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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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#356: Consultants Need to Learn to Say "No"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 26, 2010
I really hate to say "no" to assignments and thus end up taking on a lot of work on that really isn't profitable. I feel like I let myself get "sucked in" to too many small assignments. What can I do?

Learn to say "no." Your value as an advisor comes from providing useful information, not just providing your own services. Given that you want to help but they can't afford to pay your fee for such work, you still want to help. Here are three responses that might help:
  • "I am probably not the right person for this assignment. Let me give it some thought and recommend someone more suitable for you. I’ll make a few calls, check availability and come back to you with a solid referral."
  • "Based on your situation, I can offer a couple of lower-cost options that might work well for you. Perhaps we could consider having the ability to provide a level of on-call support via e-mail or phone for a period of time until you can get the project off the ground. I can certainly support you for a few days (weeks) if this is something you might be interested in.”
  • "Unfortunately, this is not really the size (or type) of project that my firm specializes in. But if you need some informal guidance and would like to ask me a few questions from time to time, please feel free to e-mail me and there will be no charge."
Tip: Learn to say "no" in a respectful, honest and constructive way is an essential skill for consultants. Remember — a flat "no” is more difficult to accept than being offered a few alternatives. In the end, the alternatives might not be acceptable options for your client, but you went the "extra mile” by providing the client with an honest response and some potentially feasible options. In this regard, you are still providing value. An excellent book on how to turn a no into a yes is The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury, co-author of the well-known book on negotiation, Getting to Yes.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  goodwill  practice management 

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#355: Learning From Mistakes of Other Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 23, 2010
Over the years, in both large and small consulting firms, I have seen both brilliant and foolish moves by other consulting firms. I have come to realize, however, that I probably learn more from the mistakes of others than the success stories. Does this make sense?

It makes perfect sense, if you think through the circumstances and decisions that led to the mistake. The hardest part, though, is ever finding out the whole story of a situation or decision gone bad. No one wants to talk about engagements that have gone bad - either the client or the consultant.

Case studies about consulting firms are good sources of learning what not to do, and there are a dozen "kiss and tell" books available about management consulting mistakes (or malfeasance). There is a lot written about large consulting firm projects because the stakes, and losses they incur, are so high and so visible. Also, when something goes bad, the client is quick to throw the consulting firm under the bus. But the challenge is finding stories about individuals in larger firms and about smaller firms. These are more likey to apply to your situation and, whether it is an ethical or analytical lapse, something you can learn from.

Tip: Talk to your consulting colleagues or clients, one on one, about where they have seen (or been a part of) consulting engagements going bad. Ask for the conversation to improve your decision making, so you don't need to know all the details about who it was, just the processes and outcomes, and any suggestions about how it might have been avoided. Compared to case studies, which often describe just the facts, a discussion can provide insights into the motivations, risks, and expectations in play.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  engagement management  ethics  practice management  reputation  your consulting practice 

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#354: After a Long Consulting Career, Is It Time to Cut Your Losses?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, July 22, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 22, 2010
Boredom doesn't quite describe it, but I have been providing some consulting services for a long time and they don't excite me like they used to. Clients still demand them so why should I change my business?

This issue is at the heart of your value as a consultant. Part of what you bring to your clients is your skills and experience. Part is your enthusiasm and leadership. If you can't bring both, then it's time for a change. Maybe it is time to think about a different line of work. No, I don't mean something other than consulting, just changing the suite of services you provide.

Most important is to cut your losses - trim a service that you haven't enhanced in a while. Look at your range of services. Is what you offer better than similar services provided by others? Could you write an article about it that includes the latest trends and insights about the needs of people who use this service? If not, it's time to give up that old tired service and develop some new ones. Agreeing to stop offering a service on a certain date is often just the thing to help you create a newer, high value one.

Tip: If you have created a fair amount of intellectual property, you may be able to monetize your work by selling the IP to a colleague. Also, if appropriate, you may be able to spin off the clients who rely primarily on those services to a trusted colleague.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  knowledge assets  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#353: The Value to Consultants of Role Playing

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Our consulting team recently went through a bad experience with a client presentation where one of the client team harassed us about details of the engagement that weren't germane to the presentation, which really took us off our game and made us look bad. How should we have dealt with this?

Without more details it is hard to say but consultants do face this occasionally from hostile client staff. This is often a person who has something at stake by your being called in or as a result of your recommendations. First, regardless of how they behave, they are still the client's representative and you owe them a certain amount of respect. Second, this is the kind of thing you would have discussed with your client sponsor during project planning. Dealing with resistance among staff, either during the engagement, at a presentation, or after you leave are considered standard topics on which to advise clients.

However, this does not mean you can't defend yourself against a hostile client by being prepared. If you suspect you are going to be ambushed, an excellent tactic is to role play the presentation with one member of the consulting team acting as the hostile staff member. This will both give you a chance to surface possible objections and challenges and make sure you have the data, logic and response ready. A second benefit of role playing is to give you confidence that you have an even more solid handle on your findings and recommendations than you would otherwise.

Tip: Expanding your role playing to include a strong challenger (the original basis of the "devil's advocate" to challenge candidates for sainthood) goes beyond just a traditional dry run. Make sure you are ready for anything during your preparation by anticipating the worst and role playing to be sure you deliver a solid response.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  customer understanding  engagement management  meeting preparation  planning 

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#352: When You Are Having Second Thoughts

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I made a recommendation to a client for a major change to a process about a month ago. Since then I have been working more closely with the people there and have discovered some issues that I was not aware of. These issues will impact the feasibility of my recommendation. I am beginning to have doubts on whether my suggested approach is the right one given the new circumstances. What should I do?

You have a responsibility to always be upfront with your client. The first two paragraphs in the IMC Code of Ethics read:

1.0 I will serve my clients with integrity, competence, independence, objectivity, and professionalism.
2.0 I will mutually establish with my clients realistic expectations of the benefits and results of my services.

These apply throughout the engagement (and beyond). Tell your client you have second thoughts about your original recommendation. Make sure to phrase it positively, such as "I have been working more closely with your people on this problem and have gained some interesting new insights. Although I recommended this particular change for the company, this additional information leads me to modify my recommendation." Thoroughly explain what has changed your thinking and exactly why you recommend the change in approach.

Tip: As consultants we have an obligation to bring critical issues or new concerns to our client's attention as quickly as possible. Stay positive and always make an efficient transition from identifying the problem to providing the solution or suggested change in approach.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  communication  customer understanding  ethics  goodwill 

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