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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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#713: Don't Take Your Client's Assessments at Face Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost every engagement starts with the assumptions of the client about the problem, its causes and at least some suggestion of its solution. I don't want to be disrespectful but to what extent do we consider the client's assertions valid as a basis to start our work?

This is a great question, since it lies at the heart of the consultant's value or lack thereof. Presumably we are retained to provide independent and objective advice. This includes testing the assumptions of the client. As Will Rogers said," It ain't what we know that's the problem. It's what we know that just ain't so." If the client's assertions about the cause, problem and solution are right, then why are our experience and judgment needed at all? You are not insulting your client by validating his or her assertions - it is why you are there.

Another issue is whether a client's staff, or vendors or customers, should be considered the same way. Many organizations have a culture that represents that management doesn't know what is going on but staff really does. Or that the customer is always right - regardless of what an organization thinks of the services or products they provide.

Here is a good example of how perceptions vary widely within a company. According to a study of how companies work, managers see their companies as self-governing and egalitarian. Employees see nothing of the sort. How would you advise organizational change if you faced a client with perceptions internally differing as much as in this survey? DO you believe the management or the employees, or neither?

Tip: Consultants would be wise to treat information or emotions or conclusions provided to them at the start of an engagement as just that - firmly held beliefs of the source. All information needs to be verified and we, as independent and objective professionals, do well by not taking anything at face value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client staff  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning  market research 

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#672: Be Careful About Naming Names

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
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. An understanding with your client sponsor as to the scope and disposition of interview data is always a good idea.

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. Your credibility as an impartial and ethical advisor hinges on how you handle what others may expect to be confidential conversations.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client staff  confidentiality  ethics  reputation  trust 

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#629: Be Aware of Differing Client Attitudes Toward Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 11, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Why is it that almost every client has at least one manager or senior staff member who seems annoyed with or even hostile toward consultants? Should a consultant deal with such people directly or through the client sponsor?

First, recognize that attitudes toward consultants can vary significantly, Just because an executive retains a consultant does not mean that everyone, or anyone, else in the organization is happy to welcome or support you. Most do because they respect management's decision and they are likely to recognize the solutions a consultant is being retained to create are potentially productive for the organization.

Second, don't assume that it is in your, or the organization's, best interest to "deal" with suspicion or opposition of client staff by suppressing it. Consultants are brought in to address change, usually because something is not working or could work better. Change means stress, which means emotion, which means behavior that can be supportive or oppositional. Before you decide to shut off a potentially productive conduit for useful information and emotion, consider the damage that could be done by bottling it up.

Third, remember that it is not your organization. You are free to advise your client that your job may be difficult politically, or even logistically, due to active opposition or hostility. But unless you feel your person or property are in danger, it is not your call to decide whose behavior to manage. However, it is useful to advise your client of the facts, and your opinion about the impact certain behaviors will have on the organization's culture, performance and image.

Tip: Consultants brought in to manage an engagement can, if they are not careful, lose sight of whose organization they are dealing with. Embrace differing attitudes toward you and the likely change assumed to arrive with you. Our true value is our independence and objectivity. Stay focused on the engagement, not the people, brand, strategy or other areas that are the legitimate responsibility of management.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client staff  consultant role  customer understanding  engagement management  goodwill  professionalism 

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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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#573: Do You Really See Your Client?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Some people want the consulting-client relationship to be all business and others are not so strict. When is it appropriate to get to know a client personally instead of just professionally?

Professionalism does not dictate that you necessarily be "all business, all the time." Also, consider that "personal" and "business" do not constitute the end points of a relationship continuum. These are two of many aspects of a relationship that range from deep to shallow. The extent to which you engage your client personally depends on interpersonal chemistry and any concerns about actual or perceived conflicts of interest. The extent to which you engage your client on business aspects depends on the nature of the engagement.

One thing that every consultant should understand is that everyone likes to be acknowledged and respected. It is painful to watch some consultants ignore junior staff during project meetings, or to talk about people in the third person in their presence. Some may do this because they don't want to get too personal with client staff, presuming that their relationship with the client is only with the executive. Others may behave this way because they really don't have respect for those outside the line of sight between consulting engagement manager and client sponsor. I hear this mostly from clients talking about larger consulting firms, where it is more likely that roles of marketing, selling, service and quality assurance are separated. But it is not firm size, per se, that creates this problem for clients, but the lack of seeing the whole client and staff through the whole relationship.

Tip: Regardless of consulting firm size or separation of roles, it is incumbent on the consultant to be sure that they really "see" the client across both business and personal areas. At a minimum, if you don't really get to know the personal issues of the staff and all stakeholders across whose paths your engagement takes you, are you really fulfilling your ethical and professional obligation to give full understanding, independence and objectivity to your diagnosis, findings and recommendations?

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  client staff  consultant role  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism 

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