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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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#222: The Value of Consultants Playing "Second Fiddle"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Having spent decades building my firm and procedures, I enjoy designing and managing my own engagements. Why should I team with others and compromise my standards and practices?

I can certainly understand your pride in the processes and practice you have developed. However, part of our value as consultants comes from the continuous advancement of our skills, perspectives, independence and objectivity. Part of that is not becoming stale in our skills or limited in our perspective. Whenever we have opportunities to learn new consulting skills or behaviors, we should take them.

Whenever we can expand our scope or perspectives, we should also do so. One way we can do this is to work with other consultants on teams. Sharing the design or management of an engagement helps us see that our approach is not the only one. Even when we don't agree with the other consultants on the team, who is to say that there is not some value in seeing how other industries or disciplines look at a management issue? Being part of a team does not require you give up your standards or professionalism, just that you let someone else take the lead.

Tip: There is something to be said, regardless of our level of experience, for playing "second fiddle" on a consulting engagement. After so many times of running the show, we are in a different position when we are asked to take direction from another experienced consultant. Seek out opportunities where you are providing just subject matter expertise and not serving as engagement manager. You will be surprised at how clearly you might better understand how your own approaches could be improved.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consultant role  consulting colleagues  engagement management  learning  roles and responsibilities  teaming  virtual teams  your consulting practice 

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#217: Email Management

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, January 12, 2010
What tips can you provide about making email less of a burden?

I assume you were referring to how you could do something to reduce the burden of email on you. However, reducing the volume and increasing the effectiveness of email starts with your own good practices:
  • As above, use "Reply All" sparingly. You should be able to delete many of the addresses of the email you received with multiple recipients by focusing on only those who really need to hear what you have to say
  • Put only those addresses from whom you want a reply in the "To" field; all others, and only if they need the information, should go in the "Cc" field
  • Do not use the "Bcc" field when forwarding any information, for ethical reasons. You can use the blind copy when the information you are sending is yours, but not that of others.
  • Stop a chain email when you no longer are adding to the conversation. Getting emails with a single line of "I agree" is frustrating.
  • Use alternative tools instead of email. Instead of sending dozens of serial emails to find a time to hold a conference call, use n application like Doodle.
  • Keep your email folders lean by saving documents and not using your inbox to store hundreds (thousands?) of emails you have read and are waiting to attend to later. This slows down your computer and risks corruption of your email files that may lose your emails.
  • Use your folders and filters to segment emails as they arrive. For example, you can route all emails addressed just to you in one folder, all emails from specific people in another, and all those from people not in your address book in another. This allows you to monitor only those messages you expect to be more/most important.
  • Finally, even though there are many more practices, one way to avoid the dreaded desire to recall an email you weren't ready to send is to always put the recipient's email in the "To:" field only after you have finished and proofed the email.
Tip: Spread the word. Write up these practices and place them by your monitor - and use them. Send them to your contacts and ask them to participate in a more efficient email community.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  communication  ethics  practice management 

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#151: Creating an Engagement Playbook

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 12, 2009
How important is documenting your consulting processes? I don't plan to write a book, nor are my clients the same from year to year.

In most cases, you would advise your clients to follow evidence-based management, so why wouldn't you do the same for your own practice? Even though many of our engagements are designed for each client, there are many similarities in our approach, execution and follow up. Over the years, whether we were or are in a large firm, small firm, internal practice or as an independent (often most of the above) we will develop our own best practices. Documenting these approaches allows us to jumpstart new engagements, bypassing most of the design phase. A "playbook" of project templates, evaluation formats, checklists and resources is one way you build differentiation and efficiency.

Reviewing your past practices, combined with regular reading and research about consulting and management, can lead you to steady improvement in your consulting. One place where you generate some of the most dynamic advances in your best practices is when you work with other consultants. Working with the same team may polish your approach, but working with other firms in partnership is where you test alternative approaches. It's like having in-house R&D.

Tip: Create a hardcopy loose-leaf notebook or electronic equivalent of practice management, marketing and engagement processes. If you haven't already done so, start building these with generic versions of each project's documents. Every time you conclude a project stage, look at how you might adapt or improve your playbooks. This might mean adapting an existing component or adding an alternative (e.g., marketing approaches for very different types of clients, process flows for different industries).

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consulting process  engagement management  intellectual property  market research  planning  practice management  quality  your consulting practice 

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#150: Managing "Pickup" Consulting Teams

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 9, 2009
I know clients increasingly want the right team of experts and don't want to pay for people just because they work at the same company as the star consultant. However, isn’t it problematic to assemble and manage a team of people you don't know?

That's the point of having a robust network of talented and ethical consultants. Yes, assembling and managing a team of independent experts is an acquired skill and takes some hard work. It is much like playing pickup sports, where many individuals, who have neither played together nor faced the other team before, create a team that has to perform. Each individual is a talented and successful individual in their own right, usually capable of running the team themselves. In pickup games, however, adaptation, flexibility and humility are required to weave together a team that often can beat a team that has played together a long time (the 1980 US Olympic hockey team playing the USSR comes to mind).

I am not minimizing the risks of managing such a team and recognize that it takes some extra work that a larger company may not have to do. However, there are benefits for both the consulting team members as well as for the client. For the consultants, each member must clarify and defend their cherished positions, methodologies and assumptions, in contrast with that situation if they were working with the same people they always do. This really keeps you on your toes and rapidly advances your expertise. For the client, the self-assembled team brings robust, innovative and validated thinking to a problem that a larger firm, usually having developed a branded standard methodology and using in-house research for which they usually consider a strength, cannot provide. These are the kind of comments clients who are trending toward use of boutique and independent consultants make when talking about their need for nimble, creative and cutting edge thinking.

Tip: Your ability to attract and serve these kinds of clients and win sizable engagements that used to automatically go to larger firms all comes down to your network. You need to know well and spend time with consultants from a range of disciplines and get to know how they work, what they know and their ethics. Certification is one good marker of a candidate for your future teams, but spending time in professional associations, doing pro bono work, and just talking over an issue you or they have will give you a sense of whether they are the right person you want on your "pickup" team.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  collaboration  consultant role  consulting colleagues  innovation  networks  practice management  proposals  sales  teaming  trends  virtual teams 

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#121: Will a Virtual Team Really Work Well Together?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 31, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I have just completed a bid on a project for which we assembled a half dozen specialists. Only a few of us have ever worked together before and I have some concerns about our ability to work well together when the project starts.

As clients look more for the right expertise, whether or not it is in a single firm, virtual teams are becoming more common. It is often best to work with people whose ethics you trust and technical skills you respect and people with whom you have already worked. However, this is not always possible and, on some highly specialized tasks, you must assemble the best people even if you don't know them. This is usually the responsibility of the engagement manager, who plumbs his or her networks to create a team. There are two ways to get a sense of how well a virtual team is actually going to work.

First, to what extent do you trust the ethics and business skills of the engagement manager? Is this someone with whom you have worked before? Was anything said or done during the development of the project approach or costing that gave you pause about this person? Would you trust this person to take over one of your engagements and expect good client services from them with your best clients? If so, then you passed the first test.

Second, how was it to work with the other team members? Was it a professional experience, with clear and easy communication? Did each person deliver on their responsibilities and effort, or were some reluctant to do their share? Were they respectful and generous in their approach to offering criticism and suggestions? Even if you have never met them, can you create a mental picture of them with some comfort? If so, then this bodes well for a professional and productive engagement.

Tip: When you find yourself invited to participate in an engagement pursuit, make a mental (or written) list of the criteria you would use in selecting a business partner. As you begin to work with the virtual team in developing technical and costing approaches, check off which individuals meet your criteria and which ones fall short. If you are not getting any information about a particular person or about one of your important criteria, dig a little deeper. Soon, you will have a good idea whether your new teammates are ones you can trust and respect. If they come up short in several areas, reconsider (quickly) if being part of this team is in your best interest.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  collaboration  consulting colleagues  ethics  marketing  proposals  teaming  virtual teams 

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