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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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#714: Balance Your Intuition and Thoughtfulness

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 8, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011
When I began my consulting career, I was amazed by the ability of my mentor to just "know" the scope of a problem and come up with solutions. It was more than just having seen the problem before; it was intuitive creation that didn't require long analysis and contemplation. Is this something that can be taught (or learned)? It would be a really useful skill for a consultant to have.

Much of what we see in people who can seemingly instantly come up with a problem solution is pattern recognition. They have seen either the problem before or enough components to assemble them into an understanding of the problem. In many cases, this ability to recognize patterns is combined with a pattern creation capability in which they can then devise a solution. Oh, that we could all have this capability.

Yet there is a difference between what we consider intuition and what most successful problems require for their solution: thoughtfulness. As fascinated as we are by quick thinking, it carries with it a range of flaws and dangers, including recency and other biases. Thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is less revered and people who insist on deliberate, logical thought are often considered pedantic. Yet, deliberative thinking also carries risks, including bias, information overload, and overconfidence.

Each style has its proponents but it has become apparent that neither is very effective by itself. If we want to be a productive and effective consultant who recognizes patterns and creates robust solutions, we need to learn how to use both capabilities together. We spend so much time learning consulting processes, analytical techniques and interpersonal skills that we neglect learning how best to effectively use our thinking engines.

Tip: A terrific journey through this issue is Dan Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Like much of Kahneman's work on judgment, intuition and decision making under uncertainty. it should be considered a user's guide to the consulting mindset. This is one of the best books on the subject and one that bears reading twice.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  contact information  creativity  decision making  knowledge assets  knowledge management  learning  process 

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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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#680: Capture the Essence of Your Consulting Session

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 21, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011
I do a lot of facilitation and think I have worked out a good process to summarize the activities and outcomes of the sessions. I am always looking for an edge to improve the long term effectiveness of my facilitation. Any ideas?

We are all familiar with how quickly the memory and effect of these sessions can dissipate. People are brought together, who often may not know each other or know them well, and are expected to sustain a connection with each other and the outcomes of their work. By its very nature, this is a hard expectation to meet.

Our typical work product is a briefing to the client and some kind of written report. You probably know best what kinds of improvement within the facilitation process itself will work best for your clients, but here is an idea to strengthen the connection of participants to each other and to the outcomes. Take pictures of the event, including the setting (especially if it is an offsite event), the work room, facilitation teams, and even non work moments (meals, social time). Use a high resolution camera, not your camera phone. Make sure every participant is represented and that you can identify each of them. These can form the basis of a visual record of the event that significantly exceeds the impact or longevity

Tip: Create a picture book of the event, maybe even with commentary or quotes from the participants. There are many online services Blurb, Picaboo, Shutterfly and others) to which you can submit your photos and they will print up a book that you can provide to your clients (or all participants, if appropriate). With the price of print on demand decreasing in the past few years, this is becoming easier and cheaper. For less than $40, you can deliver an incredible memento for your clients (including a photo of you that will help them remember you even more). This will be an effective reminder of their work and something they likely haven't received from any other facilitator.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting process  creativity  facilitation  goodwill  recordkeeping 

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#654: Alternative Ways to Pay Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 15, 2011
Companies are being squeezed for cash like no other time in our lives. Even though, in theory, they really need consulting services more than ever, how are they, practically, going to pay for them? Can I be proactive to suggest alternative compensation strategies?

We are hearing from a lot of clients that are hitting the wall with all but essential expenditures. As much as we like to think of our consulting services as an investment rather than an expense, and an investment in efficiency and effectiveness, sometimes there is just no getting past the fact that your fees are a check that has to be written. Many clients will increasingly find it hard to pay your fees unless you can help make the case (usually in a new way) that your services are high priority.

Occasionally mentioned but never getting much traction in the past, pay for performance seems to be making a comeback. This is partly because clients want to make sure any investment (including you) is worth the cost, but also because clients are looking for more accountability from consultants. Satisfied with results of other pay for performance or gainsharing agreements for other professional services, executives are exercising their fiduciary responsibilities by asking consultants to assume some of the risk of investing in their intangible services.

What does this mean for you? Maybe nothing, or at least until your client asks you to discuss pay for performance instead of a daily rate or project fee. However, it makes sense to be prepared. Talk to your colleagues in IMC or in your industry about their recent experiences in structure of compensation.

Tip: Be prepared with data and an approach that works for you when the subject arises with a client or prospect. Work out in advance what kind of structure makes sense for you. Recognize that you should only be assuming risk for those portions of the project over which you have control. If you are making recommendations but have no control over implementation, how much risk should you assume? Conversely, this option for risk/reward trade off may be a powerful incentive for the client to involve you more deeply in implementation and management of your recommendations. If this is what you want, build that into your proposed compensation model.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  creativity  fees  innovation  proposals 

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#643: Put Power Back Into Your PowerPoint

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I know Ed Tufte and others decry the overuse of PowerPoint and presentation software, but my clients insist on this format for their briefings. I do use nonstandard templates and animation (within reason) to add interest but what else can I do?

"Death by PowerPoint" is a well known affliction of consultants and their clients. The widespread availability of presentation software has made formerly elegant and compelling presentations (and speeches) into linear, low resolution and predictable marches of standalone points. Some people are better at PowerPoint than others but this usually is due not to the clever use of software but by the design of the content.

Think about what a presentation is about. It is an attempt to convey a message, often to influence an audience. It may dispense information, introduce concepts, startle the audience or drive at some other outcome, but the most effective method to convey these are in the form of a story. This communication form really is amenable to almost any presentation content. The goal is to inspire, influence and for the audience to remember. This means using the continuity of a narrative.

This is not about graphics or clip art or animation. It is about thinking through the communication before you ever put pen to paper (or mouse to screen). Begin by storyboarding and build in your information only after you identify the needed scope and sequence. Often we have the points we want to make in our head, we create a rough outline, start generating slides, edit, add graphics, resequence slides, dry run, polish and we are good to go. Active verbs in slide titles, horizontal logic, roadmaps, colors as visual cues, chunking of the story, audience interaction, timing, the first few slides, and other parts of a presentation must be well designed before you even draft the first slide. Tip: For a good tutorial on how to make your presentations more powerful (and memorable), see Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points for concepts, resources and tips on putting the power back into your PowerPoints.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  creativity  presentations 

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