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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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Top tags: client relations  communication  customer understanding  your consulting practice  marketing  consultant role  learning  client service  reputation  goodwill  consulting process  market research  practice management  sales  ethics  planning  client development  engagement management  innovation  proposals  professional development  professionalism  knowledge assets  prospect  trends  presentations  recommendations  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  product development 

#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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#571: Be Clear Whose Value Is In Your "Value Added"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 23, 2011
Updated: Monday, May 23, 2011
Everyone assumes that consultants will provide "value added" in everything we do, but there is not always agreement between client and consultant, or even within the client leadership team of what that "value added" should be? Is it the client's or the consultant's responsibility to sort this out?

In many cases, it is precisely the difficulty in defining the value add needed by the client that caused a manager to reach out for independent and objective consultation. Part of our job as consultants is to provide a framework with which to think about how clients can articulate and acquire that increased value. What can go wrong is if we forget whose value we are articulating.

Some of the unwitting faults of consultant-created value propositions include self-centeredness (focused on the solutions consultants like to bring to bear), same-old, same-old (using the same solutions that worked with other clients, including this client's competitors), and "there's no there, there" in which the value added is necessary but insufficient to significantly change the client's position. Work with the client to be sure that you are designing an intervention with real, sustainable and compelling value that resonates with the client and the client organization.

Tip: Read Why You Need Three Different Types of Value Proposition by Julie Schwartz in BetterManagement.com for an interesting look at how to articulate your value (this is for an IT environment, but is still a good way to stretch your thinking).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  consultant role  consulting process  customer understanding  goodwill  sustainability 

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#462: Consultants Are Only As Good As Their Networks

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I want to expand our boutique consulting firm but I am not sure how much time to spend in building my networks vs. building skills in various areas.

Every job has three attributes: knowledge, technique and judgment. A hundred years ago, an individual could have command over a particular discipline or industry in these three areas. Over time, the amount of knowledge has increased exponentially. About half of the technical knowledge a college student learns in freshman year is outdated by senior year. Technique also evolves, as new materials are invented, best practices are shared and refined, and new systems give rise to new disciplines. Finally, the effectiveness of the judgment of an individual decreases as the complexity of the problem increases.

In each of these attributes of a job, the network is increasingly important for effective performance. Shared knowledge trumps what is contained in a single brain, if it can even all be remembered. The thousands of even well-known techniques, or continually evolving variations thereof, are only available through a well-connected network. Finally, diversity of perspective and judgment based on probabilistic decision calculus (whether "two heads are better than one" or the wisdom of crowds) beats solo decision making.

Tip: The fields of medicine, engineering and law are great examples of where a single individual cannot provide the services needed in a complex world. This principle is no different for consultants, whose effectiveness depends on the knowledge, technique and judgment derived from their networks. Whether growing your business or serving clients, strengthening your networks is your most productive strategy and should be your top priority.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting colleagues  knowledge assets  networks  professional development  sustainability  trends  your consulting practice 

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#427: Watch for Organizational Learning Disabilities

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Does your consulting practice or your client's organization have learning disabilities?

Just as individuals have disabilities when it comes to perceiving, understanding and applying knowledge, so too do organizations. If we are unable to establish a construct within which to actively seek or passively absorb information around us, it is difficult to acquire new perceptions or develop new habits of behavior. The same applies to processing, applying and benefiting from this new knowledge.

Organizations have the same challenges. If your client's organization, or even your own consulting practice, does not create the conditions for active learning and growth, it will fall behind competitors in being able to deliver constantly improving service and to thrive. There are many constructs for describing how organizations learn but they must be set up to learn, actively learn and structurally apply that knowledge to sustain performance.

Tip: Use a common three-step process to improve your organizational learning. First, investigate the circumstances of your strategy and operations. How well do you understand who you are, where you intend to go, what your capabilities are? Second, evaluate what is working and what is not. Can you identify what activities led to success and failures and why? How is this likely to change over time? Third, institutionalize what you have learned. This is the place where many consultants fail - they understand what happened and why, but do not do anything about it. Especially for your clients, but also for your own business, take specific actions to make sure your failures are not repeated and that the conditions the led to your successes become part of your practice DNA.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  innovation  performance improvement  product development  professional development  sustainability  your consulting practice 

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#298: Who Cares if Your Consultancy Fails?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Clients often ask for bids on specific engagements and then complain that consultants only offer the same services as everyone else. How are we supposed to stand out when we are just responding to what we are asked?

I understand your point but you are also not being fair to clients. Just because they ask for something does not mean you are unable to propose alternative approaches or even alternative outcomes. If we just feed back what we think clients want to hear, we miss our opportunity to use our experience, education and expertise to advance the client's condition. To put it another way, if you went out of business, would anyone care? Are your consulting services so unique, however large or small your market, that they could not be provided by any other consulting firm?

Youngme Moon's new book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd is a reminder that providing the same consulting services as everyone else makes them commodities and makes them valued at the lowest price. Different, scarce, and unusual consulting services - that still get the job done but show some innovation and creativity - will command both attention and higher market value.

Tip: Be constantly innovating in the scope and process by which you provide consulting services. Whether it is focusing on agility, intangible capital, or other "new looks" at management, your uncommon take on your client's future can make it so that people would notice it if your consultancy disappeared.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  brand management  client development  client service  innovation  intellectual property  product development  reputation  sustainability  your consulting practice 

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