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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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#541: How Well Does the Design of Your Meetings Produce Ideas?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, April 11, 2011
Updated: Monday, April 11, 2011
Most of my client work and briefing sessions are well-scripted and produce the intended outcomes but are not very productive at generating new ideas.

The one word on which to focus to induce creativity is "design." I infer that you have set up the right process to generate the work products you intend. However, if you want to assemble the right conditions for creativity, take a cue from Steven Johnson's work (and book) on "Where Ideas Come From."

Johnson's premise is that new ideas bubble up over time and as a result of connecting together partially formed ideas. If ideas are protected, isolated, and pressured to "produce results," they are effectively stripped of their creative potential. Ideas, like living organisms, grow best under optimal conditions and often don't do well when forced. In many cases, what we are told are blinding flashes of inspiration are, in reality, ideas that have been percolating for years.

Tip: You would find more idea generation, evolution and maturation from connecting people with ideas often and encouraging them to bring their thoughts, without pressure to produce, to address common challenges. Don't try to force creativity into the same sessions in which your goal is to plan work, document progress and report results.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  communication  consulting process  creativity  innovation  knowledge assets  learning  market research  product development 

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#540: Regularly Consider a Refresh of Your Branding Images

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, April 8, 2011
Updated: Saturday, April 9, 2011
My company logo is looking a little old and tired (OK, I admit it, I created it myself many years ago). Logo companies can be somewhat expensive and sometimes only come up with a few variations on the same theme. Where should I look for more creative designs?

Let's assume you have thought through the much bigger issue of the currency and strength of your brand and conclude you only want a fresh logo design. One approach is to find a designer recommended by a colleague who knows your style and whose own design style you like. This is no guarantee you will have a satisfying experience but it is better than picking a design company based on their sample logos. In that case, and not to disparage all logo design companies, these logos may have been designed by individuals who are no longer with the company.

Competition is the key here. Some design companies, like Logoworks farm out your needs to several designers internally so you get a range of perspectives, from which you select and refine your design. Some of my colleagues have had a good experience with this approach.

Another clever idea is to have a truly open competition, like at 99 designs (there are other companies like this) where you create an online "contest" for your logo. You specify who you are, what kind of image you want, including preferred colors, shapes, backgrounds (only if you want), and how much of a "prize" you are offering for the design. Within a week, some of the 15,000 designers connected to the service will create a range of logos from which you can select. You can also see what designs you find appealing by using the search feature, and then refining your "contest" request. Most of these contests are in the few hundred dollar range.

Tip: This approach can also be used for business cards, websites, stationery, etc. Once you find a designer whose style matches your interests, you can pursue other projects with them.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  brand management  marketing  publicity 

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#539: Make it Possible to Decide in Contentious Situations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 7, 2011
Updated: Friday, April 8, 2011
What is a good way to open up a client's reluctance to consider a recommendation that will cause significant disruption in the organization? Regardless of how much my client trusts me, they are resistant to big changes.

Regardless of how confident you are, your objective is to get your client to carefully consider your recommendations. This also applies to client recommendations you consider inappropriate. Your goal is to get the conversation back to a careful, thoughtful review of options. One way to do this is to deflect the confrontation. What if you said, "I might be missing something important here, but . . ."?

Here's how it works for client recommendations. Your client makes a recommendation that, on the surface, you expect will be problematic. If you simply explain why you don't think the approach will work well, you risk causing client defensiveness, disagreement, and possibly hurt feelings and ill-will.

Use "active listening," such as ("Now, if I heard you correctly, what you are saying is x"). Then, try to clearly identify your concern(s) or the aspect regarding your client's proposed approach that is troubling you by stating "I might be missing something important here, but wouldn't that result in [something negative, undesirable or less then optimum]?" Listen carefully to their response and you will most likely find that your client will either:
1. See your point more clearly and reconsider their approach, or
2. Help you to see more clearly where they are coming from and convince you that their approach is valid (with an absence of hurt feelings or defensiveness).

Tip: This may seem simplistic but when you are trying to induce careful consideration, these type of techniques give us all space for careful deliberation. As experienced consultants, we are often times on target with our concerns, but this is certainly not always the case. This method improves trust and respect between both parties and demonstrates a critical skill that all consultants should possess: the ability to listen effectively.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  recommendations 

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#538: The Dark Side of Process Efficiency

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Process improvement consultants were all the rage for nearly a decade, up until the economy went sideways. Now it seems to be all about marketing and top line growth. Is this just the natural cycle consultants (and their clients) face?

Not to over generalize, but . . . there is a time and place for every improvement strategy. When a company is in a stable growth mode, a manager's thoughts turn to improved efficiency to squeeze cost, resources and schedule as much as possible. This is inherently appropriate, unless you need to develop new products or your environment is evolving. When you need agility to face a volatile market, new technologies or an economic restructuring, streamlining is exactly the worst strategy to follow.

You will see this same phenomenon in the natural world, where organisms with highly efficient but inflexible systems and processes become extinct when formerly stable conditions change. This is insidious for many managers who take their cues from their current customers. When you make someone's company more efficient in a stable environment, they are highly satisfied and things look great for them (and they tell you how awesome a consultant you are). The problem comes when you try to innovate and adapt, either proactively or in response to a disruption, when all your strategies are about efficiency.

Tip: Consultants successful over the long term see which improvement strategies are needed and how to structure an organization to be able to implement them. You may well have a preference for helping your clients be efficient or being agile, but don't count on only needing one set of services. And certainly hold the victory lap until you have taken your client through a few stable growth periods, new product cycles and disruptive environments

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  customer understanding  innovation  management theory  your consulting practice 

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#537: How Much Knowledge Should a Consultant Take From an Engagement?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Consulting is a great profession, in large part because, beyond the value we provide our clients, each engagement leaves me and my firm with tremendous learning and new expertise. Are there any ethical issues with using this knowledge?

A great question, mostly because it is a complicated one. First, what do you mean by "knowledge"? Most consulting engagements are "work for hire," meaning that any work products you create are the property of the client who paid for them. It may be that you can work out a nonexclusive rights agreement for use of your work with the client, but don't assume that because you created it (even if based on other work you already have done) that it belongs to you and you can do with it as you please. Especially if you are talking about a tangible product or a discrete methodology, work this out explicitly with your client.

Second, skills that you acquire and the experience you gain during an engagement do belong to you. This gradual accumulation of skills and perspective are a significant part of the value you bring to a client. After all, the breadth of what you have learned from all your past clients is what your current client is paying you to apply to their issues.

Finally, if it isn't spelled out in your consulting agreement, be aware that any proprietary data, technologies, market information, employee lists or other client confidential property that your client provides you does not belong to you and you may not use or disclose it outside the engagement. Sometimes you have used such client property for months (or years) and can forget that it really is not yours. Consultants can get into trouble if they are not paying attention to what is theirs and what is the client's.

Tip: It is worth a discussion, certainly after the conclusion of your work but preferably before you start, about rights in data, methodologies and work products. You really don't want to learn of conflicts in rights through either a letter from your client's attorney or from a rumor that your firm purloins client property.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  ethics  intellectual property  knowledge assets  trust  your consulting practice 

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