Contact Us | Print Page | Sign In
Daily Tips for Consultants
Blog Home All Blogs
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.

 

Search all posts for:   

 

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 

#976: Ethical Dealings With Your Client's Staff

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 30, 2009
What if I am approached by a client staff member about joining my consulting firm? This would be after the engagement is over, to be sure there is no conflict of interest?

During engagements, consultants work closely with client staff. In many cases, this interaction can develop into a strong professional, and sometimes personal, relationship. Mutual respect for each other's work and professionalism and working toward a common goal puts in play the foundation for a strong relationship. This does, however, present the possibility of a conflict of interest and an ethical challenge for both the client and consultant.

We are more concerned here with the consultant's potential conflict than that of the client. However, for both sides, anything more than an independent and arm's-length relationship carries the appearance, if not the fact, of impropriety. Is the staff member really working in the client's interest or just currying favor with the consultant? Is the consultant explicitly or implicitly offering the option of post-engagement employment with the consulting firm to either win the business in the first place or create conditions favorable to the consultant's remuneration for advisory services? Maybe none of this was intended but one party believed it to be true. In any of these cases, the possibility for misperceptions or miscommunications are as dangerous as an overt strategy by a consultant to "steal" an employee.

Tip: The IMC USA Code of Ethics is quite clear on this point. Paragraph 8.0 says, "I will refrain from inviting an employee of an active or inactive client to consider alternative employment without prior discussion with the client." As you can see, the prohibition extends well beyond the end of the engagement. The takeaway is that, as attractive a client staff member may be as a future partner, even if such a relationship is in the best interests of the two individuals involved, the potential damage, perceived or real, to the client organization, calls for staying away from such action unless there is full and clear discussion with all parties.
 

Tags:  consultant role  ethics  professionalism  reputation 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

#975: Agreeing on Engagement Terminology

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, January 29, 2009
Updated: Friday, January 30, 2009
I use terms of art in business that I would assume are unambiguous. However, there are many times I have to go back and explain to client staff what I mean about a particular term. To be fair, the "local" use of a term is sometimes not clear to me because it has taken on a particular connotation at a client's site. What's the best way to minimize this confusion?

As our experience grows, we naturally assume that the common to us, at least) usage of a word is universally understood. However, one side effect of diversity - geographic, generational, ethnic, gender, etc., is that what once might have been clear is no longer so. Also, in business (and possibly more so in consulting) words are used like they belong to a priesthood and for which only some people are eligible to use the, Finally, business words are sometimes used that are more complex and nuanced than their plain English equivalent calls for. Whether it is of our own doing or just the forces of culture and nature, if we are causing any confusion with (or are confused by) a client, we need to remedy it.

Each of us has a group of terms we use whose meaning we have honed over years of practice. About some we feel strongly and about others we are ambivalent. Our goal is to create a common understanding with those we share use of these words. Our job as consultants is to bring concepts and, where needed, words to express the concepts, processes and culture we recommend to the client. This is where a project glossary may help. A glossary includes all those terms you use and your client uses that relate to the diagnosis, analysis, findings and implementation aspects of the engagement. Agreement on what thses terms mean will go a long way to minimizing confusion - both yours and the client's.

Tip: Raise this idea with your client sponsor at the kickoff meeting. Talk about whether this is something that is likely to be useful. If this is a current client, probably not. If it is a client in a new industry or with a culture that is unfamiliar to you or is inexperienced with consulting processes, probably so. Be on the lookout (a task for which both you and client staff are charges) for instances where meaning in unclear and confusing. Add the term and (after discussion) the consensus meaning to the accessible glossary.
 

Tags:  client relations  communication  consulting process  learning 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

#974: Understanding Client Culture Through Its Humor

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Updated: Friday, January 30, 2009

What tips do you have to quickly learn about the culture of a client organization? Currently, I use my intuition, supplemented by several validated culture assessment instruments.

This is a great question because even the most experienced consultant needs a robust understanding of the culture(s) of an organization prior to investigating processes, structure, strategy, etc. Validated assessment instruments are certainly one way of getting a sense of a place, but these require experience to appreciate the nuances of a culture, and these vary widely in their validity and usefulness. Certainly, there are a lot more things going on than a single assessment tool can tell you.

Consider using humor. By that I mean that your understanding of the type of humor various individuals and groups use within an organization provides a powerful insight into its culture. Supposedly humor is a reflection of pain, so humor must also be a reflection of the source of that pain and the way an organization chooses to deal with it.

Is the use of humor acceptable for all staff or just the leaders? Does everyone "get" the jokes? Is the humor lighthearted and positive, or disparaging and mean-spirited? Are jokes made at the expense of individuals, either within or outside the organization? What cartoons are posted in the break room or at the executive assistant's workspace? Are disparaging jokes made about consultants to your face the first day you arrive? Does humor have undertones of racial, gender, age or other targets of discrimination? Is it highbrow or vulgar? You should be able, within a few days at a site, to get a good sense of the culture by looking at a complete picture of how humor is used.

Tip: Create an informal log of how humor is used as you begin an engagement. Start with any use by client personnel leading up to your engagement. Note who creates humor, to what (or whom) it is directed, and how it differs across the organization. Draw your conclusions, perhaps after discussing your findings with a colleague who does not know the client. To the extent that humor is lighthearted, this may indicate an easygoing organization with relatively few conflicts. Then again, it may also signify a shallow communication style. After a few clients to calibrate your approach, you will improve your rapid culture assessment capabilities. Another tool in your consulting arsenal.

Tags:  assessment  business culture  client relations  consulting process  process 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

#973: Getting Consulting Engagements Off to a Fast Start

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Do you have any advice to jumpstart consulting engagements? It seems like, even with a reasonably well defined objective, the windup period is too long for my sense of urgency.

The responsibility for how long it takes a consultant and client team to hit their stride is the responsibility of both the consultant and the client. What you call the windup period is probably the least value producing period in an engagement. This is the period where you get to meet the client, get to know the culture of the organization, get caught up on company history, and become trusted enough by staff to hear the backstory on the specifics of your engagement. Unless you are starting an engagement with a past client, this stage, however long or short, is inevitable in each engagement.

If you think your are itching to get started with the engagement, imagine what your client must be feeling. The best thing you can do is to come to each engagement with a plan of action to get to work providing value as quickly as possible. The plan should include your best guess of what people, information, relationships, and authorities you need to get to work on day one.

Tip: Provide to your client a two-week (or whatever period makes sense for the startup phase) plan of what you need up front, what you want from the client as to ongoing support, and when you need it. Provide a written explanation that you don't want to waste anyone's time and describe the reasons you need specific types of data, facilities, support staff, access to prior internal or consultant analysis reports, etc. If staff interaction is a major part of the project, ask that your presence and role be announced before you arrive, that you be introduced to staff as soon as you arrive, and that staff have access to you as soon as possible. This comes off as thoughtful and professional, and gets you through the windup period a lot faster.
 

Tags:  client relations  engagement management  planning 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

#972: Discussing Presumably Public Client Information

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 26, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Is there anything wrong with discussing a project with colleagues or family if confidential information is not part of the conversation? What if you limit your discussion to only information that is already public (i.e., it has appeared in company press releases or published interviews)?

There is some logic to your question - what could be wrong with divulging already public information? After all, most consulting agreement clauses relating to proprietary data relieve a consultant from liability when the information revealed was already in the public domain. So, what's the problem with discussing information about a project with friends and family that anyone could easily find in the newspaper or from a company public official?

As logical as this might seem and as consistent with the contractual agreement of proprietary data as it is, discussing such information is simply not your call. You have an obligation to keep such information confidential unless directed by your client to discuss it publicly. This is a matter of professionalism, not legal compliance. Just because you are allowed to discuss it doesn't mean you should. Your client depends on your discretion to keep project information safe and not discuss it with others. There is no reason to discuss your project unless it is of direct benefit to your client, and then you should be coordinating directly with your client as to the timing and content of such disclosures. Some clients do not permit even disclosing that you are working for them or the nature of your project. You won't know how sensitive some information is until you ask. Information from an "inside source" (you) may give a different impression than when it comes from a press release.

Tip: This is a topic your client will appreciate your bringing up. Explain that you would like to discuss non-sensitive issues with your professional colleagues, perhaps to provide additional insight into the issues and perhaps to help them understand your skills better. Whether or not such discussions are for your client's benefit, get explicit permission before you hold those discussions.
 

Tags:  communication  confidentiality 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 
Page 152 of 161
 |<   <<   <  147  |  148  |  149  |  150  |  151  |  152  |  153  |  154  |  155  |  156  |  157  >   >>   >|