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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were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.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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#710: Go Hire Yourself an Intern

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 2, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 2, 2011
Serving clients and working to find new ones leave little time for market research and doing some practice development work. I don't want to take on a partner right now, but what about using interns on a part time basis?

Many companies hire interns to supplement their staff. College and graduate students are looking for part time or summer opportunities to get experience in business, and consulting is a great opportunity to see a variety of situations and get some guidance in how business works.

There are some tradeoffs in hiring an intern. While they usually work for little or no salary, they usually have limited experience. This does not mean they do not have technical knowledge (e.g., graduate business students, or marketing students) or some practical skills (e.g., students with significant web design or development expertise). It does mean, however, that they look to you for guidance and your time as a teacher.

How do you find an intern? Ask your consulting colleagues. Check with local colleges and universities. Students looking for part time or summer work notify university career centers of their availability and interests. Contact these career centers with any opportunity you can offer and ask who they might recommend for your needs. Let them know that your needs may be intermittent and to stay on the lookout for There is no cost to call. You might be surprised by what resources are available to you.

Tip: A good intern or series of interns provides you with a good list of possible junior people to hire, or to refer to colleagues, once they become available full time.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  intern  practice management  teaming  your consulting practice 

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#697: Consultants Need Business Continuity Plans

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Given that I am an independent consultant, is it really necessary to have a formal business continuity plan?

This all depends on what you mean by a business continuity plan. Traditionally such a plan is created to manage an organization through a disaster such as a fire, earthquake or other unusual and catastrophic event. This is the old "disaster recovery plan," which has been expanded to accommodate more organizational components (than just saving financial or data records) and more preparation and even training. The goal is to minimize the disruption to the business in the event of a disaster.

As a solo practitioner, your systems are likely to be fairly simple and a formal plan may be overkill. Conversely, many small businesses have quite a few systems or assets to protect and operations to provide for. You may have computer files that call for offsite backup, ongoing client communications that need redundancy, a base of operations in which to work during recovery, etc. Being small doesn't mean you don't need planning, it just means the scale of response may not be as big as for a bigger business.

Furthermore, there are hazards you face that larger businesses do not. Illness of the entire staff (you) is little different from the impact of pandemic flu keeping a company's whole workforce off the job. Your business may be less complex but there is greater risk of entire systems being compromised, such as when your laptop (the company's entire IT department) gets flooded when a pipe bursts.

Tip: Make a list of your critical systems and a list of what is the worst (and second and third worst) things that could happen to compromise them. How will you market and deliver services to your clients under each of these situations? What can you do to both prevent their occurrence and speed up response and recovery? Maybe it's not a formal plan, but at least you will have thought this through. Ask to see a friend's plan and see what each of you have missed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  planning  practice management  risk analysis  security  your consulting practice 

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#668: Offset the Economy's Decline at Confab 2011

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2011
This economy worries me. Usually an economic decline provides opportunity for consultants. This time, however, clients are pulling back on most fronts. How can I best use this time to strengthen my skills and business pipeline?

Consultants can always use more time, skills and clients. Our income grows as we use time well, specifically by more efficient marketing, service delivery and practice management. Business moves fast, so consultants who don't constantly learn new skills quickly fall behind in their ability to provide high value to clients. Finally, although we nurture long term relationships, we are always interested in finding new clients who could benefit from our expertise.

Anyone can sit at home and read a business magazine or book but the most effective way to strengthen our practices is to engage with other experienced consultants. We learn more from hearing about emerging markets, new technologies and new client service approaches. Conferences provide a perfect crucible for us to get out of our safe zones, ward off consulting obsolescence, build a national network, and fill our business pipeline. We can't do that from a book or talking to our long term colleagues.

The best conference by consultants and for consultants is Confab 2011, an intense 2 1/2-day conference (October 22-24, 2011) that builds your value and access to clients. Now in its 34th year, Confab is being held at the newly renovated Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, NV. This conference is well known for its unique sense of sharing, where your new colleagues make introductions, sessions bring new marketable skills and your practice expands.

Tip: We can stay home and hope the economy turns around in our favor or take charge and invest in a known business builder. For less than a single day's consulting fees, Confab is a profitable investment to launch, expand or refine your business. Hear what successful consultants who attend year after year say about its value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  conference  consulting colleagues  consulting skills  consulting tools  innovation  marketing  networks  practice management  professional development  referrals  teaming  trends  your consulting practice 

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#645: The Rising Value of Consulting Conferences

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 2, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 2, 2011
Having been to a few consulting conferences over the years, I was never a big fan. However, The Consulting Summit and Confab have gotten good reaction lately. Is there any reason to take a few days to go to these and what will I get out of them?

There are different conferences for different people and needs. The Consulting Summit, run by Kennedy Information's Consulting Magazine, is a one-day event focused generally on macro issues of the business and consulting market. The next one is being held in New York City on November 9, 2011. If you manage a larger firm, the people you can network with and the topics covered are appropriate for you. The Summit has been a great place to catch up with leaders of large firms and renew relationships.

Confab, run by IMC USA as its annual conference, is a 2-3 day event focused on client service, marketing and practice management issues. This year's conference will be held in Reno, NV on October 22-24, 2011. If you run a mid-sized or smaller firm and your focus is on new concepts in consulting practice, enhanced marketing and improving point of delivery skills, then Confab is for you. With the changes in client use of consultants, Confab is a great way to jump start new lines of business, to meet other executive level consultants from whom you can learn about new markets and new consulting techniques...

Tip: Some consultants consider conferences are beneath them. However, when markets change like they have in the past two years, don't let pride get in the way of learning why some of your business is about to decline or where some traditional consulting practices are falling out of favor. Consultants who attend conferences are those who can see changes in the marketplace and are always developing new services and meeting people with whom they can develop new business. These are the people you want to spend time with to invigorate your consulting practice

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  conference  learning  market research  networks  planning  practice management  product development  professional development  referrals  trends 

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