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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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#296: Referring Other Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 3, 2010
Updated: Monday, May 3, 2010
I sometimes want to recommend another consultant to my client but feel that it might take away additional opportunities for my consulting business. After all, there is limited money in their budget and only so much time to devote to a consultant. Am I wrong in being concerned about this?

Your feelings are very natural, but think of it this way: you are there to help the client in any way you can. If you believe that recommending another consultant will add value or provide much needed assistance to the client, you can rest assured that you are doing the right thing by making the recommendation. Sound referrals will help build trust and demonstrate your interest in the client's ultimate success even if it does not translate into direct business for you. Here are a few guidelines when recommending someone to your client:
  1. Issue a clear disclaimer so you don't end up appearing to guarantee the performance of the other consultant.
  2. Recommend more than one consultant for the job (if appropriate and possible). Let the client make the choice.
  3. Let the client do the interviewing and selection.
  4. Try to avoid opportunities for uncomfortable "pairing" if you will be working alongside the other consultant.
  5. Always be supportive and helpful to the other consultant in every way you can.
  6. Don't look for a referral fee from the client.
Tip: Recommend another consultant any time you genuinely feel it will be helpful. Putting the client's needs first is why you are there.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  consulting colleagues  engagement management  recommendations  referrals 

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#295: Educational Foundations for Effective Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, April 30, 2010
Updated: Friday, April 30, 2010
This issue comes up every time the consulting market changes, but is it better to have a technical education or a liberal arts education as the foundation for management consulting?

This somewhat depends on what you mean by the terms "better" and "foundation." However, while both have value in many settings, a liberal arts foundation beats a technical foundation in most cases. Let me explain.

Every job involves three characteristics: knowledge, technique and judgment. Broad technical knowledge is important to understand the character of a problem and generate a range of solutions. Analytical or implementation techniques are essential to find and apply approaches to improve a client's situation. These are necessary but not sufficient to provide a complete solution. Judgment, however, is not a technical skill and something that may be aided, but not replaced, by analytical and decision tools. Without judgment, solutions to problems temd to be based on experience and mechanical in scope. Judgment is the glue that lets us apply knowledge and technique, and judgment comes from broad exposure to the liberal arts.

The liberal arts education develops an ordered intellect and the ability to extend learning beyond just experience, teaches you how to listen and communicate in multiple ways, empowers you to recognize and connect patterns and solve problems, and gives you broad insights into how other people reason and feel. Every one of these capabilities are used in building a consulting practice and serving clients. Judgment requires exposure to a broad range of disciplines, subjects and situations. Having exposure to and practice in critical studies of history, philosophy, mathematics, physics, music, languages, logic, grammar and literature all contribute to your ability to recognize deeper patterns in a client situation and generate more creative solutions. Problem solving becomes synthetic in addition to the analytical approach made possible by a technical education.

Tip: Listen carefully to other consultants and you will begin to see differences between those with primarily a liberal arts and technical backgrounds. It becomes apparent in the precision of language, the breadth of solution space, and the ability to simplify and solve problems quickly. Liberal arts without technical skills, or vice versa, will generate limited solutions. However, even superior technical skills can only take a consultant so far. Without the ability to connect sciences and humanities from a liberal arts education, the consultant's ability to create innovative solutions and provide agile advice is limited. This is a good reason why continuous learning in a range of disciplines is critical to sustained consulting effectiveness. Read William Cronon's article on The Goals of a Liberal Education.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  education  knowledge assets  learning  professional development  teaching/training 

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#294: Critiques

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 29, 2010
Updated: Thursday, April 29, 2010
When a client asks for a critique of some aspect of his or her personal style or other subject outside the scope of the engagement, how honest should I be? Or should I just recuse myself?

Is the point of your critique just to express your opinion or to provide some helpful suggestion? What if someone asked you to critique the Mona Lisa and you had never seen it before? What would you say? Too drab and dark? Not enough detail? Too simple? Background not relevant? Hands not positioned properly? The painting is completed so, in this case, you are just expressing your opinion. Of what good would your opinion be? In your client's case, he or she is asking for your input to possibly make an improvement.

Don't answer the question before you fully know what the issues are. Next time you are asked to critique something, consider what changes are even possible and how your input might or might not be helpful. Leave behind your opinion as to whether you like it or not (that wasn't the question) and instead ask for direction from your client on what kinds of supportive suggestions are needed and what kinds of changes are possible. If you are not in a position to provide a critique under these terms, then recuse yourself.

Tip: Too many consultants think that a critique means to criticize (in the pejorative sense). Use your consultant skills and make sure you understand the issues and complete a diagnosis before prescribing the "cure."

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  client service  communication  customer understanding 

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#293: Importance of Business Humor

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I have a client who seems to be pretty serious about separating work and outside life. He doesn't like it when people joke around in the office and tells people that business is serious. The business unit is quite productive but is it necessary to be so serious?

Humor in the workplace, especially when it deals with work-related topics, is a good thing. It allows individuals to surface issues and concerns in an indirect way and lets the culture as a whole address and relax some underlying tensions.

For some, "work" is treated in the Puritan tradition, meaning all work and no fun. However, preventing even light-hearted treatment of inevitable tensions can keep people apart and create an environment where those issues fester and grow. As long as the humor is not directed at any one person or promoted at any group's expense in a mean spirited way, humor is being recognized as a good thing. Recent articles in Harvard Business Review and other publications describe how humor is a a good indicator for the health of a company, something that traditional business evaluators do not address.

A good manager will actively manage and encourage employees to participate in and contribute to humor. Understanding the culture of humor in an organization gives a manager - as well as a consultant - insight into internal networks, influence, and communication. Humor is a safe way to communicate pain, as long as it does not come across as mean-spirited or insulting.

Tip: This is not an encouragement for consultants to "go native" and adopt the client's culture. It is an encouragement to better understand the culture through humor as well as through its business processes. This is becoming a serious issue (pun intended) for managers, especailly in times such as these when pressures on businesses are higher than usual.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  client staff  communication  consultant role  customer understanding 

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#292: Using Movies to Improve Management

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I have been training management teams in leadership, communication and negotiation for a long time. I have used just about every facilitation and leadership approach in the book. Do you have anything new?

What about taking everyone to the movies?

No, we don't mean packing everyone off to the local cineplex. How about using some classic movies as the basis of discussion? Some movies have rich characters, plot and storylines that would make for fertile discussion among members of a management team. Here are a few:
  • Twelve Angry Men (1957) is a story of a jury deciding an apparent open and shut murder case. The character development and evolving story line reflects common interactions in management team negotiations.
  • The Caine Mutiny (1954) addresses weakness of command, ethical dilemmas, communication between ranks, and executive decisionmaking. And you though running a company was easy?
  • The Godfather (1972) is all about what is business and what is personal, transfer of control, and about the impact of traditions on operation of an enterprise.
  • 12 O'Clock High (1949) is a look into leadership, betrayal, morale, discipline, and perseverance under duress. Strip away the war setting and you will find many elements of how teams behave under stressful settings and how they cope.
  • The Office - Not a movie but a weekly TV show with fertile representation of all too familiar personalities in many business settings. A smorgasbord of how not to manage.
Have managers watch these movies for discussion and comparison to their current individual and group behavior. Better yet, have the team watch them together on your next management retreat and discuss merits of the characters and team behavior.

Tip: OK, maybe getting your clients to watch movies is impractical. However, it doesn't mean you can't watch themselves and take the message back to them. Watch them with an eye to how you would advise those in leadership or decision making positions in these movies.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client  communication  decision making  leadership  learning 

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