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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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#723: Does Anyone Understand What You Are Saying?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 21, 2011
One of the first diagnostic tasks on an engagement is to review work of prior consultants for the client. Although I probably use more jargon than I should, some of these consultant reports are vague, unclear and some entirely almost unintelligible. Is this a problem for all consultants or just those my new clients have previously used?

Every profession has its jargon, concepts and approaches for which its practitioners are obligated to make clear to colleagues as well as users of their services. Do management consultants always do this? No, and there is one good reason for this. Our clients, in part, hire us for our experience in areas with which they are unfamiliar, for our perspective in seeing things in ways they may not, and for our insights into possibilities that they could not imagine. That sets an expectation that we interpret can only be satisfied by the new, the innovative and the complex. Adding to the mystery of this priestly concoction are terms and constructs unfamiliar to the reader. My own experience looking at reports done by some of the most highly regarded strategy firms in the world bear out that even heavily edited and professionally prepared slide decks contain stretches of imagination and presentation that clients assert don't make sense to them.

There are a few areas in which we need to improve. First is jargon, which doesn't sound like jargon anymore because we hear it all the time (e.g., "manage expectations," "boots on the ground," "results oriented"). Second is our use of concepts that sound good but make no sense in our work. These apply to both our application of the concepts we think we are using as part of our methodology and our communication of it to our clients. One good example is, "thinking outside the box." This implies both that you know specifically what the "box" is, and that you intend to frame the diagnosis or design in terms restricted to that "box," thereby precluding possible agility, innovation or disruptive concepts into your work.

Tip: A Forbes article on business jargon fairly well describes this phenomenon. Consultants, who are most susceptible to using it and are often in a unique position to influence it in a client's business conversations, are advised to closely monitor their use of jargon or tired business clichés.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding  presentations  speaking  writing 

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#701: Communicate Powerfully - Nonverbally

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, November 21, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 21, 2011
I am always amazed by the disconnect in some people between body language and the words coming from their mouths. It got me to thinking that consultants, given that we are supposed to be experts/authority figures, should probably pay more attention to our nonverbal cues.

You raise a good point. It is hard to be authentic as a trusted advisor interested in client issues when you are sitting across from them, leaning back in your chair, with your legs and arms crossed and your hand on your face - all gestures suggesting you are closed off from the other person. However, leaning forward, arms in front of you with palms open, eye contact, appropriate facial expressions, and other indicators of interest will engender more trust.

Unless we take the time to recognize how these gestures might be interpreted and pay attention to our own nonverbal communication, we are possibly cutting off trust by our clients and that may hinder our ability to deliver good value. Alternatively, you may want to become a student of body language and other subtle (or not so subtle) cues so you can better judge where your client is coming from. Nothing says be careful like a words of confidence spoken by a person whose body language says they are not so sure.

Tip: Diversity in all its forms, whether ethnicity, age, nationality, lifestyle, gender or other types, brings with it complication of what body language really means. A friendly gesture on one culture may be seen as disrespectful in another. What is common in one generation may be confusing in another. A great book to sensitize you to how various cultures see the world and how to act and think appropriately, is Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries). This book opened my eyes to how to better understand verbal and nonverbal communication as well as appreciate different ethnographic and cultural perspectives (not only among countries but within your own). It is a fun read and valuable reference book.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  travel  trust 

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#698: Consultants Should Still Dress for Success

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2011
This may sound like a stupid question, but there are times I feel overdressed for meetings at my client's office. Every Friday is a "casual dress day" and there are some people who never wear a suit and tie or nice dress, including the CEO. Can I dress professionally and still be "overdressed"?

It seems that every generation goes through this question of how to "dress for success." There are plenty of books written and classes offered to help you select and dress "appropriately." Yes, there are even consultants whose practice centers around advising others how to dress for the job. Some consulting firms, in effect, have a "uniform" that supports their brand - either suit and tie or business casual, depending on the markets they are in, and they always dress in this style. Others are more flexible, letting individual consultants tie their dress to that of the client.

There are a few basic rules about how to approach this. The first is that this is about you and not your client. Regardless of what the dress rules are for your client, what kind of image do you want to project? What makes you comfortable and what do you want your dress to say about you? Dress or pantsuit? Sport coat or three piece suit? "Power tie" or no tie? You don't have to match the dress of your client (especially if each of your clients vary) - pick a style that works for you.

A second rule is addressing occasions that call for attire other than the office standard. For example, if you are invited to a company social or sporting event where causal dress is called for, you can dress casually. Casual, however, does not mean sloppy. Have a set of casual clothes specifically assembled for such events, don't just throw together whatever.

Tip: Select your clothes from a one or two sources that fit your style and budget and stick with them. This will help you create "brand continuity" and make sure your attire is not an issue of note. The bottom line is that your dress not be a distraction from what you are there to do - deliver services.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism 

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#615: Take Responsibility for Being a "Myth Buster"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 22, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 22, 2011
There are times when a client holds an idea that is easily refutable but they won't let go of it and their resistance gets in the way of my helping them. They pay the bills but how do I convince them they are just hurting themselves?

Assuming you are "right" and they are "wrong" and that all would agree that your job is to provide independent, objective and useful information, then a "mythbusting" exercise is in order.

A myth is defined as a story that is regarded as true, although its origin is unknown and may defy logic or deeper explanation. As analytical and critical as consultants are, every one of us operates based on some myths. So do our clients. Sometimes a myth to our client is a known falsehood to us. Hopefully, the reverse is less true. Finally, some myths are so embedded in our culture, educational system and management lore (or are still being pushed by business schools) that it is hard to convince people to give up, even with data, logic and examples on your side.

It is beneficial to discuss, even before the diagnostic phase of your engagement, what assumptions your client (and you) hold about the situation, your approach to the engagement, and the likely path toward a solution. It is fair that the client be able to see what myths underlie your thinking and vice versa. If you work in an industry or across a discipline for a time, you will begin to see the same assumptions. In many cases, these myths are what may be holding back the industry. Your ability to articulate them may give you highly valuable insight into how to fix them. Possibly the worst thing you can do is to press ahead with your "solution" before you have gotten to the bottom of these myths.

Tip: Consider preparing short discussion briefs or (very short) presentations addressing the 5-10 key myths that affect your industry, your client's position (e.g., finance, marketing, R&D), or your ability to deliver services. Discuss and reconcile these at the beginning of each engagement, Your client may not agree with you but at least you will have surfaced the issues. Refine these with each client, incorporating your clients' perspectives and challenges. You will quickly build up a powerful bit of IP (or a book!) of unique value to your consulting profession and your own clients.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assumptions  business culture  customer understanding  intellectual property  learning  management theory  product development 

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#595: Consultants Can Build Client Team Solidarity

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 24, 2011
Updated: Friday, June 24, 2011
Much of my strategy practice involves helping clients set up teams to help with change. When clients assign staff who don't know each other to the team, it just adds to my job of creating solidarity in the team. Are there any ways you can suggest to help create this solidarity so that the team can continue after I depart?

It seems like there are two issues. The first is how to get staff who don't know each other connected into a real team, and the second is how to help them retain that solidarity after you are no longer around to facilitate that connection. Here's one idea that may help with both issues.

One of the first times you meet as a team, create a notebook sized sheet of paper for each team member with their name on it. If you have a place where you do meet, post these sheets on the wall. It is a good idea to have a fixed physical place, a "war room" if you will, to hold your regularly scheduled progress meetings.

After a meeting or two, you will begin to notice something about each team member that defines them. It could be an expression, a figure of speech, a behavior, a concern, or other type of contribution. These are positive and desirable contributions to the team dynamic (including amusing behaviors that contribute to the unique culture of the team), not negative characteristics.

With you taking the lead, and doing so in front of everyone, declare that you have found a member's contribution helpful and write it on the posted sheet (e.g., their comment "how will this help with sales", or "are we following the agenda"). Once the team gets into the practice, they will feel free to put up their own observations about other members (members shouldn't make notes about themselves). This will encourage members to start thinking about the team as an entity and to focus on positive aspects of the task. You'll know when this is a success when team members really make this their own and actively look for positive contributions. It is OK if people want to note neutral, but obvious, behaviors (e.g., "always has to have the chocolate sprinkle doughnut") as long as everyone recognizes it as a unique behavior.

When the project is over, combine these sheets and make them available to each team member, including, if possible, a public reading of each person's sheet, along with the team leader's thank you for their effort.

Tip: As the consultant, get out of the way as quickly as possible, turning over to the client project leader the responsibility of encouraging and managing the notation process. Your role is to facilitate the development and integration of a positive team culture, but doing so from behind the scenes.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  client service  client staff  consultant role  goodwill 

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