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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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#637: Is Your Advice (or Timing) Overwhelming Your Client?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I have a client who asks a lot of great questions and wants us to diagnose and recommend in a lot of areas. But, when it comes time to present findings and recommendations, he doesn’t seem to want all we have come up with. Should we trim back our analysis or just find another way to give him all the information he originally asked for?

It is unclear that this is just a question of how much analysis to conduct. Beyond establishing mutual expectations about the scope of engagement, depth of your analysis, and format of the briefing and likely decision making, there is an issue of how much complexity you should impose on your client.

It is the nature of consulting that you will dig deeper into an issue and likely come up with content that is more than the client needs or wants. Don't confuse your roles as researcher and advisor. If you become enamored with all you have learned and try to present this to your client, regardless of how organized your data and clever your presentation, you run a real risk of hampering your client's ability to make sense of, and take effective action from, your work. Your goal is about client decision making, not your analysis.

Tip: Given the volume and complexity of information your client has to process daily (beyond what you are feeding him), your effectiveness starts with understanding how complex a decision space your client wants or needs. A recent New York Times Magazine article Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? makes an excellent case for moderating our own, as well as that of our clients', information for decision making. Another fascinating part of this article is about how decision making is affected by when a decision is to be made. This has important implications for when you schedule your briefings or when you expect your client to make a particularly complex or emotional decision. If you want to make sure your clients get the best you have to offer, this article is worth the time to find out how much and when to present the most effective information.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  communication  decision making  information management 

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#616: Let Others Compile Your Content For You

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 25, 2011
Updated: Monday, July 25, 2011
You often suggest that consultant need to expand our perspective by reading more widely than just about business and consulting. Does you recommendation come with some sources of current news and ideas in all these varies topics?

I am always open to your suggestions but I have two, one more global/conceptual and the other more about breadth/timeliness. The first is TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED is a set of conferences about new ideas, started in 1984, which has grown to include almost 1,000 videos (3-18 minutes) available online. TED talks encompass business, science, global issues, literature, economics, innovation and other topics. A TED a day is a great way to open your mind to new ideas, even new consulting markets and services.

The second is a compilation of blogs, organized into an easy to navigate hierarchical website called Alltop. There are hundreds of topics already on the site from which you can get a quick survey of news and ideas, but Alltop lets you create your own topic (how do you think the existing topics go there?). Alltop founder Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist for Apple, calls it an online magazine rack for your favorite topics (really a categorized RSS reader). What is great about Alltop is that it is not supposed to be a destination, but a set of doors to content you might not otherwise have found. You could create an RSS aggregator on your own but you'd miss out on a stream of new ideas and content sources discovered by others.

Tip: Don't work so hard to find content when there are good tools to help you compile it and let others help you in the process. The best thing about Alltop is that you can create your own custom page, like designing your own magazine. Look for these Daily Tips in the Consulting topic!

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  blogs  creativity  information management  knowledge assets  learning  market research  social media  technology  trends 

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#613: Build Insight with a Library of Lists

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Part of my marketing is to monitor lists of companies in business magazines (e.g., Inc, Forbes, Barron’s) to see which companies are growing and which ones are in trouble (we can advise either). Are there other types of lists that go a little deeper that can help me better understand industry trends but are not paid company research (which we are glad to pay for once we identify specific targets)?

General business magazines will provide general information like revenues, growth, number of employees, etc. For somewhat more detailed information, you can go to services like Hoovers, LexisNexis or D&B that collect deeper industry and company-specific data. For full details, as you say, find a business research firm, for which you will pay for services.

All these sources do provide current information but something you may be missing is lists that are not focused on just size and current year data. Lists generated for a segment of an industry, focusing on a nontraditional aspect of a discipline or that provide historical data can provide terrific insights.

Each of us benefits by creating a "list of lists" specific to our industry, consulting discipline and type of organizations to which we want to consult. Fortunately, both the culture and the technology of the Internet have created for a lot of people the willingness to compile and donate such lists and reference works. Wikipedia (In most cases) provides significant insight and currency on topics authored by experts). specialissues.com has one such LoL (List of Lists). This resource has both of the criteria mentioned above, a different view than traditional lists and a lot of historical data. In some cases, "historical" here may mean outdated or with broken links, but you can easily find updated lists.

Tip: It is useful to build a library of references like these lists. Plan out a series of bookmarks and folders (or use the visual network tools referred to in yesterday's tip) to set up your own instant research library.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  information management  knowledge management  market research 

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#612: Use Technology to Organize Your Knowledge

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
We have a client who wants to communicate the diversity of its various offices, its supplier network and other stakeholders. We want to make this available on their website in an organized fashion but there are some areas with a lot of content and some with a small amount, and a hierarchical structure is too cumbersome. What is a good way to organize this kind of disparate content?

Your question is a consulting task itself rather than a consulting tip because answering it requires more information about content type and volume, marketing intent, web capabilities, how the web fits into overall visibility strategy), how viewers are to use the data, etc. However, you may find some new technologies applicable, and these may be useful to your own consulting practice.

The usefulness of content hierarchies depends on a balance of volume, richness, depth and usefulness of content. Asymmetric content like you imply does make traditional lists or folders unwieldy. An alternative, available over the past few years, is visual network applications. Displayed graphically, these networks allow the user to interact with a network diagram to drill down or reconfigure content. Examples are Pearltrees and Spicynodes.

Pearltrees allows you to organize web pages in a network, with one main site (node) in the middle and branches you configure to other, related sites (the content of which you likely do not control). Intended to show how you organize your favorite web content, Pearltrees is a browser add-on to replace bookmarks and folders and (here is the powerful part) can be configured to connect to Pearltrees of others, much like is possible through delicious.

Spicynodes is similar but has static content entirely under your control. It is a way to visually organize information in a way that mimics the way you browse for content by exploring across links rather than looking at a series of folders. Both applications have galleries of sample networks. Both may take some learning but for what you describe, both would be powerful and intriguing ways to array information.

Tip: Consultants should keep current with these technologies for visual display of information for both their own use and to give a potent value added for their clients. Consider the relative impact of a few dozen static web pages and a more visual, intuitively navigated display like this. These also could be used to display information related to your engagement findings and recommendations. Lots of possibilities.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting tools  data visualization  information management  innovation  knowledge management  networks  presentations  usability 

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#610: Simplifying Your Writing to Better Communicate

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 15, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011
It is sometimes a little tricky deciding how complex to make my client briefings and analysis reports. Clients generally want precise and explicit language but reports that may be made public or for various audiences are best simpler. Are there any rules or advice about what level of reading difficulty is best?

First, take Albert Einstein's advice to "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." It is hard to go wrong writing as simply as possible, as if you were trying to explain your findings and recommendations to a 10th grader. Some consultants will bristle at this suggestion, claiming that their sophisticated analysis must mirror the complexity of the client's situation or market or strategy and all their communication demands complex language. This defies both logic and experience. Any consultant leaning on complex language probably lacks sufficient understanding of the basic principles and processes about which he or she is speaking.

Second, drifting into consultant-speak is a sure way to lose touch with your audience. You may have a vigorous discussion with your technical counterpart or the CEO using technical language, but it is the customers, staff, and other stakeholders who must eventually accept and act on your recommendations, If you want your findings and recommendations to live past the first reading of you report, put them in plain English.

You can use any of several automated tools to train you to streamline your words. These tools analyze your text for length and complexity of sentences and number of syllables per word. One document readability tool I like lets you enter text and gives Flesh Kincaid and other readability indices. This tool is really useful by telling you which sentences most violate simple language rules. Readability is stated as a grade level (i.e., number of years of education needed to understand the text). For example, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is at grade 13.4 (one year of college) while Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" is at grade 2.9.

Tip: Analyze your website, client reports, engagement letters, press releases and client communication. You will likely be shocked at how many of these communications are at college level. Use these analyses to simplify your writing. I suspect you will lose nothing of the meaning by streamlining the language.

P.S. This tip has a readability score of 11.2. A rewrite could simplify and clarify sentences without reduucing quality.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  information management  interpretation  presentations  publishing  recommendations  speaking  website 

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