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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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#551: Recognize That Every Tool or Theory Has Its Limits

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, April 25, 2011
Updated: Monday, April 25, 2011
I am having a difference of opinion with my client about the "best" tool to use for the problem we are addressing. They want to use a tool that is specific to the problem and I am advocating using a tool that is can address the immediate as well as other issues. Is there some guidance (not saying she or I am right) or should I just adopt the "client is right" position?

This comes up more often than you would expect. Traditionally, clients describe the desired outcome and expect their expert advisor to identify and execute the best approach to reaching that objective. However, there are many competent and experienced managers who can, and in most cases should, be an integral part of selecting a solution approach. That said, your client is appropriate in being a part of selecting the tool you use to implement change.

The second part of this decision is the evaluation of whether a particular tool is "right" for the problem at hand. We all carry the bias of our experience and repeated success with a particular theory, tool or approach strengthens our preference to use that tool. As the saying goes, "To a child with a hammer, every problem is a nail." Conversely, failures (by ourselves or others) of a particular approach harden our resistance to a particular tool. We are often unaware of our preferences and reluctance to use suggestions by others, particularly when we are the one that will be asked to use it. Your familiarity with and capability to use (or lack thereof) a tool should be part of the discussion with your client.

Finally, both of you would benefit from including in your decision the concept of what do you really need this tool to do at this time for this problem. It is easy to disparage another tool or approach because it is "not robust" or "lacks validity" in this area or that. As the saying goes, "If a hammer drives a nail well, don't condemn it for not being able to drive a screw." Because of their range of experience with tools and approaches, consultants tend toward the comprehensive over the simple.

Tip: Recognize these perspectives and biases, in both of you, and settle on the approach that will get the job done that the client wants. You can make your case for your approach but recognize that the client and staff will live with the results.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  recommendations 

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#550: Are You Driving Your Client To Failure?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, April 22, 2011
Updated: Friday, April 22, 2011
As a general rule, management consultants help their client to improve operational efficiency, customer service, or profits to shareholders. Does our role extend to pointing out to a client when these are in conflict?

Great questions. I won't address the fallacy of maximizing shareholder value as a primary objective of business that still enamors many management theorists and modelers, but the conflicts between competing objectives is (or should be) a real concern for consultants. We are most often engaged to address just one issue, such as improve process efficiency, brand image, leadership, or talent retention. We are rarely brought in to "fix everything."

However, we are always obligated to consider the brand, values and mission of the organization as guides to our particular intervention or recommendations. Especially in competitive markets or difficult economic conditions, managers can lose sight of these values and implicitly or explicitly ask their consultants to do the same. They may ask us to abandon corporate values or history in favor of maximizing a particular objective, usually related to money.

Think of the client's big picture, their values and long term obligations to their stakeholders, including employees, when you are crafting a strategy to "improve" the organization in response to a short term challenge or opportunity. Remember that some of the most spectacular corporate (and consulting) failures over the past decade were grounded in consulting firms ignoring the same values their clients were and often leading to ethical missteps that drove the cllient to failure.

Tip: Jim Rodgers has written An Inversion of Values, an insightful and powerful description of what can happen when values are inverted or replaced with a focus on money. This Chief Executive article looks back over what happened at Johnson & Johnson, once one of the most respected, value-orient brands around. Every consultant shoud read this article to center themselves on their responsibility to remind their clients of values.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  client relations  consultant role  ethics  goodwill  values 

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#549: Alternatives for When a Client Asks You for a Decision

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 21, 2011
Updated: Thursday, April 21, 2011
Sometimes I am in a bind when clients ask me for a decision between two options or my recommendation before I am ready to provide one. I recognize the client is paying but what if I am not comfortable with the options provided?

First, remember that there are almost always more options than those provided. At a minimum, doing nothing is an option. In our haste to improve the client's position, we sometimes forget that every decision has pros, cons, risks and unknowns. A compete assessment of options includes the "do nothing" scenario. In most cases, the client has not conducted a full assessment of "no change" in strategy or activities and the outcomes are often not as bad or good as previously presumed.

Second, be clear with your client - well ahead of time - about the conditions under which you consider options ready for a decision. How complete does information gathering need to be? How extensively do staff need to provide input? Which options (including those that were tried previously) should be included? Who should be involved in the decision and by what protocol should it be made? Finally, when does a decision need to be made? Sometimes clients want to make a decision sooner rather than later just to "have all their options on the table" even when no action will be taken based on the decision. My recommendation is to not make a decision before it needs to be made.

Tip: As an advisor to management presumably accountable for the outcomes of your advice and decisions, you need to be in control of as much of the process as you can be. Walk your client through your recommended decision process and agree on criteria and processes you will use to consider options and decide among them. Only bad things can come from you both assuming you will "figure it out when the time comes."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  analysis  decision making  recommendations 

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#548: Selling is Just as Much a Skill as Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011
My most enjoyable days are when I am heads down in a consulting engagement, working with the client and my colleagues solving a tough problem. But days I have to generate business are among the worst. Help!

First of all, you are not alone. Consultants often say that they like consulting better than selling. However, you need to get clients to be able to help them. And, the selling skill-attitude cycle is a hard one to break.

We like certain things, so we spend more time on them and, in turn, get better at them, further increasing our enjoyment. Things we don't like get less attention in our reading, are the subject of fewer discussions with our colleagues and receive less of our education budget. Assuming you are not going to pay someone to develop business for you, you'll need to tackle this head on.

Selling is a profession just like consulting. There is a body of knowledge, best practices, professional associations, and recognized certification. Just as you would reserve judgment on someone who said they are a consultant without any experience or continuing professional development, you should also question your own skills in sales unless you actively developed and enhanced your selling skills.

Consider developing a personal consulting selling skills education plan. It could include conferences and webinars like those offered through IMC USA, companies that focus on marketing and selling professional services like RainToday or a professional association, like the United Professional Sales Association. Use these resources to better understand why selling (intangible) professional services differ from selling physical products.

Tip: Recognize that you will need selling skills, but also that it is the attitude you bring to sales activities that determines whether you will engage on a lifelong process of improving your selling ability. The attitudes that make a great consultant and a great sales person are different. This is why, as good as you might be at both of these activities, switching between them on a day to day basis creates dissonance for most of us. One way reduce this impact is to consciously recognize that you are leaving consulting mode and moving to selling mode, and vice versa. Another is to switch back and forth less frequently (e.g., plan on certain days for marketing and selling, others for consulting).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  education  marketing  practice management  professional development  sales  your consulting practice 

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#547: Use Data Visualization to Get Your Point Across

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Most consultants are familiar with Ed Tufte's work in data visualization but are there any tools for dynamic visualization to show evolving time series?

Well-designed data visualization techniques can vastly increase understanding of specific data sets, as Tufte so amply demonstrates in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. But in the hard work to design that perfect display that a deeper understanding can be created not just for the recipient of the display but also for the creator. We sometimes rush to display data without taking the time to really understand its nuances.

Take, for example, Gapminder World, the project of Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, who is committed to help people understand world (especially health) data through visualization. Gapminder shows how a cross plot of world data on economy, education, infrastructure, etc. have changed over time (e.g., child mortality vs. GDP per person). This kind of dynamic display provides insight that a data table never could.

Some other dynamic visualization tools are The Visual Thesaurus, Wordle (create tag clouds from text), and Flare (for advanced users). There are lots of applications.

Tip: Imagine how this kind of dynamic or interactive display could dramatically change your ability to get your findings and recommendations across to a client. Also, by working with visual displays instead of just data tables, you will develop insights you might never otherwise recognize.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  data visualization  learning  recommendations 

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