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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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#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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#527: Rethink Email Addressing Categories

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Where a person is addressed in your e-mail (direct send, "CC" [or carbon copy] or "BCC" [or blind carbon copy]) can make a huge difference on how your message is received and processed.

In today's instant delivery of information, the use of addressing categories of "CC" and "BCC" can be double edged swords. Both save you the effort of composing multiple individual emails for every intended recipient. BCC actually helps you to work around some of the issues that can arise when using the "CC" (privacy, discreteness, elimination of a large number of addresses at the head of the email's body, etc.).

However, have you ever thought closely about how the recipient views their placement in the address categories? How does Laura view being "CC'ed" versus directly addressed? Does she pay less attention to the message, feel less important, or is she just happy to receive the information? Was this your intent? What do you expect her to do with this information if she adheres to the convention of being addressed as CC implies you do not expect a reply.

What about Terry's placement on the "BCC" list? Is he being given access to information that others would not feel is appropriate, or has he been placed there because the sender does not want his name to appear to the other addressees? Think about what would occur if the addressees in the "Send to:", "CC" and "BCC" categories were interchanged. Perhaps it will provide you with a new perspective on how and when to use these categories.

Tip: Consider the order people in which addressees are listed. Even if you don't care, your recipients may consider the address order as hierarchial. Take a moment to think how each recipient will view their selected placement. Always be sensitive to others and be careful not to unintentionally slight someone through careless ordering.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  confidentiality 

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#435: How Consultants Get Into Ethics Trouble

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 12, 2010
Updated: Friday, November 12, 2010
Ethics has obviously become a huge concern in business. New federal regulations on professional service firms require them to have codes of ethics. Am I OK as long as I do my job as a consultant professionally, or do I have to be concerned with the ethics of my clients and colleagues?

Ethics for consultants is increasingly complicated, and one reason why the professional conduct associated with the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation is of increasing interest to businesses hiring consultants. Consider the following scenario:

A CMC consultant was contracted by a business security services provider. It is important to note that an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) exists between the consultant and the security provider. The provider had recently uncovered a systems security breach at one of their clients, a publicly traded corporation. During the breach investigation it was discovered a "Bot" had been attached to the Oracle database. A "Bot" is a computer program that is unknowingly installed on a computer system and performs predefined repetitive tasks. These tasks can include espionage activities like stealing competitive information, customer data and even financial information. The Bot had been programmed to copy and send product costing and pricing information to an external web site.

The CMC advised the business security provider that given the type of data involved, the competitive position of their client may have been compromised. This event needed to be reported to executive management due to possible material damage to the company's sales and their competitive position. This being the case, it may need to be disclosed due to Sarbanes-Oxley regulations as well. A meeting was called with the business security service provider's direct customer. In that meeting with the head of IT and the head of security, the CIO demanded that this not be communicated in any way to anyone.

Tip: This could happen to any consultant, not just computer or security consultants, and you would be obliged to respond appropriately. Consider how you would do so. Does the NDA control your actions? Should you go to the CEO, state attorney general, your client, the Board, someone else? Say nothing (since "it's not in your scope of work")? Try to reason with the security provider? Resign from the engagement? Not so clear, is it? Would more information help? This is why ongoing discussions of ethical situations are so important.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  confidentiality  ethics  reputation  roles and responsibilities 

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#368: Protecting Your Ideas

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I have an idea I want to patent, but I am aware that it is a time-consuming and expensive process. How can I show my idea to a potential buyer while still providing some fundamental protection for my idea until it is formally patented?

A starting point might be a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) stating that the audience being presented to will not share (or ultimately use) the information being presented. Unfortunately, some companies will not sign these agreements. Also, many people will tell you that an NDA sounds good but they are very hard to really enforce. Nonetheless, the formality of an NDA will make the point that you are serious about your ideas.

You might also consider a Provisional Patent Application, which is available from the US Patent Office. The PPA was designed to provide a more affordable first U.S. patent filing, enabling you to quickly secure an initial filing date for your idea. A PPA also legally allows you to use the words "patent pending" — a warning to those who might copy your idea that they risk patent infringement.

Once you have filed a PPA, you have 12 months until the deadline arrives for filing a required full patent application. If you choose to file the full patent prior to the end of this 12 month period, the original PPA filing date can be used as the filing date on the full patent application. If, within that 12 month period, you decide that your idea in its current format is not "patent- worthy", you can simply abandon it, ultimately minimizing your up-front investment.

Tip: Filing for a U.S. patent can be complicated. A good place to start in order to gain some clarity is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website ( In addition, do not be afraid to seek out professional guidance and advice when required (e.g., a patent lawyer).

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  confidentiality  innovation  intellectual property  knowledge assets  product development  recordkeeping 

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#324: Non-Competes for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, June 10, 2010
Updated: Thursday, June 10, 2010
A prospect wants me to sign a ‘non-compete’ clause. It's a sizeable contract but I am reluctant to sign a non-compete. I've never signed one before. Should I just tell them I won't sign it?

If you flatly state that you won't sign under any conditions, you are at high risk of losing the assignment and maybe that's acceptable to you. But there are other things you can do to handle this situation more effectively.

Start by determining, without being defensive or antagonistic, the rationale, history, and flexibility the organization that is behind their request for the non-compete. It may be that they have been recently burned by a consultant or just that they have a conservative legal counsel. Once you have the business reasons for their concern, explore alternatives with your client. Describe these alternatives in the form of scenarios they will accept, person to person. Don't get into the legal terms - those are for formalizing what you two agree to in business terms.

Then run this past your attorney. The clock is ticking, so act quickly. Find out what your attorney recommends in order to minimize your exposure and liability in time and dollars. Go back to the client with suggestions for revisions (or it may be that your attorney has recommended you not sign) and would like to talk to the client's attorney. The key in successfully resolving this situation is to maintain a highly cooperative attitude (in business terms) while making sure to limit your exposure and freedom (in legal terms).

Tip: Some non-compete clauses are unnecessarily restrictive and guard for every possible contingency. Given that your objective is to improve the effectiveness of the client's condition, consider framing your non-compete discussion in terms of how, given your professionalism and ethics, a non-compete is a constraint on that effectiveness. Make a strong business case for an appropriate non-compete, or none.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  confidentiality  customer understanding  goodwill 

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