learning  trends  your consulting practice 

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#725: Build the Network You Think You Don't Need

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 23, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 23, 2011
I've never found networking events to be particularly productive in the consulting business. I'd rather be getting to know potential clients than other consultants or professional service providers. If the goal is to build our consulting firm, shouldn't we focus on clients?

Networking is taken as an article of faith among consultants - as well as other professional service providers and business people of all stripes. You may be asking the important questions in reverse order. The third question is how valuable is networking; the second question is what do you mean by networking; the first question is what is the objective of networking.

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad, says "The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work." HIs point is that, regardless of the size or breadth of your consulting practice, the pace, complexity and uncertainty of the business environment means that you will increasingly need fresh relationships, resources, and information sources to thrive. A few colleagues or data sources are no longer sufficient to give you what you need. This is what networks are for.

The next question of what networking is should not focus on "networking events." Regardless of how well these are designed, they are largely semi-structured aggregations of people who, if you are lucky, can connect with each other. This may be what most people mean when they say networking but it is not the same as building a network. This requires defining the people, information, skills, resources and access necessary to keep you current with trends in your industry and discipline. A network is defined, explicit, and intentional. It is also continuously redefined. The final question, how valuable it is, can be answered in terms of how critical the network(s) are to your professional (and personal) growth. How damaging to your business is a loss of prospects, partners or revenues when the market changes, key staff leave or technologies or competitors devastate your market? Your networks are your safety valves. We can never have too many networks, and few consultants have enough.

Tip: Start by defining what you need to be agile in your business, to anticipate and respond to emerging trends. Like making a packing list for a trip, write down what you need to have and be over the next five years? What people or skills do you need to acquire theme? What different networks do you need to develop or strengthen - you may need 5-10 different networks? What is your plan to build, support and evaluate the effectiveness of those networks? How do you intend to not just connect others into your network, but to connect to other networks? The LinkedIn model of a "network of networks" is a good way to look at your own networking approach. Finally, since you don't know what you will need a few years from now, how will you build your networks so you have access to that which you think you don't need?

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  assumptions  change  consulting colleagues  innovation  knowledge assets  networks 

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#724: Use Humor Carefully in Your Presentations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 22, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2011
Including a little light humor in my presentations and speeches seems like a good way to improve how well the message is received. However, a joke that bombs can create a disaster. What should I do to make sure that humor is effective?

"An accountant, attorney and management consultant are in a lifeboat . . ." is one way to start a speech, or "Tom Feldman is the kind of HR Director that . . ." can kick off a client presentation. They can win the audience or start the paperwork to assure you are not welcomed back. Humor is something that needs to be planned carefully. If you can't pull it off well, then be cautious about giving it a key place in your opening remarks.

Also, consider why you think you need humor. Most consulting presentations are focused on informing or persuading an audience. Humor for humor's sake, especially if the audience doesn't know you reasonably well, is a risk. Save that great joke you just heard for your friends. If your presentation's purpose is to engage an audience, then these are most amenable to a lighter tone, if that is the culture of that audience.

A couple of thoughts:
  • Make sure the joke isn't offensive. You don't have to be mean to be funny and you might be surprised how easy it is (regrettably) these days to put off someone.
  • Make sure the humor is simple to understand. The audience should not have to work to understand it (a first principle of comedy). Don't require the audience to get obscure references or need information that few have.
  • Make sure the joke is blindingly relevant to the topic of your speech or presentation. Jokes are useful to introduce a topic or point of view, not distract the audience. Make sure the audience can find their way back to your intended topic.
  • Make sure humor is the best way to make the point. A serious topic should be expressed in ways other than humor.
  • Make sure the humor is timely. Most jokes have a shelf life - be careful yours hasn't expired by the time you deliver it.
  • Try it out on people like those who will be in the audience. This makes sure they get the joke and the point you are trying to get across.
Tip: Your talk doesn't have to include humor. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech did OK without an opening joke. So can yours.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  presentations  speaking 

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#723: Does Anyone Understand What You Are Saying?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 21, 2011
One of the first diagnostic tasks on an engagement is to review work of prior consultants for the client. Although I probably use more jargon than I should, some of these consultant reports are vague, unclear and some entirely almost unintelligible. Is this a problem for all consultants or just those my new clients have previously used?

Every profession has its jargon, concepts and approaches for which its practitioners are obligated to make clear to colleagues as well as users of their services. Do management consultants always do this? No, and there is one good reason for this. Our clients, in part, hire us for our experience in areas with which they are unfamiliar, for our perspective in seeing things in ways they may not, and for our insights into possibilities that they could not imagine. That sets an expectation that we interpret can only be satisfied by the new, the innovative and the complex. Adding to the mystery of this priestly concoction are terms and constructs unfamiliar to the reader. My own experience looking at reports done by some of the most highly regarded strategy firms in the world bear out that even heavily edited and professionally prepared slide decks contain stretches of imagination and presentation that clients assert don't make sense to them.

There are a few areas in which we need to improve. First is jargon, which doesn't sound like jargon anymore because we hear it all the time (e.g., "manage expectations," "boots on the ground," "results oriented"). Second is our use of concepts that sound good but make no sense in our work. These apply to both our application of the concepts we think we are using as part of our methodology and our communication of it to our clients. One good example is, "thinking outside the box." This implies both that you know specifically what the "box" is, and that you intend to frame the diagnosis or design in terms restricted to that "box," thereby precluding possible agility, innovation or disruptive concepts into your work.

Tip: A Forbes article on business jargon fairly well describes this phenomenon. Consultants, who are most susceptible to using it and are often in a unique position to influence it in a client's business conversations, are advised to closely monitor their use of jargon or tired business clichés.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding  presentations  speaking  writing 

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#722: Customer Service and Client Behavior

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Anecdotal information increasingly points to consulting clients abandoning larger firms in favor of smaller, boutique firms. Although lower cost is often cited as the reason, I am hearing a lot about customer service and flexibility as the reason. Are there any data to back this up?

Be careful about assuming any one reason for clients to switch consulting firms. There are at least three reasons for such changes to occur over a broad segment of the market. Readers will likely come up with more.

First is a change in what clients are buying. As the US market slows, companies are increasingly buying services to help them be more efficient and flexible, and may be cutting back, temporarily or not, on M&A and systems integration, engagements that usually go to large firms.

Second, the flexibility issue has been an issue we hear all the time. Clients appreciate the fact that large firms have a "tested and proven" approach but are unhappy that the approach does not fit their needs. Client satisfaction is a big reason firms change consultants. Accenture's Global Customer Satisfaction Survey finds more than half of respondents changed service providers because of inadequate customer service. Service is the leading reason people choose a provider and outranks price by 20 percentage points as a reason for switching. As personal and relationship oriented as consulting is, it is reasonable to assume that these data are applicable, if not understated, for consulting.

The third reason is that many larger (non-consulting) firms are beginning to shed their internal consulting units. This is a typical cycling of building and disassembling internal consulting units as the economy makes it cost effective to maintain them on staff. As companies shed internal units, they typically seek specialized skills found in smaller firms without high overhead.

Tip: Rethink your processes and attitude about providing stellar customer service and pay special attention to signals from your clients that your service is slipping. Above all, just ask them if your service meets or exceeds their needs.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  customer understanding  reputation 

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