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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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#730: Prove That Your Consulting Practices Are Effective

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 30, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2011
How would you recommend management consulting as a whole improve its effectiveness?

The traditional definition says, "A management consultant is a professional who, for a fee, provides independent and objective advice to management of client organizations to define and achieve their goals through improved utilization of resources." Buried in this widely held definition lies the challenge for consultants. "Independent and objective" often ends up interpreted as thinking in novel ways about business and management, adapting a presumed "best practice" to a new situation or developing entire new management concepts to promote a portfolio of services with which we are familiar and practiced. Nowhere is the primacy of evaluation and proof that what we are proposing actually works. Many of commonly used and highly promoted consulting practices lack validation. To be sure, our approaches are logical, they align with other management theories and our client seem to have done OK after we applied them. Where is our proof of value? Evidence-based intervention is increasingly required in medicine, but not for consulting.

We as professionals need to develop a deeper capability to recommend and deliver to our clients only those practices and strategies that are provably effective. Proving effectiveness is hard, which is why it is rarely pursued. So we develop consulting approaches that are:
  • Too old - we propose approaches that were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.
  • Too new - we propose something we just read about in a management journal (most of which these days are written by consultants) but that has only been tried a few times, much less proven effective widely or over the long term.
  • Too abstract - we propose convoluted and theoretical processes that we understand well but for which the client and staff have no realistic capability to adopt or sustain.
A healthy skepticism to consulting techniques is our best defense against obsolescence as a profession and as individual consultants. Look at most "standard" management concepts from the past thirty years and you can find legitimate and well researched evidence why they are inappropriate for consultants to apply in many circumstances and potentially hazardous in others. We are now fully into a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) where the pace and scope of business exceeds the ability of any individual to think through improvement approaches by him or herself. The standard of proof for consulting effectiveness will continue to increase.

Tip: Seek out disconfirming evidence for every concept, process, approach or technique you have in your consulting portfolio. There are good resources available. For an overview of how to think critically about your consulting approach at a high level, read carefully Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not. For a more specific critique of individual techniques, look at Calling a Halt to Mindless Change: A Plea for Commonsense Management. Being a true professional means that, before we promote approaches we assume to be effective, we make sure we can defend our current practices in the face of logic and evidence that they neither make sense nor really work all that well.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  assessment  client service  consulting process  consulting skills  consulting terminology  consulting tools  diagnosis  education  innovation  learning  management theory  methodology  performance improvement  practice management  professional development  professionalism  quality  roles and responsibilities  sustainability  technology  trust  values  your consulting practice 

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#729: Are You Reaching High Enough in Your Business?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 29, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011
How do consultants generally measure the success of their business? If we were interested in just making money we could just track consulting income, but there are a lot of other reasons to be in this profession.

There is an inherent conflict in your question. Our goal is to create lasting value for our clients but such value is not necessarily fully valued by the marketplace. Measuring our worth by our revenues falsely assumes that the client's business, and the increment of performance we provide, is fairly reflected by market capitalization, revenues, profits, etc. Consider a Navy Seal and an investment banker. Seal s are drawn from a far more selective group, they are better educated, trained and equipped, yet receive far less compensation than bankers. The latter may even receive a financial bonus with no downside risk for "exceptional" performance, while a Seal puts his life and reputation at risk and is paid the same regardless of performance. The market is not a true measure of your intrinsic value or contributions.

A second aspect is that your client may benefit tremendously from your counsel but is not in a position to pay you what you would be worth in more financially advantaged markets. Consultants who advise educational, public sector, nonprofit, government or market-depressed private sector clients know this well. We all know colleagues who are paid far more or less for the same work. We also know that fees can increase or decrease in certain markets even if the value of our services do not.

Do you know how you know when you deliver value? Your client sponsor tells you. Client staff commend your services. You see your recommendations implemented and have the intended effect. Your clients thrive. You get unsolicited referrals. You gain the respect of those colleagues who know your work. You are sought out by others in your client's industry. You are asked to speak to professional and civic or industry groups. You recognize growth your own consulting competencies. "That's all well and good," you say, "but it doesn't pay the bills." It is true that you need to generate an income to stay in business, but don't let compensation substitute as a measure of your value.

Tip: Michelangelo said, "The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." When setting your goals, consider setting some for those indicators of value above, and set them high. Revenue is fungible; it is the impact on your client that is the true measure of value delivered and something that you uniquely provide.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  compensation  evaluation  quality 

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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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#683: Don't Assume the Client Recognizes the Value of Your Work

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 26, 2011
As part of the disengagement process, my firm goes through a formal exit interview, a review of contract terms and deliverables, and asks for referrals and/or testimonials. However, in some engagements for which we did a great job and exceeded all expectaitons, the client was reluctant to provide testimonials. What gives?

There are two issues likely at work here. First, checking on the status of your performance should not wait until the end of an engagement. Set up a fairly clear and deep set of performance expectations at the beginning of the engagement. Then confirm that you have met those expectations periodically throughout the engagement. The client may be forming a negative opinion of your work without you knowing it, one that is hard to reverse at the end even if you delivered all requirements. Don't let any bad opinions take root.

Second, don't assume that a client recognizes the full value your advice, services and work products. What you may see as an elegant, sustainable and powerful solution to a serious long-standing problem may appear to the client as just another piece of consultant work. If the problem you are solving is not specifically owned by your client sponsor, the perceived value may be low. Beyond noting that the work product was completed on time and budget, clarify and have the client affirm that the deliverable solved a significant problem or captured a significant opportunity. Don't let your work inadvertantly be undervalued.

Tip: Your job as a consultant is to improve the client's condition. Don't leave it to chance that they fully realize that you created real value. If you don't manage their expectations and conclusions, you run the risk of them thinking that you just "delivered work."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  customer understanding  disengagement  engagement management  interpretation  referrals 

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#660: Are You Ready to Advise Your Client?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 23, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 23, 2011
The past week has been a rough one on one of my clients, devastated by possibly losing access to credit over the next few months as this economic situation unfolds. What can I do to provide value if all her attention is focused on finance (and that is not my area of expertise)?

Consultants often find themselves in a situation where they are not the leading contender for the client's attention. This may be because there are emerging issues that suddenly capture a client's attention (as you mention above), or that there are other consultants or staff that provide more value than you do (something, given our high opinion of ourselves, we prefer doesn't happen).

Don't presume that you should, or even can, always be at the center of a client's attention. You were asked to provide some valued skills to address a specific set of issues. It is for the client to determine where these skills are best applied and, if yours ebb and flow in importance, that is OK. Your best value to your client is to make sure that your skills are best adapted to the client's current needs. If corporate finance (or another issue) does unexpectedly take center stage, your expertise could leverage these needs. It may be that your original scope of work may have to be put on hold, or that your engagement may even have to be terminated, if that is in the client's best interest.

Tip: Think through how your original scope of services has changed because of the new situation. Lay out suggested changes you think might be of value to your client - including terminating the engagement. When you think you have a good proposed change in scope, talk it over with your client and, as quickly as possible, modify your services. This change should include steps to work with other staff and advisors who are addressing the new priority issue.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  customer understanding 

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