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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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#636: Increase Diversity in Your Practice - Even if You Are a Solo Practitioner

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 22, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 22, 2011
Diversity consulting seems to be a big deal these days. Is this something I should add to my Organizational Development practice even if I am not a minority?

There are four aspects of your response that warrant comment. First, it is rarely a productive strategy to get into a consulting market just because it is hot. Entering a new market should be because it fulfills an important aspect of your existing strategy. Otherwise you are chasing butterflies.

Second, you refer to your ethnicity as an issue that might preclude your effectiveness in this service. Diversity consulting is often associated primarily with ethnicity because this has been the subject of regulation and high-visibility academic research. However, the essence of diversity includes culture, age, gender, etc. as well. While your own background contributes to your perspective, not being a cultural or ethnic minority does not preclude your being an effective diversity consultant.

Third, diversity management as a strategy is a big deal because organizations are finally realizing how powerful a strategic advantage it can be. Diversity has always had tremendous power; it has just not been applied as much as it could have been.

Finally, the value of diversity is not just for your clients. It can apply to your own practice, even if you are a solo practitioner. Every experience that exposes you to new people, places, cultures, even consulting practices, gives you a broader and richer perspective on which to draw.

Tip: Make strategic diversity of your own practice an element in your next strategic planning initiative. Bring in as advisors other consultants and clients who can look at your strategy from a different angle. Then include in your professional development plan activities that expose you to an appreciation of new ways of looking at, and seeing, a more diverse world.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  demographics  diversity  values  your consulting practice 

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#635: How To Answer a Client Who Says "Tell Me What To Do."

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, August 19, 2011
Updated: Friday, August 19, 2011
I've been burned a few times over my career by making recommendations before my analysis was complete. More experience has meant I won't be pressured into making a prescription before my diagnosis is in. But what do you do with an insistent client who reminds you that she is paying the bills and wants you to tell her what to do when you are not ready to do so?

Beyond the expertise we bring to an engagement, a consultant's major contribution to a client is our independence and objectivity. Being pressured to give an opinion before you are comfortable serves neither party well. Remember that the consultant's role is to ask the right questions, research and reveal issues, bring alternatives to a client and lay the groundwork for the client to make the decision. Consulting standards are clear that the responsibility for making the final decision rests with the client.

That said, there is an effective approach to help a client who trusts your judgment and wants you to make their decision (although it's expressed as "What do you recommend?"). When your client asks you to tell them what to do, recognize it as a request to help them organize their thinking. They are likely overwhelmend by the options (part of why you were retained) and want to get on with implementing a solution. Your orientation now shifts from an organizational to a personal level.

This is where your coaching, facilitation and leadership skills combine to draw them through a series of scenarios and stories. By doing so you help them isolate important parts of the issue, focus on one aspect at a time of the problem or opportunity and give them a frame of reference through which to see a series of choices, and eventaully a set o fsolutions. Each of your examples of how company X or agency Y addressed (not necessarily solved) their issues narrows your client's field of vision. Of course, the stories you select will be guided by your work with this client to date. In the end, you will bring them along to your current state of knowledge and understanding of the issues. Once you are in sync, the clilent may be able to see a soltion or recognize that your work is incomplete. At a minimum, the deisre to "just decide" is repressed.

Tip: This does not abrogate your responsibility to provide logical, defensible advice. It also should elevate the need to have a lot of stories about how differnt companies face challenges. These are best from your own client experience but can be from the literature. Russ Ackoff's descriptions of the thinking proceses he went rhrough are an excellent source. A good one is Ackoff's Best: His Classic Writings on Management.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  client relations  communication  consultant role  consulting process  customer understanding  recommendations 

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#634: Help Your Client With Chemistry

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 18, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 18, 2011
As consultants, we are often retained to solve a particular problem only to discover cultural or leadership problems that need to be solved first. Sometimes discovering this social or leadership disconnect takes a long time to really surface. Is there a tool or methodology to shortcut the discovery process if we suspect something like this?

Surfacing this kind of intangible is what separates experienced from new consultants. Years of experience in a range of industries and organizational settings sensitizes us to both the existence of these social issues and to their likely solution. However, you asked about the discovery process so here is one area to consider. Although you may need specialized expertise, some reading up on network analysis is useful.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is being used by companies, sports teams and military units to surface the team power, work and influence networks and dynamics within and among teams. A team, or company, is at peak performance when it "clicks." When there is internal dissension, miscommunication or ambiguous roles, performance plummets regardless of the capability of individual team members.

This synergy effect is just as important for your consulting interventions. As smart as you are and as clever your recommendations, your client's performance will suffer if the organizational chemistry isn't here. An SNA analysis will tell you quickly where these social glitches exist and who is in a position to address them.

Tip: The dramatic impact of transforming a collection of stars into a high performing team is clearest for sports teams, when you see a cohesive team of average players beat a group of individual stars. A collection of SNA cases will give you the perspective to quickly assess whether there are social or cultural landmines and the extent of a formal SNA required as part of your diagnosis.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting tools  customer understanding  management theory  networks 

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#633: Strengthen Your Incomplete Consultant Education

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2011
To make sure I can talk intelligently with prospects and clients, I have subscribed to those recorded book summaries (available from several publishers). Do you think these summaries are good? What else should I be reading (other than major business magazines)?

Your strategy is a good one. It makes sure you are up on the latest business ideas, whether they are good or not, only time will tell. However, I suggest there is more at issue that being familiar enough with the latest business concepts to converse with a prospect. I have two suggestions that might enhance your ability to provide value to your client.

First, reading ideas and cases is a good start but you could build your understanding by debating them with others. Lots of concepts sound good when you read them, It is when you have to debate the merits of these ideas with someone who has a different perspective that you find some are weaker than others, or don't even hold up to basic logic. Just because an idea is quoted in a prominent business journal does not mean it will still be credible a year from now (remembering that a lot of business articles are written by academics or consultants and include an element of marketing).

Second, just as a lot of this month's ideas will pass away soon enough, a lot of ideas from a decade or five are still powerful foundations of business thinking. Compiles summaries of classic business books are a useful part of your understanding of business history and current trends (given that old ideas are often recycled).

Tip: A couple of compilations are available for a few dollars from Amazon and a great addition to your business library. Try The Best Business Books Ever: The 100 Most Influential Management Books You'll Never Have Time to Read and The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  management theory  professional development  trends 

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#632: How You Can Help Protect Your Client's Reputation

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2011
If my client's reputation takes a hit because of scandal, supplier problems or a reorganization (hopefully not related to my work), what can I do to help restore it?

We are fortunate if our clients escape hits to their reputation from the kind of causes you cite, or from any of a number of smaller events. In the case of a major crisis, many companies can use the services of a PR or crisis management firm. However, your value as a consultant in any area is enhanced by contributing your knowledge of client strategy, operations and culture to a plan for reputation recovery.

Responsibility for managing a crisis and preventing damage to or restoring a company's reputation generally falls to the CEO or Board. Even if you do not work for either of these, your client may well be called on to participate in any recovery plan. Global PR and communications firm Burson-Marsteller surveyed companies to come up with the following list of restoration strategies and how you might help (in order of importance):
  • Issuing an apology from the CEO (you might help provide data or draft messaging points)
  • Committing itself to better corporate citizenship (you might suggest a change in strategy or processes to better engage the community or customers)
  • Providing crisis information on the company's Web site (same as above to contribute in your area of expertise)
  • Hiring a new CEO (tread carefully as you provide your opinion, if asked)
  • Hiring an outside auditor to perform internal audits (you may be able to provide these services or participate in the audit)
Imagine a crisis that is typical of your client's industry and think about what you could do in each of the above to help.

Tip: Read The Road to Reputation Recovery for some quick perspective and suggestions of how you can participate in rescuing a client's image. This won't make you an expert but it will sensitize you to how you might contribute some value.

Tags:  brand management  goodwill  reputation 

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