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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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#721: Use Cognitive Biases to Your Advantage

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 19, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 19, 2011
I would expect that all advisors want their recommendations to be judged fairly by the client and not be unduly influenced by either extraneous information or bad logic. How do we make sure that the information we present gets a "fair hearing"?

None of us is immune to cognitive bias, regardless of how much we'd like to believe we could impartially decide on the facts alone. Even where we take an oath of impartiality, there is an expectation that some biases are still present and the best we can do is to recognize them, disclose where possible, and compensate or recuse ourselves as appropriate. As a consultant, you have to sometimes work hard to avoid such biases.

When it comes expecting clients to judge your work impartially, it is up to you to understand the different kinds of biases and deliberately structure our presentations to use techniques to level the playing field. Note that deliberately introducing bias in client decision making to favor your position starts you down the path to unethical behavior.

We can't go over all the dozens of biases here but here are a few of the most important for consultants to be aware of:
  • Recency Bias - giving greater importance to the most recent event (e.g., the person who presents last before a decision is to be made has a slight advantage).
  • Anchoring - the tendency to overweigh in importance a dominant statement presented or experience already known (e.g., describing the problem in terms that discount alternative explanations or focusing on only one aspect of a complex problem before offering a solution that resolves only that aspect of the problem).
  • Normalcy Bias - discounting outcomes that rarely or have never occurred before (e.g., discounting a looming disaster even though the precursors to that disaster that have already occurred also are rare).
  • Confirmation Bias - The tendency to favor an approach or piece of information that is familiar or consistent with one's world view or history (e.g., a proposal to do "more of the current approach" has higher intuitive appeal than one based on a novel approach).
  • Halo effect - the tendency to attribute greater value to suggestions from a well-known entity rather than the merits of the item (e.g., giving greater credibility due to position or perceived market brand)
  • Loss Aversion - the tendency to place greater emphasis on avoiding the loss of something than the potential gain of the same amount of that thing (e.g., using fear to promote saving something in danger of being lost rather than using desire to promote the potential acquisition of something).
Tip: As you can see, each of these biases can be at work in how you approach your own work as a consultant but also are present in your clients when they are deciding on the merits of your recommendations. For a pretty good review of these biases and some practices to manage them, consider (among many other sources) Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Many of the best decision making work was done in the early 1990s and the best resources are from that era, one of those instances where newer is not necessarily better.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assumptions  attribution  decision making  interpretation  learning  methodology  presentations  professional development 

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#720: Management Consulting is Like Sex . . .

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 16, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 16, 2011
Large consulting firms have developed an institutional brand and formal "approaches" to differentiate themselves. However, as the consulting field for independents becomes more crowded with retired business executives and retired/departed large firm consultants, differentiation is getting a lot harder. If everyone is selling the same strategic planning, process improvement, training, etc. services, what is the best way to make a compelling case to a prospect that your services are truly different and valuable?

It is unclear whether competition is any easier for large firms than it is for independents. Large blocks of consultants are selling the same services that can be described in general terms focusing on process, knowledge management, strategy, marketing, etc. Every large firm sells more or less the same "technology consulting, strategy, leadership, etc. services. Independents sell many of the same services, just at a smaller scale. Management consulting, like most free agent knowledge work, is highly competitive. In differentiating yourself, what is important is not the "title" of your pitch, but the "subtitle."

Look at new business books. Many have a title interesting enough to get you to look closer, but it is the subtitle that creates the emotional hook. To make up an example, consider "Twenty-Second Century Management: Be First in Your Market to Tap Emerging Tools, Technologies and Cultures." The title raises an eyebrow, but the subtitle would probably make you open the book for a closer look.

So it could be for your services. Don't start by describing "what" you do (e.g., planning, training, finance). Go right to the value with a "title" that is an attention grabber. But, and this is important, once you stimulate an interest with your provocative lead (e.g., like the title of this Tip), be prepared to back it up with a compelling reason why your service really is different. Your prospect will remember the hook and be satisfied that you know what you are doing if you tie it all together.

OK, to validate the point and follow up the Tip title, there are a number of one liners that, if you are honest and mature, provide the basis for thoughtful discussion about the management consulting profession, and your particular services. For example, It's all about chemistry (between consultant and client). Nobody wants to admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing (particularly new consultants and new managers). Everyone thinks they are good at it (there is no objective evaluation standard for consultants' work). All remember it as being better than it actually was (witness consultants' claims in their marketing materials). It is not the size of the consulting team but the effectiveness of the consulting process (large vs. boutique vs. independent consulting firms). There are many more but this is a good place to claim victory and move on!

Tip: You won't soon forget the subject of this Tip and are already thinking of your own one-liners to supplement those above. This is just one approach, but with this type of engagement you get a prospect to enthusiastically engage with you. With a bit of wry humor, you have made it possible for your prospect (hopefully now a client) to look forward to a great consulting experience.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  client development  client relations  innovation  marketing  proposals  prospect  reputation  sales 

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#719: Contribute Your Perspective to Other Industries

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 15, 2011
I have started reading trade journals from a variety of industries other than those in which I work, looking for opportunities to write articles related to my consulting services. Do you think readers will learn from my experiences in industries other than theirs?

Assuming your consulting skills deal with issues not specific to your own industry, there's no obvious reason why not. Perhaps more important, however, is what you can learn from industries other than on what you most often focus. There are consultants in those industries who have skills and behaviors you can learn from.

Professional associations like IMC, whose members are experienced consultants from almost every industry and technical discipline, are great sources of professional development. It is amazing what you can learn from someone who advises management in an entirely different industry. Seeking out experts outside your comfort zone is an important part of professional growth.

Tip: You asked about writing for another industry's trade press and I infer you are interested in this as an indirect way access prospects in those industries. Why not start by regular reading of one or more of those industry journals? Look at critical issues in these industries from your own perspective and see how you would apply your services to address them. Treat them like case studies by doing some evaluation, reaching conclusions, and making recommendations. Instead of just writing an article, and if you feel comfortable with your evaluations, short cut the process and contact a person or company that was the subject of the article directly and offer your conclusions and recommendations. Alternatively, strike up a conversation with the author of a journal article and get to know each other. You'll get some valuable feedback and perhaps some solid leads on providing your services to that industry.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  professional development  publicity  social media  writing 

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#718: Learn to Engage Groups Visually

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I learned a valuable lesson recently when I attended a session facilitated by a client manager. He did a good time presenting his materials but when it came time to organize the group and move them in a specific direction, he was all left brain/words and no right brain/visuals. Is this something a consultant should have as a skill or leave it to professional facilitators (with good visual skills)?

Your effectiveness as a consultant is largely bound in your ability to in clearly communicate your ideas to your client and assure that they fully understand the facts and implications of those ideas. Because we learn by more than words, consultants benefit (along with their clients) by knowing how to communicate in a variety of ways. Using graphical techniques to express your ideas is a good skill to have. However, the combination of oral, written, graphic and kinesthetic techniques, as appropriate to the audience, is also powerful in eliciting ideas and engagement within client teams.

Professional facilitators have created many visualization techniques to engage groups, create a fun atmosphere that stimulates creativity, and streamline decision making. However, these skills are more than just being able to draw. To engage groups visually, we need to train ourselves to think graphically, use graphics to include group participants (no one likes to be lectured to but everyone is willing to draw), and have a practiced set of processes to step through your facilitation. The ultimate advantage of visualization techniques over, say PowerPoint, is that your audience is part of creating their future, not some consultant driving them through (your) set of conclusions.

Tip: I highly recommend developing a skill set in visualization techniques. You can shadow a trained facilitator (not all are proficient in visualization skills) or get a good tutorial to help you appreciate the added value you can provide as well as give you some skill building techniques. David Sibbet's Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity provides a rich resource base and a lot of great ideas of how to better engage groups. The sections on guided imagery, using visual techniques for web conferences, and graphical ideas to enhance even project management (who knew?) are particularly useful.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

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#717: What Are the Defining Moments of Your Consulting Career?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 13, 2011
One of our firm's best engagements just concluded - I wish I could repeat the experience with every client. We had a committed sponsor, the staff worked well with us and we all grew as professionals because of the challenges (it was a merger). I am wondering what makes for valuable, or at least memorable, engagement for other consultants.

Two thoughts come to mind. the first is that many (not all) consultants have a clear idea about their ideal engagement. The criteria they use may vary from how much they learned, how successful the client became, or how much money they collected in fees. Based on those criteria, they are probably pursuing clients with whom they could get those outcomes. The more successful those pursuits, the more memorable their consulting careers.

The second is that sometimes there are the unexpected events, people, and circumstances that, although unplanned and unintended, are the most memorable. What might have been a long term, steady client suddenly changes strategy and you are caught up in an exciting, challenging project. Or you meet someone, whether a client sponsor, a staff member or a consulting colleague, with whom you interact and it changes your career or life. Neither would you have chosen this event or person nor would you have thought that it would have been as significant as it turned out to be.

For me, these defining moments in consulting (positive examples) include several colleagues who exhibited exceptional ethics and professionalism, time spent at national labs with some incredibly talented engineers, and facilitations on response to nuclear terrorism and standing up a new corporate board. Conversely, there were some moments that were not so pleasant. Yet, I don't want to forget them because they affected me in that they either helped me know what (or who) to avoid or left me with humility or awe at what I still needed to learn as a consultant. And, yes, the times I messed up and vowed to never make that mistake again!

Tip: Look back over your consulting career (add in management or other elements of your career) and pick out a few each of the people, places, events, and projects that changed your consulting skills, attitude or perspective. What are they? Email me at dailytips@imcusa.org or post your throughts on the IMC USA website in the comments section to this blog.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting colleagues  consulting skills  education  guidance  learning  professional development  professionalism  your consulting practice 

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