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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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#728: Systemic Change for Your Clients Creates Opportunity for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Given the increasing pace of change in technology, economic disruption, management practices, social and generational expectations, and globalization, would you say change in consulting is evolutionary or revolutionary?

Good question, but it deserves the typical consultant's answer: it depends. You are on point that there are many consulting markets undergoing, or about to undergo, dramatic changes. Anything related to public services, the largest vertical for management consulting, is about to change in a big way. Uncertainty over revenue sources, planned cuts in services and evolving concepts of the role of government mean traditional public sector services, and the consulting services that support them, are changing. High demand services will continue to be provided but in different ways and possibly by the nonprofit or private sectors. Consultant agility in serving this transformation should be high on your marketing research agenda.

One good example is the advent of social impact bonds (SIB) as a financing mechanism for government services delivery. Started in 2011 as a $100 million federal pilot program, this could grow quickly to provide tremendous opportunity (and disruption) for consultants in areas of service delivery, finance, evaluation and program/project management. Instead of a traditional government program paying for delivery of services, an SIB is issued to a group of investors to provide specific service outcomes (e.g., reduction of veteran unemployment rate of 2.5% over 4 years). If the outcomes are achieved, the government pays the bond holders; if the targets are not met, investors get nothing. Taxpayers only pay for performance, not effort. If you are a consultant in the public sector or can advise efficient providers of these services, then you may either be losing a market or gaining a whole new service line.

Tip: Some consulting services will be slow and steady in serving clients much as they have for decades. However, disruptions in business generate corresponding disruptions in consulting. If you'd like to know more about social impact bonds, look at a short paper from the Center for American Progress.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  customer understanding  innovation  learning  trends  your consulting practice 

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#726: Don't Sweat the Close Stuff

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 26, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 26, 2011
With the economy lurching in many directions but seeming to not be going anywhere, I am concerned that I will miss opportunities for consulting. Where should I be looking for opportunities over the next year or so?

Richard Carlson's book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - And It's All Small Stuff," focused on keeping control of the less significant elements of our lives, personally and professionally. Carlson became famous for showing up how to reduce stress by focusing on what is important and attending to the big picture. The construct is big vs. small things.

However, size, significance and impact are only one way to look at the world. Consider timing of those events, regardless of size. Depending on your particular practice (e.g., operations vs. strategy) your dominant scope of time may be weeks and months or years and decades, respectively. Views of the world tend to be consistent with the time scope for implementing our advice. This can blind us to events and factors that deeply affect our business and we can't see them because we aren't looking in the right time frame.

Sometimes a microscope is called for, sometimes a telescope, sometimes just our eyes, but it is useful to be able to use all of these and know when to use the right one.

Tip: Spend a fair amount of time each month looking at various prognostications of emerging mid-term trends in business and society. This is not about what is happening in the next 6-12 months, nor is it what will (as if anyone really can foresee that far) take place over the next century. I am talking about the 5-10 year view. For example, read articles like one from BCG on prospects for a mid-term renaissance in US manufacturing. Not all of these will agree but you should have a short, medium and long term perspective about industries in your specialty.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  learning  trends  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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#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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