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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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#727: Consultants Are Not the Only Game in Town

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Why is it that the same consultant's recommendations, even when fully recommended, sometimes have a huge impact on one client's performance and other times have little impact? The skill or insight of the consultant is just as good but the outcome is different.

There is far more in play here than just the consultant. It is easy for consultants to consider themselves the principal intervention in a client organization. After all, an executive has selected them from among a group of their competitors specifically to address a key challenge or opportunity. The executive team and consultant engagement director spend a great deal of time discussing weighty matters and strategic choices. The fate of the client organization hinges on the effectiveness of the consultant's recommendations.

A nice picture, if only it were true. In fact, a consultant is but one of many simultaneous factors affecting a client organization, before we even get to the flurry of other processes, cultures, and initiatives going on inside an organization while a consultant team is active. We are not the only game in town within the organization.

The same thing can be said of the persistence of our intervention. Both consultants and managers may conclude that a particularly innovative modification of a business model or strategy will take an organization to the top of its market. They are probably right - in a static, noncompetitive market, our recommendations would result in a better outcome. The problem is that there are other competitors, each with their own strategic initiatives (and consultants). We are not the only game in town outside the organization.

Tip: Humility and perspective are among consultant's best friends. Remember these two factors, (1) consultants are only one of many concurrent factors influencing an organization's performance, and (2) the specific impact we have will be disrupted by markets and competitors, each of whom is changing their own strategies to try to outdo our clients. Interventions are valuable if they improve the client's position over the long run, even if success cannot be attributed solely to the consultant.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  customer understanding  performance improvement  recommendations 

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#721: Use Cognitive Biases to Your Advantage

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 19, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 19, 2011
I would expect that all advisors want their recommendations to be judged fairly by the client and not be unduly influenced by either extraneous information or bad logic. How do we make sure that the information we present gets a "fair hearing"?

None of us is immune to cognitive bias, regardless of how much we'd like to believe we could impartially decide on the facts alone. Even where we take an oath of impartiality, there is an expectation that some biases are still present and the best we can do is to recognize them, disclose where possible, and compensate or recuse ourselves as appropriate. As a consultant, you have to sometimes work hard to avoid such biases.

When it comes expecting clients to judge your work impartially, it is up to you to understand the different kinds of biases and deliberately structure our presentations to use techniques to level the playing field. Note that deliberately introducing bias in client decision making to favor your position starts you down the path to unethical behavior.

We can't go over all the dozens of biases here but here are a few of the most important for consultants to be aware of:
  • Recency Bias - giving greater importance to the most recent event (e.g., the person who presents last before a decision is to be made has a slight advantage).
  • Anchoring - the tendency to overweigh in importance a dominant statement presented or experience already known (e.g., describing the problem in terms that discount alternative explanations or focusing on only one aspect of a complex problem before offering a solution that resolves only that aspect of the problem).
  • Normalcy Bias - discounting outcomes that rarely or have never occurred before (e.g., discounting a looming disaster even though the precursors to that disaster that have already occurred also are rare).
  • Confirmation Bias - The tendency to favor an approach or piece of information that is familiar or consistent with one's world view or history (e.g., a proposal to do "more of the current approach" has higher intuitive appeal than one based on a novel approach).
  • Halo effect - the tendency to attribute greater value to suggestions from a well-known entity rather than the merits of the item (e.g., giving greater credibility due to position or perceived market brand)
  • Loss Aversion - the tendency to place greater emphasis on avoiding the loss of something than the potential gain of the same amount of that thing (e.g., using fear to promote saving something in danger of being lost rather than using desire to promote the potential acquisition of something).
Tip: As you can see, each of these biases can be at work in how you approach your own work as a consultant but also are present in your clients when they are deciding on the merits of your recommendations. For a pretty good review of these biases and some practices to manage them, consider (among many other sources) Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Many of the best decision making work was done in the early 1990s and the best resources are from that era, one of those instances where newer is not necessarily better.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assumptions  attribution  decision making  interpretation  learning  methodology  presentations  professional development 

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#603: How Close Should You Get to Your Client?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 6, 2011
We are proud of our work advising clients on HR related issues (hiring, talent management, training, performance evaluations, etc.) but as much as we consider ourselves "part of the team" in their growth and improvement, we don't get the recognition from them we think we merit. How do we get it?

First of all, recognize that you are advisors to your clients, not part of their team. Consultants may humorously refer to "going native" because of being engaged with a client too long, but our ability to maintain our objectivity and independence is critical to our value. You should be proud of your contributions to the client but may want to question whether your priority should be validation and inclusion as "part of the team.".

Second, wanting to be recognized for your contributions is reasonable, but why does it have to be only from your client. Sure, you want feedback from your sponsor that your efforts are making a positive impact on the client condition. However, there are ways to be recognized by your peers, within your team and by your profession that can be as much, if not more, valuable to you (if you will let them).

Tip: Consider whether you are seeking validation from your client in appropriate ways. Just as clients value you highly for your objectivity in providing them advice, you benefit from clients showing that same objectivity in evaluating your performance.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  client relations  client service  consultant role  goodwill  professionalism 

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#39: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 30, 2009
For my marketing materials, I know that it is always best to describe the significant performance improvements my clients have achieved due to my counsel. However, I don't know exactly how much to attribute to my work and how much to attribute to what the client would have achieved anyway.

This is a great question and one that clients looking at your marketing materials are likely asking themselves. If you review consultant collateral, some may contain statements like "Our technology solutions have created $250 million in cost savings for our clients." I have heard clients make fun of these statements by consultants, pointing out that the consultant, even under the best of circumstances, could not be responsible for anything close to that impact. Their point is that it is the person who has P/L responsibility who is responsible for this savings and the cost savings can be attributed to many sources other than the consultant.

The Latin phrase "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc" is applicable to describe this fallacious thinking. It literally means "after this, therefore because of this," and implies that an event is attributable to an act that preceded it. My client increased sales by 20% in the year after I consulted to them, therefore I can say I added $XX in value to my client. Or, the sun rises each morning because my alarm clock goes off. Not so fast.

Tip: Be extremely careful about making claims like these. Clients, especially those who are really responsible for P/L numbers like those you would like to claim, will discount such statements. At best, assert your value in terms of what you actually did. For example, you can say that the accounting system you planned and installed reduced collection times by 45% or that the sales close rate increased by 20% in part because of you helped develop a new process to track prospects. Don't let your desire to impress people with your value become a negative.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  ethics  marketing  sales 

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#944: Naming Names

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 17, 2008
After I do interviews, my notes are full of names of individuals referred to by interviewees, such as "Mary really is the problem because . . .". Since they were specifically named, should I include those names in my report to the client, but not externally?

There are two answers: "of course not" and "probably not." First of all, it is likely that your interviews were confidential, and this means internally as well as externally. To associate the content of an interview with the name of the interviewee is a breach of trust, unless you explicitly get agreement from the interviewee what you would like to pass along and to whom.

The other situation is where you are reporting the results of your interviews or analysis and you would like to report names of individuals to whom you would attribute certain characteristics. These are not quotes from an interviewee or a staff member with whom you have spoken; they are your own subjective impressions and recommendations. In this case, it is usually better to attribute your observations (and you should qualify them as such) to "the Vice President of Finance" and not the name. The reason for this is because you are best evaluating the structure or processes of an organization, not the individual. Only when the behavior or actions of the person, unrelated to their position, is an issue should you consider naming names. If possible, make your recommendations about the position ("shipping profitability is greater when the VP of production is held accountable for closeouts").

Tip: Unless your task is about improving a specific person and not organization structure and processes, leave the names out. Your recommendations should apply to whoever fills the position.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  confidentiality 

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