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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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#446: Office Politics Are Not a Consultant's Politics

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, November 29, 2010
Updated: Monday, November 29, 2010
I just can't stand playing politics. I prefer to be up front with my clients and "tell it like it is" and let the chips fall where they may. Am I wrong?

Let's assume your role as a consultant is to provide information, insight, and resources to help a client improve their condition. Where in this realm is it your place to stir up personal or cultural issues if this does not lead to improvement? Is there a chance that your comments will hurt people's feelings, create a rift between groups of people, or surface issues that your client sponsor is not prepared to deal with? This is well outside your role as a consultant and your "place" as, in effect, an invited guest into the client organization's culture.

However, if you assume that your role as a consultant is also to use your knowledge of human nature and the dynamics of group relationships, you may have a case to raise issues, whether because of content or style, that could create more of an impact than just the information alone would. Unless this is specifically in response to a client request and everyone is aware of the impact it will have on people, creating a personal, emotional or cultural reaction is something on which you should tread carefully.

Tip: Remember, even if you have been an observer of the client organization's culture, you do not "live" there and really don't know all the nuances of the culture and history. As sensitive as you are about different individual and organizational styles, you just don't know enough to be "telling it like it is" with impunity.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  communication  consultant role  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism 

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#445: Show Some Respect

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 26, 2010
Updated: Friday, November 26, 2010
Why doesn't my client's leadership team "get it"? They hired me because of my experience in this industry, asked me to do some research, and recommend a course of action, which I did. They discuss the recommendations but I don't think they really grasp the need to act quickly.

Some consultants really do think like this. Although we may deny it, this may occur to others of us from time to time. After spending time intensively examining a client challenge and thinking about how to respond, we sometimes believe we have cornered the solution space. After all, this is our task.

What is easy to forget, however, is that the client must live with the implementation of our recommendation in a world far bigger and more complex than the one we are living in during the engagement analysis. Part of being an effective consultant is to walk in the client's shoes, and this means the client's whole organization.

How will what you are about to recommend affect staff, leadership, partners, and stakeholders? When you "run it by the client," are you absolutely sure they really understood the implications of your recommendations? Were you thorough and clear? Do you really respect the capabilities of the organization to fully implement and sustain your recommendations? How confident are you that you understand the constraints the client is under?

Tip: Show some respect to the client's circumstances and organizational capacity to implement. Just because your solution worked elsewhere and is perfectly logical to you, don't presume that your perspective fully reflects that of your client. You can be confident but not arrogant.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism  reputation 

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#444: Giving Thanks Appropriately to Your Clients

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, November 25, 2010
Updated: Thursday, November 25, 2010
I'd like to show appreciation to my clients for their use of my services and continuing faith in me to advise them. Since I am always aware of the ethics of giving gifts and not wanting to cross the line, what is a good way to show my appreciation appropriately?

First, a point about gift ethics. It used to be easier to give gifts when the gift was seen as a genuine show of appreciation. However, because of the excesses of giving gifts in clear cases of conflicts of interest, it seems these days almost any gift might be construed as an attempt to exercise undue influence. Even a retail gift certificate or book can raise eyebrows.

Considering that what you are trying to express is a genuine appreciation for past behavior, trust and service, then the best way to show it is to just say it. Write a heartfelt letter, handwritten would be best, of what the relationship has meant to you and your firm. When you stop and think of it, this is the most genuine, and likely the most appreciated, show of appreciation available. Because it can't be bought, thus has no market value, it makes it impossible to consider this an ethical issue.

Tip: Make this a habit - maybe a few such letters per month. It will keep you centered on what you appreciate about those in your professional and personal life, and is an affirmation to others of your honorable attitude toward them.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA/a>

Tags:  client relations  goodwill 

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#443: Think Like Sherlock Holmes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Updated: Thursday, November 25, 2010
Consulting is like detective work in that the objective is to figure out the not so obvious "truth" from clues that are not so easily found. Can the principles of good detective work be learned from studying or just from experience?

Consultants might want to learn how to play detective! We are often asked to solve a problem, figure out what caused a failure (or success), etc. Think of yourself as that famous London-based fictional sleuth of the late 19th/early 20th centuries who was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The next time you face a quandary, think "What would Sherlock Holmes do?" He would:
  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Employ deductive reasoning.
  3. Recognize that the premise or the "solution" presented by the client may not be true - or even relevant.
  4. Investigate all possibilities thoroughly - especially those that others have dismissed.
  5. Look carefully at the details - and keep good records of details you might beable to use later.
  6. Look for connections, relationships, consistencies and inconsistencies.
  7. Ask lots of questions.
  8. Trust your gut - but be able to back it up with facts.
  9. Wear a disguise (or maybe not).
  10. Be relentless in his pursuit of the solution.
Tip: Good detectives develop patterns - both recognized patterns for those people who hold the truths they pursue, and for their own process to pursue it. Consultants would be wise to consider the same approach.

P.S. Did you know that Holmes never actually uttered that famous line "Elementary, my dear Watson" in any of Conan Doyle's four novels or 56 short stories featuring the character? Holmes does say "Elementary" in the book The Adventure of the Crooked Man, but the famous line does not appear in its entirety in any of Conan Doyle's stories. The full phrase seems to have originated in either a subsequent film or theater play (the actual source has been long debated) based on Conan Doyle's original work.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  innovation  learning  planning 

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#442: How to Be More Accurate With Uncertainty

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 23, 2010
We all know that the only guaranteed thing about all models is that they are wrong. There are too many uncertainties in any model, both in its inputs as well as its design, to do more than give us insights. How are consultants to respond to clients who ask them to build or use a model to predict future outcomes?

While true that models are not, and cannot, be accurate in estimating the future, this does not mean that they are not extremely useful. A model is a representation of the real world as well as we can characterize it. In both the building of the model and in collecting data to support it, we develop greater insight into how our (modeled) piece of the world works. The best think about models is that they can be tested and improved until you have a model that is "good enough," although criteria for that judgment vary with the client.

Where most models fall down is that they try to deterministically predict an outcome when the system they are modeling is probabilistic. Say you are building sales model. Product prices may range depending on economic factors. Number of sale staff may vary with the season. Sales effectiveness may vary as a result of a training program that itself has uncertain outcomes. When you try to build a spreadsheet model whose inputs area all uncertain, the outcomes are barely useful. You are left with saying to your client, "Based on average expected inputs, our best guess of sales is $3.5 million in the fall quarter, but it could be more or less."

There is a powerful alternative: changing a spreadsheet from into a probabilistic model using an add-in called @RISK. This commercial software program allows you to specify a distribution instead of a fixed "best guess" or average input number (including various shapes of the expected distributions). If inputs are correlated, you can even link these distributions (e.g., if customer traffic increases, the available time spent with each customer decreases, which may not be a simple relationship). The more you can model, the better you can understand how your business works.

Tip: How great would it be to say to your client, "We have used historical data on all the factors that affect sales and modeled the effects of enhanced sales training. The most likely impact is a $1.2 million increase in sales, with a 20% probability of it being $1.9 million and an 80% probability of it being at least $1 million"? Then you can tell your client which parameters are hiding in the model that have the greatest impact on decreasing the uncertainty in results. Just using this add-in gives you far greater insight into the business you are advising. Check out the add-in at Palisade.com.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  consulting tools  decision making  innovation  risk analysis  technology 

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