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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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#727: Consultants Are Not the Only Game in Town

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Why is it that the same consultant's recommendations, even when fully recommended, sometimes have a huge impact on one client's performance and other times have little impact? The skill or insight of the consultant is just as good but the outcome is different.

There is far more in play here than just the consultant. It is easy for consultants to consider themselves the principal intervention in a client organization. After all, an executive has selected them from among a group of their competitors specifically to address a key challenge or opportunity. The executive team and consultant engagement director spend a great deal of time discussing weighty matters and strategic choices. The fate of the client organization hinges on the effectiveness of the consultant's recommendations.

A nice picture, if only it were true. In fact, a consultant is but one of many simultaneous factors affecting a client organization, before we even get to the flurry of other processes, cultures, and initiatives going on inside an organization while a consultant team is active. We are not the only game in town within the organization.

The same thing can be said of the persistence of our intervention. Both consultants and managers may conclude that a particularly innovative modification of a business model or strategy will take an organization to the top of its market. They are probably right - in a static, noncompetitive market, our recommendations would result in a better outcome. The problem is that there are other competitors, each with their own strategic initiatives (and consultants). We are not the only game in town outside the organization.

Tip: Humility and perspective are among consultant's best friends. Remember these two factors, (1) consultants are only one of many concurrent factors influencing an organization's performance, and (2) the specific impact we have will be disrupted by markets and competitors, each of whom is changing their own strategies to try to outdo our clients. Interventions are valuable if they improve the client's position over the long run, even if success cannot be attributed solely to the consultant.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  customer understanding  performance improvement  recommendations 

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#709: Play Nicely With Your Client's Other Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 1, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2011
During some of my engagements there are other consultants working for the same client. Occasionally, one of these firms or an individual consultant will bad mouth my firm or withhold information that is helpful to our work. Should I tell the client about this or will they see this as whining?

Let me share something a client once told me about a similar situation. The client said that, in her experience, consultants often seem to think that they are somehow floating through the company without anyone really knowing what they are doing. In reality, she said she is keenly aware of how consultants interact with each other. The quality of this interaction and mutual support was one of her most important bases of evaluation of the consultant. If a consultant is sandbagging or bad mouthing another consultant, she knows about it and usually will take action to correct it. If she didn't know about it, she wanted to know about any unprofessional behavior that was hurting client services

Your responsibility is to deliver the best value to your client possible. If you are not coordinating with other consultants working for the same client, you are not delivering the best value you can. Your client hired a group of consultants to solve specific problems or capture opportunities. Your service is better if you understand their tasks, which, since your firm was not selected for the work, probably is in an area you may not fully understand.

Tip: Take the initiative to introduce yourself to other consultants working for the same client. Ask your client if there are other consultants working on related problems and if he or she would make the introductions. Independently, suggest to (or ask) your client how you should work together and how or if you should bring concerns you observe to his or her attention. Emphasize that your ethics (this is a specific provision of paragraph 11 of the IMC USA Code of Ethics) require you to report negligent or dangerous behavior or malfeasance to the appropriate authority in your client's organization. Your client will respect you for your professionalism and the value of your services will increase.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA.

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  consulting colleagues  ethics 

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#702: Find Opportunities in Your Client's White Spaces

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Several of my clients are planning to restructure or downsize in advance of tougher times in their market. I worry that this might reduce my opportunities to provide consulting services. Any advice on how to avoid this?

Recognizing that clients do not exist for the purpose of providing you consulting opportunities, changes in a client's market or overall economic conditions do present a challenge for consultants. However, if you are in a position to see how your client is changing, it is also a great opportunity to increase the value you can provide.

Almost every change in an organization means a change on the organization chart. Positions are added or removed. Reporting relationship are altered. Overall structure may be leveled or new layers added. Each of these changes presents an opportunity to provide some services to smooth the transition. Ostensibly, these changes were thought out and intentional. However, sometimes they are made with some, but not enough, forethought.

Look at your client's organization chart as it is likely to be over the next year. You may have even suggested some of these changes. How are these changes going to affect the "white spaces," those parts of the org structure that are not related to specific authority and reporting relationships? What can you do to make them work better.

Tip: Once you have confirmed what the org chart is likely to look like, develop some recommendations of how you think it might work even better. Talk to some of the people involved in some of the changes (without violating any confidentiality rules) to confirm your insights. Once you feel you have a solid grasp of the emerging situation, develop some recommendations of how your services might help the transition. Thinking at the highest level will help you better understand your client and will likely let them see you in a more strategic light.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  creativity  customer understanding  recommendations 

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#662: How You Can Influence the Image of Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Why is it that individual executives seem to like consultants so much but there is a lot of contempt for consulting and consultants in general? Where is the disconnect and what can/should I do about it?

I suspect this is much like people's impressions of Congress: it is an awful institution, but my Senator or Representative is great! The disconnect comes from your familiarity with the consulting profession, relationships with specific consultants and the value consultants can and do provide. I spoke last week at the Annual Conference of Ethics and Compliance Officers and we had a lively debate about the impact on client organizations of consultant ethics (or recent lack thereof). Most of the discussion centered about high profile incidents of large consulting firms but I suspect there are also issues with smaller firms. Everyone agreed that the problem was with consultants other than those of their own organization!

Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit. When you ask executives who are involved in the decision to retain a consultant, are involved in their selection and management, and are close to the benefits they provide, consultants get a good or excellent rating. When you are an employee, an individual in "another" company or division, or a vendor whose business has been or will be disrupted by a consultant's recommendations, the reviews are not so positive.

What does this have to do with you? Well, since you are going to have an impact that will be perceived differently by different people, it may be in your interest, as well as your client's, to manage these perceptions. You don't want your recommendations to die in implementation because you didn't properly help staff understand what, why and how these recommendations are necessary for the company. Maybe this is the client's responsibility, but your effectiveness depends on laying the cultural groundwork for your recommendations to grow.

Tip: Work with your client to be sure that your role and the need for your services are properly explained to employees and other stakeholders. Don't assume that this is being handled by a simple letter of introduction or one all-hands meeting. You will need to manage expectations about how others understand and react to your presence and attempts to improve their organization. Above all, let them know that you consider ethics important and that you are bound by third party ethics compliance practices (like IMC USA's) and not just your own company's.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  consultant role  ethics  goodwill  reputation 

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#655: Is Your Client in Charge?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 16, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 19, 2011
One of my consulting colleagues and I have an ongoing argument about the respective roles of the consultant and the client to be responsible for the outcome of the engagement. She says the client is responsible for making sure the engagement provides the desired performance improvement, but I think the consultant is responsible.

Better this disagreement should be between your colleague and you than between client and consultant. This boils down to two things: clear definition of responsibilities and communication. When two parties to an agreement are unclear as to who is responsible for what, trouble can't be far behind. The longer this ambiguity exists, the greater the project can get off track.

Even with a contract, project plan or operating model, there may still be elements of an engagement that are unclear. At a minimum, specify, for each major resource, function, and task area, who is responsible for doing the work or securing the resources, who is accountable for the acceptability of the final product, and who is a necessary contributor. Have this discussion in a group where all parties are present so you can reconcile differences of opinion.

We are not done yet.. Perhaps more problematic than the initial responsibility/accountability consensus is the mid to late project affirmation of those responsibilities. As the project proceeds, tasks are likely to be added, deleted or altered. One of the worst things that can happen to a consultant is to assume that the project will work out even if the client is not keeping up their part of the agreement. They may get distracted (remember, your engagement is not the only thing on their mind), other company issues divert resources from your project, and staff enthusiasm for your work may dissipate. If your eye is not on the total picture, you may reach the end of the project having done "your" part but the outcomes of the engagement as a whole are unsatisfactory.

Tip: Here is where communication with your client is critical. At major milestones, review with your client project roles, your respective understanding and evaluation of how well each of you are keeping up your responsibilities, and what risks are emerging should those responsibilities not be met. Consider appropriate options if either you or your client are not meeting (or are at risk of not meeting) their obligations, including withdrawing from the engagement.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  professionalism  roles and responsibilities 

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