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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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#716: Keep Your Consulting Agreements Up to Date

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 12, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 12, 2011
I have a basic consulting agreement but I wonder if I am missing something that is more specific to various industries I consult to. Where can I find sample contract language for a range of consulting situations and industries?

Even though sample agreements are available from many sources, we recommend you run past your attorney whatever agreement you come up with. Over time and across industries there are nuances of your situation that you might not be aware of, and legal advice is essential to protect your interests. Also, the law, business practices and technology do evolve, so that agreement that made sense a few years ago may not provide all the protection or clarity you need now.

One great place to quickly get the lay of the land of consulting agreements in various industries is Tech Agreements. This site has, for a fee of usually $35 each, copies of consulting agreements for various industries. Each one has a free view of part of the contract so you can get a sense of what it contains before you buy. Remember, this is just a start - you still need a business eye (you) and a legal perspective (your lawyer).

Tip: Read every agreement carefully. Over my career I have read a dozen contracts that had typographic or grammatical errors or, even worse, clauses that either made no sense or were potentially harmful to my interests. Often, the other party asserts that no one has ever objected before. Regardless, you are best off using your own terms in your own agreement. Always read carefully and stick to your principles by starting with your own agreement as a draft

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  contract  legal 

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#715: Look Deeper Than Just the Headlines For Business Facts

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 9, 2011
Updated: Saturday, December 10, 2011
If small businesses are the principal source of job creation in the US, should consultants be focusing their efforts on small vs. large businesses?

A fundamental understanding of statistics is essential for every consultant to be able to tease the truth from the headlines. It is common to see articles, reports and pundits talk about how one segment of the economy generates most of the jobs. Recently either government, healthcare, small business, energy or technology are sectors with the most economic activity and thus job growth. Usually a graph or a single number will accompany that statement and a lot of philosophy about why the data will lead to a conclusion about the future of that sector.

If we took these proclamations at face value we would be possibly misleading our clients if we were advising them on where to invest. We need to bring a critical eye and logic to this interpretation. Consider the recent news that small businesses created all net job growth over the past decade. The NFIB published a graph on Page 1 of U.S. Private Sector Employment by Size of Payroll that seems to prove the point. Without further investigation, it seems clear: consultants should be looking more closely at small companies to support their active growth.

But looking a little deeper reveals the flaw in this interpretation. It is not small businesses that create most jobs but young businesses (by definition, most new businesses are small). But, we are not done yet. When we separate the newly formed from young businesses, it becomes clear that is new businesses that create almost all the jobs. Furthermore, the younger a business is the higher net job loss it creates. Far more complicated than the dominant headlines would indicate, right? See an enlightening analysis of these data.

Tip: Whether we are looking for new markets for our services or are advising clients on emerging (or declining) markets, consultants need to bring their skeptics hat and a competent statistical capability to interpreting reported data.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  market research  methodology  statistics 

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#714: Balance Your Intuition and Thoughtfulness

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 8, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011
When I began my consulting career, I was amazed by the ability of my mentor to just "know" the scope of a problem and come up with solutions. It was more than just having seen the problem before; it was intuitive creation that didn't require long analysis and contemplation. Is this something that can be taught (or learned)? It would be a really useful skill for a consultant to have.

Much of what we see in people who can seemingly instantly come up with a problem solution is pattern recognition. They have seen either the problem before or enough components to assemble them into an understanding of the problem. In many cases, this ability to recognize patterns is combined with a pattern creation capability in which they can then devise a solution. Oh, that we could all have this capability.

Yet there is a difference between what we consider intuition and what most successful problems require for their solution: thoughtfulness. As fascinated as we are by quick thinking, it carries with it a range of flaws and dangers, including recency and other biases. Thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is less revered and people who insist on deliberate, logical thought are often considered pedantic. Yet, deliberative thinking also carries risks, including bias, information overload, and overconfidence.

Each style has its proponents but it has become apparent that neither is very effective by itself. If we want to be a productive and effective consultant who recognizes patterns and creates robust solutions, we need to learn how to use both capabilities together. We spend so much time learning consulting processes, analytical techniques and interpersonal skills that we neglect learning how best to effectively use our thinking engines.

Tip: A terrific journey through this issue is Dan Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Like much of Kahneman's work on judgment, intuition and decision making under uncertainty. it should be considered a user's guide to the consulting mindset. This is one of the best books on the subject and one that bears reading twice.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  contact information  creativity  decision making  knowledge assets  knowledge management  learning  process 

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#713: Don't Take Your Client's Assessments at Face Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost every engagement starts with the assumptions of the client about the problem, its causes and at least some suggestion of its solution. I don't want to be disrespectful but to what extent do we consider the client's assertions valid as a basis to start our work?

This is a great question, since it lies at the heart of the consultant's value or lack thereof. Presumably we are retained to provide independent and objective advice. This includes testing the assumptions of the client. As Will Rogers said," It ain't what we know that's the problem. It's what we know that just ain't so." If the client's assertions about the cause, problem and solution are right, then why are our experience and judgment needed at all? You are not insulting your client by validating his or her assertions - it is why you are there.

Another issue is whether a client's staff, or vendors or customers, should be considered the same way. Many organizations have a culture that represents that management doesn't know what is going on but staff really does. Or that the customer is always right - regardless of what an organization thinks of the services or products they provide.

Here is a good example of how perceptions vary widely within a company. According to a study of how companies work, managers see their companies as self-governing and egalitarian. Employees see nothing of the sort. How would you advise organizational change if you faced a client with perceptions internally differing as much as in this survey? DO you believe the management or the employees, or neither?

Tip: Consultants would be wise to treat information or emotions or conclusions provided to them at the start of an engagement as just that - firmly held beliefs of the source. All information needs to be verified and we, as independent and objective professionals, do well by not taking anything at face value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client staff  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning  market research 

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#712: Mind Mapping is a Powerful Consultant's Tool

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Laying out a plan of action for a new client engagement can be pretty complicated, especially if I then have to relate my thought processes to colleagues or client staff. What are some good ways to streamline the process?

If by streamlining the process you mean thinking through the elements of your engagement strategy more fully and articulating your approach more clearly, then you might try mind mapping. The process of mind mapping has been used for many years by educators, psychologists and story tellers to convey visually a series of thoughts, ideas, processes, and concepts. Rather than trying to represent these highly interconnected ideas through linear prose, a mind map visually represents ideas in a loosely radial, tree like structure (or other visual constructs).

With recent technological advances, mind maps can be much more than just graphics. White boards have replaced chalk boards as a major technological advance in drawing mind maps (that was a joke). The real advance is in software that can categorize concepts and redraw the overall mind map for more clarity, spatial organization and analysis.

The simplest mind map software tools are simply sophisticated drawing tools (sort of like Visio on steroids). These are most helpful if you are already very well organized and have the map in your head. Other tools will let you insert concepts hierarchically and reorganize, selectively display and even visualize in 3 dimensions. The most powerful tools have a strong operations and cognitive research base.

Tip: The best way to get started in mind mapping is to try out some the free (or at least free trial) mapping tools. Click here for a list of candidate mind map tools. (prepare for information overload on mind mapping books, comments and software). Start with a simple version (most companies have basic, corporate and enterprise versions) until you get the hang of the concept and a tool. Although not an explicit endorsement, I have found iMindMap a pretty robust solution for consultants and the company site's tutorials helpful to understand mapping concepts. Forward this Tip to colleagues who might find it valuable.
Let them know you want to help them in their business.


© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  consulting tools  presentations 

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