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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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#235: A Word to the Whys

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, February 5, 2010
Updated: Friday, February 5, 2010
Our firm focuses on R&D companies and we work with really smart people who, because they look so deeply into these problems, can easily go off on tangents. Any suggestions of how to keep everyone on track when we are coming up with solutions?

One tactic that comes to mind is to introduce a process in your discussions to keep focus in a solution space. This is known as the "five whys." When you start with a solution to an identified problem, accept the first solution and then ask a series of "why" questions.

For example, someone suggests they should sell more products in the marine market (which is one of your strongest markets). Why? Because the marine market is underserved. Why? Because the market is growing and no new suppliers are entering. Why? Because the margins are poor for this highest growth segment of the market. Why? Because the new segment cares about price more than quality, which is your company's strength. Why? Because these new customers are young consumers early in their earning careers.

What started out as a "good idea" to expand into a market area your company is already in, then swerved into a potentially bad idea (poor margins), then back into a good idea (future potential) but for different reasons. Before you asked the "whys" you might have entered the market quickly, but now you know to pace yourself and cultivate this customer base as their spending abilities grow.

Tip: It may take more or less than five "whys" to get to the bottom of an issue, but you will get your client into the habit of becoming very precise with their suggestions.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  communication  customer understanding  learning  market research 

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#188: The Role of Ethics in Surveys

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Consultant surveys are occasionally attached for lack of objectivity. Is this a design issue or something more?

Survey research is a skill that requires some experience to design, administer and interpret. It is easy to think you are creating a great survey if you don't know where you may be missing something. For example, there are ethical considerations in survey design. What questions are you not asking? Have you considered the role values play in a respondent's answer? Are the questions asked in a way that might inhibit a respondent from answering truthfully (even though the survey is anonymous)?

Surveys are only as useful as the context in which they are taken, and this means they are as much about values as they are about data. The questions you are using a survey to learn about have values embedded in them. You bring your own values with you, recognized or not, when you interpret or report results.

Tip: Surveys should be designed and interpreted by several people. The purpose of this diversity is to recognize value conflicts due to age, ethnicity, gender, geography, life stage, experience, etc. that may affect how the questions are interpreted. Even the best survey researcher benefits from a second, even third, pair of eyes.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  ethics  market research 

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#168: Are Your Clients Measuring Numbers Rather Than Results?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, November 4, 2009
We help our clients design and implement sophisticated performance measurement systems. However, it is always a struggle to keep these from being hijacked by the finance departments, who focus on month to month data and not long term goals.

Performance measurement systems are affected by the culture of the group designing and using them. There is nothing wrong with a financial reporting system, but this should not be confused with a performance management system. The latter is intended to guide an organization to results. The finance function, however, is grounded in a culture of risk avoidance and control. The effect of that perspective is to focus on process, accuracy of predictions and variance with expected data.

How much variation in month to month results are typical for your industry? Are long-term trends heading in the right direction? Does your executive team have evidence that past variance with plans is a good predictor of failure to meet goals? Is there a basis to believe this is the case now? Is the finance function being given undue influence over business operations? Remember, accounting is a trailing indicator and, while a provider of important data, it is a supporting function, not a business driver.

Tip: Discuss with your client during performance measurement system design what the specific culture, perspective and impact each department will have on providing data and interpreting those data. Talk about how decisions will be made if one set of data are well outside of expected predictions. How are accountabilities to be set, i.e., how much allowance is appropriate for variance and who is accountable for "fixing" that variance? Have these conversations during the design phase so that your client is not embroiled in conflict about a number rather than measuring progress against long-term organizational objectives.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  business culture  communication  information management  planning 

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#76: Getting a Snapshot of Your Client's Brand

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 22, 2009
Our clients often ask us to get a market snapshot of their perceived brand before starting process or strategy work. Limited time and budgets make a traditional survey approach impossible. How do we get a "quick and dirty" but still valid brand snapshot?

You certainly have a challenge. In most cases, "quick and dirty" and "valid and complete" are incompatible. The reputation of an institution or the expectations of a diverse marketplace and stakeholders are not easily characterized even over longer times. However, we have a suggestion of how to complete your task.

Surveys are generally a good way to get stakeholders opinions about the brand "promise" they expect from a company. However, a lot of people are "surveyed out" and interpretation of these data may be complex. Since you seem to not have the budget for a market research firm or a lengthy survey process, look at the value of a simple survey, where simple equals one question. Define a few key markets and ask them to give you a single word that defines their experience with your client. This is a quick process, minimally intrusive on respondent's time, easy to tabulate and interpret and relatively unambiguous for your client, and easy to replicate on a regular basis.

Tip: Field a simple web survey (paper if needed but electronic is faster, cheaper, and more efficient) that gives the company logo (best because it does not bias the verbal response) or the client company name with a very brief description of its market (e.g., Wilsons Inc., a Brownsville-based tool and die manufacturer). Tabulate words used to describe the market impression of the company brand and display in a tabular or cloud format. See an example of how this works in Brand Tags. For a given logo (many popular brands are represented here), you can see how people described it. Alternatively, you can look at the keywords used to describe a company and see if you can figure out what the company is. Your own One-word impression survey will deliver a fairly clear sense of what your client's brand is and in what areas you might need to work on it.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  brand  marketing  survey 

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#996: Being Thorough in Your Diagnosis

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, February 27, 2009
If solid diagnosis is the foundation for effective organizational change, what is a good way to structure my recommendations?

There is no excuse for sloppy description of an otherwise solid diagnosis. How you present your results affects how well they are understood, accepted and implemented. One good way is how many financial analyses and audits are presented:
  • Material Weakness - a description of the facts in evidence that bear attention by management.
  • Cause of Condition - the source of the material condition and why this condition exists (and what the recommendation seeks to alleviate).
  • Effect - how this condition affects the organization's core needs or performance, in effect the reason you are recommending the organization address this as a priority.
  • Recommendation - what actions the organization should take to eliminate the effect and prevent reoccurrence of weakness.
One of the real benefits of this approach is its ability to clearly document your diagnosis for future use. When consultants make recommendations for their clients, everyone usually understands the implications at the time they are made. However, six months or a few years later, the nuances of your findings and recommendations are lost. This format should help make the value of your diagnosis last.

Tip: This format will help you be very clear about the subtleties of your findings and recommendations. Propose a specific format, with a few examples, of how you will characterize your diagnosis, and review with your client.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  communication  recommendations 

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