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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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Top tags: client relations  communication  customer understanding  your consulting practice  marketing  consultant role  learning  client service  reputation  goodwill  consulting process  market research  practice management  sales  ethics  planning  client development  engagement management  innovation  proposals  professional development  professionalism  knowledge assets  prospect  trends  presentations  recommendations  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  product development 

#730: Prove That Your Consulting Practices Are Effective

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 30, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2011
How would you recommend management consulting as a whole improve its effectiveness?

The traditional definition says, "A management consultant is a professional who, for a fee, provides independent and objective advice to management of client organizations to define and achieve their goals through improved utilization of resources." Buried in this widely held definition lies the challenge for consultants. "Independent and objective" often ends up interpreted as thinking in novel ways about business and management, adapting a presumed "best practice" to a new situation or developing entire new management concepts to promote a portfolio of services with which we are familiar and practiced. Nowhere is the primacy of evaluation and proof that what we are proposing actually works. Many of commonly used and highly promoted consulting practices lack validation. To be sure, our approaches are logical, they align with other management theories and our client seem to have done OK after we applied them. Where is our proof of value? Evidence-based intervention is increasingly required in medicine, but not for consulting.

We as professionals need to develop a deeper capability to recommend and deliver to our clients only those practices and strategies that are provably effective. Proving effectiveness is hard, which is why it is rarely pursued. So we develop consulting approaches that are:
  • Too old - we propose approaches that were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.
  • Too new - we propose something we just read about in a management journal (most of which these days are written by consultants) but that has only been tried a few times, much less proven effective widely or over the long term.
  • Too abstract - we propose convoluted and theoretical processes that we understand well but for which the client and staff have no realistic capability to adopt or sustain.
A healthy skepticism to consulting techniques is our best defense against obsolescence as a profession and as individual consultants. Look at most "standard" management concepts from the past thirty years and you can find legitimate and well researched evidence why they are inappropriate for consultants to apply in many circumstances and potentially hazardous in others. We are now fully into a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) where the pace and scope of business exceeds the ability of any individual to think through improvement approaches by him or herself. The standard of proof for consulting effectiveness will continue to increase.

Tip: Seek out disconfirming evidence for every concept, process, approach or technique you have in your consulting portfolio. There are good resources available. For an overview of how to think critically about your consulting approach at a high level, read carefully Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not. For a more specific critique of individual techniques, look at Calling a Halt to Mindless Change: A Plea for Commonsense Management. Being a true professional means that, before we promote approaches we assume to be effective, we make sure we can defend our current practices in the face of logic and evidence that they neither make sense nor really work all that well.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  assessment  client service  consulting process  consulting skills  consulting terminology  consulting tools  diagnosis  education  innovation  learning  management theory  methodology  performance improvement  practice management  professional development  professionalism  quality  roles and responsibilities  sustainability  technology  trust  values  your consulting practice 

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#725: Build the Network You Think You Don't Need

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 23, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 23, 2011
I've never found networking events to be particularly productive in the consulting business. I'd rather be getting to know potential clients than other consultants or professional service providers. If the goal is to build our consulting firm, shouldn't we focus on clients?

Networking is taken as an article of faith among consultants - as well as other professional service providers and business people of all stripes. You may be asking the important questions in reverse order. The third question is how valuable is networking; the second question is what do you mean by networking; the first question is what is the objective of networking.

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad, says "The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work." HIs point is that, regardless of the size or breadth of your consulting practice, the pace, complexity and uncertainty of the business environment means that you will increasingly need fresh relationships, resources, and information sources to thrive. A few colleagues or data sources are no longer sufficient to give you what you need. This is what networks are for.

The next question of what networking is should not focus on "networking events." Regardless of how well these are designed, they are largely semi-structured aggregations of people who, if you are lucky, can connect with each other. This may be what most people mean when they say networking but it is not the same as building a network. This requires defining the people, information, skills, resources and access necessary to keep you current with trends in your industry and discipline. A network is defined, explicit, and intentional. It is also continuously redefined. The final question, how valuable it is, can be answered in terms of how critical the network(s) are to your professional (and personal) growth. How damaging to your business is a loss of prospects, partners or revenues when the market changes, key staff leave or technologies or competitors devastate your market? Your networks are your safety valves. We can never have too many networks, and few consultants have enough.

Tip: Start by defining what you need to be agile in your business, to anticipate and respond to emerging trends. Like making a packing list for a trip, write down what you need to have and be over the next five years? What people or skills do you need to acquire theme? What different networks do you need to develop or strengthen - you may need 5-10 different networks? What is your plan to build, support and evaluate the effectiveness of those networks? How do you intend to not just connect others into your network, but to connect to other networks? The LinkedIn model of a "network of networks" is a good way to look at your own networking approach. Finally, since you don't know what you will need a few years from now, how will you build your networks so you have access to that which you think you don't need?

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  assumptions  change  consulting colleagues  innovation  knowledge assets  networks 

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#697: Consultants Need Business Continuity Plans

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Given that I am an independent consultant, is it really necessary to have a formal business continuity plan?

This all depends on what you mean by a business continuity plan. Traditionally such a plan is created to manage an organization through a disaster such as a fire, earthquake or other unusual and catastrophic event. This is the old "disaster recovery plan," which has been expanded to accommodate more organizational components (than just saving financial or data records) and more preparation and even training. The goal is to minimize the disruption to the business in the event of a disaster.

As a solo practitioner, your systems are likely to be fairly simple and a formal plan may be overkill. Conversely, many small businesses have quite a few systems or assets to protect and operations to provide for. You may have computer files that call for offsite backup, ongoing client communications that need redundancy, a base of operations in which to work during recovery, etc. Being small doesn't mean you don't need planning, it just means the scale of response may not be as big as for a bigger business.

Furthermore, there are hazards you face that larger businesses do not. Illness of the entire staff (you) is little different from the impact of pandemic flu keeping a company's whole workforce off the job. Your business may be less complex but there is greater risk of entire systems being compromised, such as when your laptop (the company's entire IT department) gets flooded when a pipe bursts.

Tip: Make a list of your critical systems and a list of what is the worst (and second and third worst) things that could happen to compromise them. How will you market and deliver services to your clients under each of these situations? What can you do to both prevent their occurrence and speed up response and recovery? Maybe it's not a formal plan, but at least you will have thought this through. Ask to see a friend's plan and see what each of you have missed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  planning  practice management  risk analysis  security  your consulting practice 

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