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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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#598: Listen to Your Gut - Really

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I probably take in too much information about business, management, industry and consulting for my own good. A lot of it seems to be variations on the same themes, and over time, a lot of follows the herd, with each new fad attracting the same authors and speakers. Would I be missing anything if I just saved myself a lot of time by cutting back my research?

A product of the Enlightenment, our centuries old assumption that logic, learning and analysis is where we get our best ideas and decisions may be in question. Research on the enteric nervous system associated with the gastrointestinal system sheds new light on nervous system effects coming from other than just the brain. However, it is now understood that this is tied into our emotional system (e.g., "butterflies in our stomach"). This system doesn't help with your decisions about strategy, finance or logistics, but it does contribute to our reactions to others, our comfort with our own decisions or activities, and in other as yet undefined ways.

Lest you think this is a bunch of foolishness or new age thinking. check out the Scientific American coverage of the 1999 book The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine about how stress, emotional reactions, serotonin production and other functions that we always assumed took place entirely in the brain also are (literally) affected by our "gut."

Tip: Following your gut is only as good as your ability to really hear what it has to say. Pay attention and be sure the voice you hear is not an echo of the crowd outside. It does take a while to develop a sense of who you are as an individual and what you stand for as a professional. Certainly pay attention to trends in business and consulting, but once you have a good consulting sense, dial back the input and use the time for thinking instead of input.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  decision making  health  learning 

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#586: How Would a Consultant Advise the Consultant?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 13, 2011
Updated: Monday, June 13, 2011
When working with other consultants for the same client, different perspectives and histories (and strong wills) can sometimes bring the discussion or problem resolution to a screeching halt. We all want to do right by the client, but how can these differences be resolved when each of us is "right" in some sense?

Clients often hire consultants for our independence and objectivity. However, independent means independent from the client, not necessarily from other consultants. Our job is still to provide our best analysis and recommendations for the client's welfare. That our recommendations may differ from those of other consultants working for the same client does mean we have an additional burden to resolve these differences before they get to the client. The worst thing we can do is to present our differences to a client and ask the client to sort them out.

One solution is, having listened to all perspectives from the various consulting teams, to ask us what would a new consultant recommend to all of the current consultants? We all know our individual consulting positions, but if we asked an independent "third-party" consultant to address our differences, how would he or she make that decision? Would it be through consensus building, forced triage, or some other method? Consider what process that person would use to cut through the self-interested positions (yes, even consultants have their own biases).

Tip: Make it a point to study group decision making processes, even if it is not your principal consulting practice. Helping a client come to agreement on an issue is no less of a value added than it is to facilitate a group of consultants to reach agreement on a client’s behalf.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  consulting colleagues  decision making  recommendations 

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#549: Alternatives for When a Client Asks You for a Decision

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 21, 2011
Updated: Thursday, April 21, 2011
Sometimes I am in a bind when clients ask me for a decision between two options or my recommendation before I am ready to provide one. I recognize the client is paying but what if I am not comfortable with the options provided?

First, remember that there are almost always more options than those provided. At a minimum, doing nothing is an option. In our haste to improve the client's position, we sometimes forget that every decision has pros, cons, risks and unknowns. A compete assessment of options includes the "do nothing" scenario. In most cases, the client has not conducted a full assessment of "no change" in strategy or activities and the outcomes are often not as bad or good as previously presumed.

Second, be clear with your client - well ahead of time - about the conditions under which you consider options ready for a decision. How complete does information gathering need to be? How extensively do staff need to provide input? Which options (including those that were tried previously) should be included? Who should be involved in the decision and by what protocol should it be made? Finally, when does a decision need to be made? Sometimes clients want to make a decision sooner rather than later just to "have all their options on the table" even when no action will be taken based on the decision. My recommendation is to not make a decision before it needs to be made.

Tip: As an advisor to management presumably accountable for the outcomes of your advice and decisions, you need to be in control of as much of the process as you can be. Walk your client through your recommended decision process and agree on criteria and processes you will use to consider options and decide among them. Only bad things can come from you both assuming you will "figure it out when the time comes."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  analysis  decision making  recommendations 

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#543: Be Sure You Are Measuring Your Client Correctly

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Are there a set of best practice performance measures or do these vary by industry, region, type of organization, etc.? It seems that there is no agreement as to the "right" metrics (or do people just pick the ones for which they compare favorably)?

It does seem sometimes like performance measurement is a combination of art, science and public relations. Good practice suggests a consultant select a formal measurement and management model, develop a portfolio of metrics that can be used to compare progress over the long term (and with competitors or benchmarks), and compile and validate performance data. The dirty part of this exercise is the selection of metrics that are valid and actionable.

There has been some effort lately to rethink the traditional performance metrics. Financial metrics have a lot of history and may stay the same but measures like public trust, raw material sustainability, employee loyalty, innovation, knowledge asset growth, organizational agility, and process efficiency are being debated. The key is to find a set of metrics that are valid (measure what they say they do), reliable (measure consistently over time) and actionable (support fact-based decisions). Creativity may be necessary to develop a suite of metrics that support emerging strategic or tactical direction of the organization. They may not look like those of your client's competitors or that it used in the past but you owe it to your client to measure effectively.

Tip: If you are interested in this issue at a national scale, check out Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up. Joseph Stiglitz addresses the longstanding problem of making national policy on GDP, a fundamentally flawed metric that excludes some desirable value added activities (e.g., unpaid work, sustainability) and includes destructive activities as "productivity" (e.g., weapons production, pollution, and clear cutting old growth forests). This serves as a counterpoint of how you might discuss a new set of metrics with your client.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting tools  customer understanding  decision making  evaluation  innovation  methodology  performance improvement 

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#478: Get Your Recommendations Implemented

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I am sometimes disappointed by seeing my recommendations implemented poorly or not at all. The client fully accepts my analysis and findings. Why do my recommendations have so little impact on the client's organization?

Failure to effect change is usually less a result of our poor quality evaluation but our ineffective entry into the organization's decision making process. There are two areas where this can be improved.

First, many clients are reluctant to cede too much power to consultants. Without the trust of a long term relationship, a manager prefers to accept your professional findings and recommendations but retain action decisions for themselves. This is why many consulting engagements terminate at the report of findings stage and do not carry over into implementation. If your client refuses your participation in implementation, then don't be upset if they choose to make their own decisions about how to use your recommendations.

Second, and something we can do something about, is the need for consultants to better understand how our recommendations will be used before we present them. Who is really the decision maker (it may not be your client)? How are decisions made in the organization (consensus/vote, executive/unit level, fast/slow, phased/full, etc.)? What is the preferred format for presenting findings and recommendations (report, briefing, data, group discussion, side conversations)? What role do data vs. presenter credibility play (was a recognized analytical model used, are data in familiar format, and were staff broadly involved in analysis)? Do people know how the recommendations will benefit them (what's in it for various stakeholders)? What other questions can you think of that relate to acceptability of recommendations?

Tip: Superior analysis and cogent recommendations are of limited effect if you are unable to insert them into the decision making process. Starting at the beginning of the engagement, be thinking, and talk to your client, about how your recommendations will be presented.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  communication  decision making  recommendations 

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