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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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#528: Trust Your Consultant Gut

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I sometimes don't get why some companies seem so successful and others do not. By any objective standards, financial, operational of market, these successful companies are described as being so because of some magic strategy (usually attributed to a consultant) that doesn't sound like it should work in any company. What am I missing?

At a minimum, the questioning of appearance, facts and assumptions is a large part of what makes consultants valuable to our clients. A bit of cynicism is always useful. We are all too familiar with the poor performance of many of the companies in the book In Search of Excellence. The authors made a methodological mistake (to be fair, many of us do the same) by looking at successful companies, finding common attributes, then branding them as "best practices." We then intend to use them for our clients to, in turn, make them successful.

The problem is one of logic and methodology. Strategic intervention does not necessarily lead to a successful company, just as a successful company may not result from a presumably great strategy. Don't confuse causality with correlation, despite the claims of strategy consultants. Also, it is not necessarily true that what looks like success will always be so. You may remember the investment fund that shorted the stock of companies whose executives graced the covers of business magazines (it beat the market).

I highly suggest The Halo Effect: ... and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers as a wakeup call to think harder about why a firm (or consultant) is successful or not. One of the delusions the author describes is "Connecting the Wining Dots" trap In Search of Excellence fell into.

Tip: Trust your (supposedly cynical) consultant gut. Companies are not successful because someone says so and provides a "simple truth" of why they are so. Have faith in your experience and make the effort to hone your logic and methodologies.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  assessment  consulting tools  customer understanding  diagnosis  management theory  methodology 

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#498: How to Measure the Impact of Your Consulting Advice

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2011
My client wants me to measure the impact of my consulting intervention on her operations. The company is currently so loosely run that I am not sure how I can even measure any impact. How should I respond?

This kind of request has become increasingly common over the past few years as clients are looking for more tangible results from their use of intangible services. They recognize that they evaluate some sort of ROI on other investments they make, so why not something similar on consulting services?

The problem is that many organizations are in no position to measure change because they have no baseline. They don't know, for example, what their investment per employee is across a particular division or marketing costs per client type. Especially for smaller companies, performance data just aren't collected or evaluated this way. What the company looking for performance improvement needs is a baseline.

Before you developed a weight loss plan, you would need to know how much you weighed, how much you wanted to lose and over what time period. Without any one of those metrics, it would be hard to evaluate the effectiveness of any plan.

Tip: Propose to your client that their (or your) first task is to develop baseline measures against which to measure progress. This should be a basic part of their performance management strategy anyway and a key indicator of whether they even need to improve performance. Help them establish a set of performance measures appropriate for their market and industry. Then work with your client to develop a plan to improve specific measures and define what a specific performance improvement is worth to their bottom line. This helps them more clearly identify what they want to accomplish and also establishes the basis for your fees.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client relations  presentations  recommendations 

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#470: The New Year

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 31, 2010
Updated: Friday, December 31, 2010
The New Year is upon us, signaling a "clean slate" and the promise of new resolutions for the future. But it also gives us two good reasons to look back.

In your haste to clear the decks and embark on some new goals for the New Year, don't forget to take a little time to consider the past year and note the following:
  1. Think about things that went well for you this past year. Engagements that went smoothly, recognition you received, people who helped you achieve success, etc. Make a note of went particularly well for you over the last 12 months and write these things down. Then, do your best to note the various reasons why these things worked so well. This list should help you to remember to employ the approaches that worked so well for you in the past year for the upcoming year.
  2. Conversely, think about things that did not go well for you this past year. Write these things down as well and note the reasons why these things didn't work out. What did you learn from these miss-steps? This list should help you to avoid making similar mistakes in the upcoming year.
Tip: Look forward optimistically - your future starts now. But don't forget to take a moment to reflect on the past for the tips for achieving (and traps for preventing) success in the future!

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  learning  planning  your consulting practice 

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#442: How to Be More Accurate With Uncertainty

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 23, 2010
We all know that the only guaranteed thing about all models is that they are wrong. There are too many uncertainties in any model, both in its inputs as well as its design, to do more than give us insights. How are consultants to respond to clients who ask them to build or use a model to predict future outcomes?

While true that models are not, and cannot, be accurate in estimating the future, this does not mean that they are not extremely useful. A model is a representation of the real world as well as we can characterize it. In both the building of the model and in collecting data to support it, we develop greater insight into how our (modeled) piece of the world works. The best think about models is that they can be tested and improved until you have a model that is "good enough," although criteria for that judgment vary with the client.

Where most models fall down is that they try to deterministically predict an outcome when the system they are modeling is probabilistic. Say you are building sales model. Product prices may range depending on economic factors. Number of sale staff may vary with the season. Sales effectiveness may vary as a result of a training program that itself has uncertain outcomes. When you try to build a spreadsheet model whose inputs area all uncertain, the outcomes are barely useful. You are left with saying to your client, "Based on average expected inputs, our best guess of sales is $3.5 million in the fall quarter, but it could be more or less."

There is a powerful alternative: changing a spreadsheet from into a probabilistic model using an add-in called @RISK. This commercial software program allows you to specify a distribution instead of a fixed "best guess" or average input number (including various shapes of the expected distributions). If inputs are correlated, you can even link these distributions (e.g., if customer traffic increases, the available time spent with each customer decreases, which may not be a simple relationship). The more you can model, the better you can understand how your business works.

Tip: How great would it be to say to your client, "We have used historical data on all the factors that affect sales and modeled the effects of enhanced sales training. The most likely impact is a $1.2 million increase in sales, with a 20% probability of it being $1.9 million and an 80% probability of it being at least $1 million"? Then you can tell your client which parameters are hiding in the model that have the greatest impact on decreasing the uncertainty in results. Just using this add-in gives you far greater insight into the business you are advising. Check out the add-in at

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  consulting tools  decision making  innovation  risk analysis  technology 

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#430: How Good is Your Decision Making?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 5, 2010
Updated: Friday, November 5, 2010
After nearly thirty years of management consulting, I consider myseslf to have good perception about client issues and to be an excellent decision maker. When is it OK to trust my instincts and when should I turn to others for verification?

Asking means you are aware that you might not be as good a decision maker as your experience might indicate. In fact, many of us overestimate our perceptiveness or decision making accuracy. Think you are a good decision maker? Let's see.

Answer the following ten questions with a numerical range (one low and one high number) that you are 90% confident contains the correct answer (i.e., there is at most a 1 in 10 chance your range is too small). Next Monday we'll provide the answers so you can see whether your decision making confidence is warranted.
  1. Length of the Nile River (in miles)
  2. Diameter of the moon (in miles)
  3. Weight of an empty Airbus 380 (in pounds)
  4. Year in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born
  5. Gestation period of an Asian elephant (in days)
  6. Air distance from Chicago to Shanghai (in miles)
  7. Year the first spacecraft landed on the moon
  8. Area of US national parks (in square miles)
  9. Year in which Attila the Hun died
  10. Average population density of the US (in people/sq mi)
Print out this tip and next to each numbered item write a lower and upper bound estimate (no Googling the answers!). Check back Monday.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  education  knowledge management  planning 

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