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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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#993: Performance Evaluations by a Client on Your Own Work

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 24, 2009
When an engagement is over, I do a "post-mortem" on my work, but I have a hard time getting the client to provide much feedback. How can I get honest and useful feedback?

This is a great question. Clients engage us to diagnose and provide improvement advice. Yet, there is no reason why we shouldn't hold ourselves to the same standard. The effectiveness of our services should be evaluated at the same time we evaluate the performance of the project as a whole. This kind of feedback (more than "nice job") is what helps us to become better consultants.

As part of any engagement, one of the last activities a consultant does is to conduct a formal engagement evaluation. Here we address whether the project design was adequate to the needs of the client, whether the client developed the necessary technologies and capabilities from the engagement, and how well the client's situation is likely to sustain itself after we leave. All of this is common practice by a good consultant, but it leaves out one thing - an evaluation specifically of the consultant.

Tip: Make sure the client understands at the outset of the engagement that you hold yourself and your consulting processes to the same standards he or she does. Build in to the project evaluation an explicit step to examine determine your process was effective, whether your behavior was professional, whether your interpersonal skills were appropriate. Lay out a formal process with clear measures of what you consider success. There is no better way to show your professionalism and to get the kind of feedback that will raise your game.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  performance improvement  professional development 

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#979: Getting a Fresh Perspective Through Focus Groups

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 4, 2009
My consulting practice is directed at service improvement for a small consumer products manufacturer. How can I broaden my understanding of how my client's products are being viewed by the customer when this is not part of my assignment?

The value customers place on a product or service drives (or should) its design, production and sales. Every consultant should want to expand his or her perspective to include that of the customer. Greater efficiency or lower cost for an internal process used to create a product or deliver a service is insufficient to increase customer value.

One thing you should try to arrange (if your client has not already made this part of your engagement) is to observe, or even conduct, a focus group for your client's product or service. A focus group is a qualitative research process to evaluate the attractiveness, acceptability, consumer experience or reaction to a proposed idea, service or product. Although focus group designs vary, about a dozen likely consumers, carefully selected for demographic and user characteristics, are presented with a new product or idea in a 1-2 hour facilitated session. It is feedback from this session that determines acceptability of a proposed item.

Your ability to participate in the design or facilitation of a focus group, or just to observe, can provide powerful insights into where your process improvements are best targeted. In many cases, you may hear opinions or perspectives you have never heard or even thought of. For example, focus group participants may have never heard of terms or concepts you assume all consumers are aware of. It can be a humbling experience.

Tip: Early in the engagement process, ask your client if there are any planned focus groups to test the results of the work you are tasked with. Even if this is not a consumer directed product, your internal focused process may well have impact on client staff or partners. Suggest that there may be significant value in testing the hypotheses under which your consulting engagement is designed with those "consumers" of the new, improved operations.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  customer understanding  learning  market research 

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#974: Understanding Client Culture Through Its Humor

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Updated: Friday, January 30, 2009

What tips do you have to quickly learn about the culture of a client organization? Currently, I use my intuition, supplemented by several validated culture assessment instruments.

This is a great question because even the most experienced consultant needs a robust understanding of the culture(s) of an organization prior to investigating processes, structure, strategy, etc. Validated assessment instruments are certainly one way of getting a sense of a place, but these require experience to appreciate the nuances of a culture, and these vary widely in their validity and usefulness. Certainly, there are a lot more things going on than a single assessment tool can tell you.

Consider using humor. By that I mean that your understanding of the type of humor various individuals and groups use within an organization provides a powerful insight into its culture. Supposedly humor is a reflection of pain, so humor must also be a reflection of the source of that pain and the way an organization chooses to deal with it.

Is the use of humor acceptable for all staff or just the leaders? Does everyone "get" the jokes? Is the humor lighthearted and positive, or disparaging and mean-spirited? Are jokes made at the expense of individuals, either within or outside the organization? What cartoons are posted in the break room or at the executive assistant's workspace? Are disparaging jokes made about consultants to your face the first day you arrive? Does humor have undertones of racial, gender, age or other targets of discrimination? Is it highbrow or vulgar? You should be able, within a few days at a site, to get a good sense of the culture by looking at a complete picture of how humor is used.

Tip: Create an informal log of how humor is used as you begin an engagement. Start with any use by client personnel leading up to your engagement. Note who creates humor, to what (or whom) it is directed, and how it differs across the organization. Draw your conclusions, perhaps after discussing your findings with a colleague who does not know the client. To the extent that humor is lighthearted, this may indicate an easygoing organization with relatively few conflicts. Then again, it may also signify a shallow communication style. After a few clients to calibrate your approach, you will improve your rapid culture assessment capabilities. Another tool in your consulting arsenal.

Tags:  assessment  business culture  client relations  consulting process  process 

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