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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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#728: Systemic Change for Your Clients Creates Opportunity for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Given the increasing pace of change in technology, economic disruption, management practices, social and generational expectations, and globalization, would you say change in consulting is evolutionary or revolutionary?

Good question, but it deserves the typical consultant's answer: it depends. You are on point that there are many consulting markets undergoing, or about to undergo, dramatic changes. Anything related to public services, the largest vertical for management consulting, is about to change in a big way. Uncertainty over revenue sources, planned cuts in services and evolving concepts of the role of government mean traditional public sector services, and the consulting services that support them, are changing. High demand services will continue to be provided but in different ways and possibly by the nonprofit or private sectors. Consultant agility in serving this transformation should be high on your marketing research agenda.

One good example is the advent of social impact bonds (SIB) as a financing mechanism for government services delivery. Started in 2011 as a $100 million federal pilot program, this could grow quickly to provide tremendous opportunity (and disruption) for consultants in areas of service delivery, finance, evaluation and program/project management. Instead of a traditional government program paying for delivery of services, an SIB is issued to a group of investors to provide specific service outcomes (e.g., reduction of veteran unemployment rate of 2.5% over 4 years). If the outcomes are achieved, the government pays the bond holders; if the targets are not met, investors get nothing. Taxpayers only pay for performance, not effort. If you are a consultant in the public sector or can advise efficient providers of these services, then you may either be losing a market or gaining a whole new service line.

Tip: Some consulting services will be slow and steady in serving clients much as they have for decades. However, disruptions in business generate corresponding disruptions in consulting. If you'd like to know more about social impact bonds, look at a short paper from the Center for American Progress.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  customer understanding  innovation  learning  trends  your consulting practice 

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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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#724: Use Humor Carefully in Your Presentations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 22, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2011
Including a little light humor in my presentations and speeches seems like a good way to improve how well the message is received. However, a joke that bombs can create a disaster. What should I do to make sure that humor is effective?

"An accountant, attorney and management consultant are in a lifeboat . . ." is one way to start a speech, or "Tom Feldman is the kind of HR Director that . . ." can kick off a client presentation. They can win the audience or start the paperwork to assure you are not welcomed back. Humor is something that needs to be planned carefully. If you can't pull it off well, then be cautious about giving it a key place in your opening remarks.

Also, consider why you think you need humor. Most consulting presentations are focused on informing or persuading an audience. Humor for humor's sake, especially if the audience doesn't know you reasonably well, is a risk. Save that great joke you just heard for your friends. If your presentation's purpose is to engage an audience, then these are most amenable to a lighter tone, if that is the culture of that audience.

A couple of thoughts:
  • Make sure the joke isn't offensive. You don't have to be mean to be funny and you might be surprised how easy it is (regrettably) these days to put off someone.
  • Make sure the humor is simple to understand. The audience should not have to work to understand it (a first principle of comedy). Don't require the audience to get obscure references or need information that few have.
  • Make sure the joke is blindingly relevant to the topic of your speech or presentation. Jokes are useful to introduce a topic or point of view, not distract the audience. Make sure the audience can find their way back to your intended topic.
  • Make sure humor is the best way to make the point. A serious topic should be expressed in ways other than humor.
  • Make sure the humor is timely. Most jokes have a shelf life - be careful yours hasn't expired by the time you deliver it.
  • Try it out on people like those who will be in the audience. This makes sure they get the joke and the point you are trying to get across.
Tip: Your talk doesn't have to include humor. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech did OK without an opening joke. So can yours.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  presentations  speaking 

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#723: Does Anyone Understand What You Are Saying?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 21, 2011
One of the first diagnostic tasks on an engagement is to review work of prior consultants for the client. Although I probably use more jargon than I should, some of these consultant reports are vague, unclear and some entirely almost unintelligible. Is this a problem for all consultants or just those my new clients have previously used?

Every profession has its jargon, concepts and approaches for which its practitioners are obligated to make clear to colleagues as well as users of their services. Do management consultants always do this? No, and there is one good reason for this. Our clients, in part, hire us for our experience in areas with which they are unfamiliar, for our perspective in seeing things in ways they may not, and for our insights into possibilities that they could not imagine. That sets an expectation that we interpret can only be satisfied by the new, the innovative and the complex. Adding to the mystery of this priestly concoction are terms and constructs unfamiliar to the reader. My own experience looking at reports done by some of the most highly regarded strategy firms in the world bear out that even heavily edited and professionally prepared slide decks contain stretches of imagination and presentation that clients assert don't make sense to them.

There are a few areas in which we need to improve. First is jargon, which doesn't sound like jargon anymore because we hear it all the time (e.g., "manage expectations," "boots on the ground," "results oriented"). Second is our use of concepts that sound good but make no sense in our work. These apply to both our application of the concepts we think we are using as part of our methodology and our communication of it to our clients. One good example is, "thinking outside the box." This implies both that you know specifically what the "box" is, and that you intend to frame the diagnosis or design in terms restricted to that "box," thereby precluding possible agility, innovation or disruptive concepts into your work.

Tip: A Forbes article on business jargon fairly well describes this phenomenon. Consultants, who are most susceptible to using it and are often in a unique position to influence it in a client's business conversations, are advised to closely monitor their use of jargon or tired business clichés.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding  presentations  speaking  writing 

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#722: Customer Service and Client Behavior

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Anecdotal information increasingly points to consulting clients abandoning larger firms in favor of smaller, boutique firms. Although lower cost is often cited as the reason, I am hearing a lot about customer service and flexibility as the reason. Are there any data to back this up?

Be careful about assuming any one reason for clients to switch consulting firms. There are at least three reasons for such changes to occur over a broad segment of the market. Readers will likely come up with more.

First is a change in what clients are buying. As the US market slows, companies are increasingly buying services to help them be more efficient and flexible, and may be cutting back, temporarily or not, on M&A and systems integration, engagements that usually go to large firms.

Second, the flexibility issue has been an issue we hear all the time. Clients appreciate the fact that large firms have a "tested and proven" approach but are unhappy that the approach does not fit their needs. Client satisfaction is a big reason firms change consultants. Accenture's Global Customer Satisfaction Survey finds more than half of respondents changed service providers because of inadequate customer service. Service is the leading reason people choose a provider and outranks price by 20 percentage points as a reason for switching. As personal and relationship oriented as consulting is, it is reasonable to assume that these data are applicable, if not understated, for consulting.

The third reason is that many larger (non-consulting) firms are beginning to shed their internal consulting units. This is a typical cycling of building and disassembling internal consulting units as the economy makes it cost effective to maintain them on staff. As companies shed internal units, they typically seek specialized skills found in smaller firms without high overhead.

Tip: Rethink your processes and attitude about providing stellar customer service and pay special attention to signals from your clients that your service is slipping. Above all, just ask them if your service meets or exceeds their needs.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  customer understanding  reputation 

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