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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were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.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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#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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#665: Consultant's Picks for Social Media Sources

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 30, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 30, 2011
All good consultants have their favorite research and data sources, usually specific to their industry and professional discipline. Given that traditional media is being overtaken by social media, where should a consultant go to get the best collections of social media generated news and information?

This is a great question. The issue at hand is where do we go and who do we trust for valid and timely information when traditional media sources are closing, merging or shrinking? At least for the US, we are going back to the early days of the country when we had more than 10,000 newspapers (admittedly many were of limited circulation), providing a lot of information, and a lot more opinions. Over time, these consolidated into the trusted news sources we have enjoyed for the last century. Now we are faced with the struggling business model of print news media and provided with thousands of sources, many of which we can't verify as to quality and veracity. So, who do you trust/

My suggested selection criteria relate to how news is collected, how well the news is presented, and how responsive the outlet is to its readers. More reporters from diverse sources, committed to long term relationships with the outlet is better than a steady stream of one-off submissions from itinerant reporters. Outlets that invest in an a platform that presents information in quickly searchable and accessible formats (including mobile) is better than an old-line media that just put all their content " on the web." Finally, 24-hour news cycles are no longer unidirectional, so the opportunity to comment on content and engage with authors, editors and readers is better than static content.

I recommend four sources to keep up with general trends in business, politics, social issues and technology (hard-core business wonks will have to find their nuggets elsewhere):These four sources provide a quick way to be current on news and to participate in topical discussions. Each has invested in the technology and design to incorporate the best of social media into their offering.

Tip: One of the best benefits of these type of new media is the ability to use the technology to create your own aggregator of information on the topics you most care about in a format best suited to your needs, including mobile applications. Examples are BBC's section on Ethics, ProPublica's Tools and Data, and Mashable's Trending Topics (to which you can subscribe).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting tools  education  innovation  intellectual property  market research  professional development  social media  your consulting practice 

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#569: Take the Opportunity to Chair at a Conference

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, May 19, 2011
Updated: Thursday, May 19, 2011
I was asked to serve as a chair at a conference. Even though I know this will give me exposure and help me develop skills I might not get elsewhere, it is a commitment of time. Is this a worthwhile activity?

Absolutely. Conferences are one of several ways to prove to your colleagues and clients that you are a professional consultant. Like most industries or professional disciplines, consulting moves fast enough that you (and clients) can quickly tell who is keeping up with the latest developments and who isn't.

Thinking that conferences aren't useful because they "take time away" from delivering services or developing new business is like assuming the same thing about sleeping. Conferences are a place to pick up best practices, meet other consultants, test new ideas and develop business. They are an efficent way to do all four of these necessary activities.

Take the opportunity to participate in conference planning and operations. It provides incredible visibility and access to other professionals. Demonstratef competence helping to run a conference positions you as a trusted and capable consultant that others think of when it is time to pick business partners because they have seen you in action. This is not just for consultants "starting out" but is also valuable for senior consultants. Make sure, though, that you actively manage and maintain those relations after the conference.

Tip: IMC USA's annual conference Confab is one of the best conferences for visibility. For over 30 years, Confab has been the largest conference for consultants and by consultants in the US, and a continuing source of business for professional consultants who stay involved. There are still opportunities to be a part of the conference team.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  conference  consulting colleagues  consulting skills  education  goodwill  learning  networks  professional development  reputation  speaking 

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#560: How to Know You're Beginning to Master Your Profession

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 6, 2011
Updated: Friday, May 6, 2011
If business and management are constantly changing and consultants are expected to keep up with or get ahead of these changes, how do we know when we have "mastered our craft"?

I am not sure we ever master our craft, whether the industry we consult to or the disciplines we use to provide client services. That doesn't mean we shouldn't learn as much as we can about business, management and consulting. However, there are two clues that indicate we might be getting close.

First is the frequency with which your professional colleagues seek you out for advice. Do your colleagues come to you (not just once, but second and third times) asking your opinion about how to evaluate a situation or recommend a course of action? Do they ask you for your judgment and benefit of your experience? Do they refer to you as "the person who knows about these things?" If so, then your knowledge and experience have reached a level of peer acceptance.

Second is when you can read the latest business book relating to your discipline or industry and, based on experience and a solid understanding of underlying theory, react confidently to assertions it makes with "Yes, no, no, no, that's interesting, no, yes, NO!, only in certain circumstances, etc." This does not mean your reactions are based on unfounded opinions but are made with a full understanding of how the systems and concepts you read about work.

Tip: A commitment to management consulting is also a commitment to lifelong learning. Although we never master the profession, we can seek the affirmation of our peers and the confidence to critically evaluate best practices as indicators we are improving.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  change  consulting skills  education  intellectual property  knowledge assets  learning  performance improvement  professional development  professionalism  teaching/training  your consulting practice 

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