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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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#115: Demographics Can Hinder Consulting Team Alignment

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, August 21, 2009
I serve as engagement manager and make final decisions on our project approach, but some of the younger members of my team consistently push back on selecting strategy and tactics. Is it reasonable to expect that consulting team members recognize that we do projects a certain way or should I be more accommodating?

There are two issues here. The first is that having one "company way" to structure or execute projects may constrain you from delivering the best service to your clients. Each project has its own circumstances and preselecting an approach because you prefer it is inappropriate. In consulting, as in medicine, prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

The second, and possibly more significant, issue is the role demographics and perspective may play in this repeating scenario. If your partners differ in age, ethnicity, or gender (to pick just a few elements of diversity), it may well be that you approach consulting from an entirely different perspective. Take strategy formulation as an example. Your perspective can be on (ref Mintzberg) strategy as a plan, pattern, position, perspective, or ploy, and your approach could fall into one of the ten schools of strategy formation. Demographics influences your preferences for one approach over another (this presumes that strategy is even an appropriate approach for an organization). At the risk of generalizing, men tend toward mechanistic planning or positioning schools and women tend toward entrepreneurial or cultural schools. Older consultants may see the more orderly power or configuration school as the "obvious" construct, while younger consultants may favor cognitive or learning schools. This dynamic may also play out in your alignment with your clients if you have significant demographic differences with them.

Tip: Before you get to discussing engagement approaches, explore the constructs underlying your views of organizations and intervention. How do you see the roles of the consultant (advisor or partner), the use of information (confidentiality or full disclosure), the planning construct (analytical or cultural), client involvement (consultant turnkey or participative process), and timing (long windup grounded in full diagnosis or quick wins through rapid results processes)? When you understand your partners' (and client's) frame of mind, you'll have a better appreciation for how to align your engagement approaches.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  collaboration  consultant role  consulting colleagues  customer understanding  planning  product development  teaming 

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#111: Are Your Networks Social Enough?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 17, 2009
With the incredible array of online information sources about people and organizations, it doesn't seem that useful to spend a lot of time and money at in-person networking events. Are networking meetings dying?

You are describing two different activities, both of which are useful in developing your business. The first is information discovery, the collection of information about the environment, markets, players, and activities. This is a function that your online searches, clipping services, alerts and subscriptions can go a long way to fulfilling. Although the Internet seems like an endless source of this information, there are some specific skills needed to capture relevant, timely and accurate information (i.e., don't believe everything you read on the Internet and what you read may be accurate but out of date).

The second is information integration, the vetting, processing, and correlation of collected information. This is a function that you can best accomplish by spending time meeting with others and discussing the information you (all) have collected. Is the information you collected valid and current? Is it relevant to the issues to which you want to apply it? What other information is available that your sources might not have? Can the information you do have be used in other ways that might benefit others?

The most creative organizations actively switch between discovery and integration. A recent MIT study showed that about 40% of the variation in creativity can be attributed to this interaction between information processing modes. Furthermore, although the organizations and individuals with highly effective discovery processes are more productive than average, those with highly effective integration processes are significantly more productive. The conclusion is that online searches may be useful, but the person-to-person integration activities is the source of the highest productivity.

Tip: Robust information discovery processes are important but don't consider them a replacement for networking. What you may want to do, however, is to make sure your personal interactions are useful by focusing on the integration and information validation and exchange rather than the typical "exchanging business cards and shallow chit chat" focus of many networking encounters. Make your face to face time all about information integration.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consulting colleagues  contact information  knowledge assets  knowledge management  market research  networks 

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#102: The Implications for Consultants of New Leadership Paradigms

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I'd like to move my consulting focus to more closely work with leaders. What are the trends in leadership at the top I need to be aware of?

One of the most significant changes in leadership thinking is that leadership is not, if it ever was, about command and control from the top. Scholars of leadership over the past few decades considered that intellect, exercise of power, and control over subordinates and communication were main components of leadership influence and success. However, a closer look at highly successful organizations where the nominal leaders did not have these characteristics reveals a few insights about the real source of leadership. If you are thinking about leadership, it is important to build on these new insights.

Probably two of the more important aspects of this new view of leadership are that leadership comes from many places in an organization and that coordination and facilitation are more important than command and control. A consultant does not necessarily need a CEO as client sponsor to strongly influence leadership in an organization. Also, your skill set does not have to be about command processes. A better strategy is to help your client tap into the social, work and communication networks of the organization, understand the psychology and culture needed to help work teams reach consensus, and even better attend to the trappings of a leader's position (e.g., pay, perks, dress, behaviors, resolving disputes). Unlike in the past, employees have more power to decide whether and how they will be led. Your best advice for a leader is to understand how best to define how your client can find that "just right" leadership style and skill.

Tip: An increasing amount of research is being conducted to help both organizations operate with respect to leadership and followership. One good summary is from a Scientific American Mind article The New Psychology of Leadership, an article long enough to give you insights about how you can increase your value to clients. The point made here is that the most effective leaders are ones who help shape a group's identity and vision, then create a feasible strategy to get there. This makes it clear that a consultant's skill in traditional strategic planning process may have to give way to a new focus on helping leaders understand, facilitate and communicate from within a culture rather than From above it.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consultant role  customer understanding  leadership 

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#29: Recruit Your Partners Like an Athletic Coach

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 16, 2009
I've gotten to know a lot of fellow consultants, but most not very well. I've teamed with some of them, and the results were OK in most cases and sometimes not as well as I'd have liked. How do I know who is a good teaming partner?

This raises an interesting topic that consultants think about but rarely talk about. If a partnership provides teaming parties more than they could get without teaming, how can I make sure that I am getting far more than just the sum of the parts? This affects small consulting firms as well as large ones. A decade ago, when the world didn't change so fast, we could take time to build relationships with prospective partners and get to know them fairly well through low risk collaboration. As engagements have become more focused, faster and require more specialized knowledge, this is getting harder to do.

Think about all the ways sports teams are created. The goal is the same as a consulting teaming partnership - assemble the right mix of talent for the job (game, conditions and opponent) at hand. You can mimic pick-up basketball where you go with the tall or muscular kid, or the kid you know. Anyone you don't know , even if they are the best player, you pick later. Compare this to a college or pro sports team. A huge amount of effort is spent getting to know every potentially available player. Coaches spend precious time learning about a player from their coaches, opponents and teammates. When the opportunity arises, they know exactly who to pick. Coaches who don't recruit well are out of a job pretty soon as the quality of their team declines.

Tip: Think about the kinds of engagements you currently pursue, or the industries or markets in which you work. What skills or experience are you missing that would give you a leg up? Who are the key players who would know the best consultants in that space? Could you talk to them to find out who they recommend as a consultant and why? Talk to those consultants now, before you need anything from them or can provide anything to them. Develop a list of the 10-20 consultants you'd like to team with when a specific opportunity arose. Keep the list updated (and establish whatever level of relationship you think appropriate). When you need that great point guard/facilitator, you'll know exactly who to choose.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consulting colleagues  planning  teaming 

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