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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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#537: How Much Knowledge Should a Consultant Take From an Engagement?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Consulting is a great profession, in large part because, beyond the value we provide our clients, each engagement leaves me and my firm with tremendous learning and new expertise. Are there any ethical issues with using this knowledge?

A great question, mostly because it is a complicated one. First, what do you mean by "knowledge"? Most consulting engagements are "work for hire," meaning that any work products you create are the property of the client who paid for them. It may be that you can work out a nonexclusive rights agreement for use of your work with the client, but don't assume that because you created it (even if based on other work you already have done) that it belongs to you and you can do with it as you please. Especially if you are talking about a tangible product or a discrete methodology, work this out explicitly with your client.

Second, skills that you acquire and the experience you gain during an engagement do belong to you. This gradual accumulation of skills and perspective are a significant part of the value you bring to a client. After all, the breadth of what you have learned from all your past clients is what your current client is paying you to apply to their issues.

Finally, if it isn't spelled out in your consulting agreement, be aware that any proprietary data, technologies, market information, employee lists or other client confidential property that your client provides you does not belong to you and you may not use or disclose it outside the engagement. Sometimes you have used such client property for months (or years) and can forget that it really is not yours. Consultants can get into trouble if they are not paying attention to what is theirs and what is the client's.

Tip: It is worth a discussion, certainly after the conclusion of your work but preferably before you start, about rights in data, methodologies and work products. You really don't want to learn of conflicts in rights through either a letter from your client's attorney or from a rumor that your firm purloins client property.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  ethics  intellectual property  knowledge assets  trust  your consulting practice 

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#525: Understand How to Apply Ethics Principles, Not Just Know Them

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 18, 2011
Updated: Friday, March 18, 2011
I just learned that one of my client's key employees is planning on leaving to go work for a key competitor in a few months. I like and respect this person and feel that he is a real asset to my client's firm. What do I do?

The IMC Code of Ethics provides us some pretty clear guidance, based on sections 5.0 of the Code, "I will treat appropriately all confidential client information that is not public knowledge, take reasonable steps to prevent it from access by unauthorized people, and will not take advantage of proprietary or privileged information, either for use by myself, the client's firm, or another client, without the client's permission." and section 8.0 of the Code: "I will refrain from inviting an employee of an active or inactive client to consider alternative employment without prior discussion with the client."

Where key performers indicate that they are unhappy and are considering leaving your client, help your client to recognize and better utilize their potential. For instance, if you can see that an employee could be of greater value in another assignment, suggest reassignment.If you believe that they are likely to take key information with them, you have an obligation to not be a party to that action that may damage your client's interests.

For whom do you really work? Where is your obligation? Did you receive this information second-hand? Was there any confidentiality involved in the receipt of the information? Here are two strong guidelines you should always apply to situations like this:
  1. Remember that your primary obligation is to your client's organization.
  2. Do not receive information in confidence unless you can first ascertain that it will not prevent you from serving the best interests of your client.
Tip: Let's say one of your client's employees approaches you and says "I would like to discuss something with you confidentially." Stop them before going any further and simply say "I'm very sorry, but I cannot receive any information from you in confidence that would be potentially detrimental to my client (in this case, your firm is my client)." This might not be obvious to you but discretion, and a nuanced understanding of how best to apply the Code in various situations, is more useful than just "knowing" what the Code says. This conversation is probably best held between the employee and their supervisor - if the employee doesn't want to have this discussion, it is likely that you don't want to be involved either.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client staff  ethics  intellectual property  reputation  roles and responsibilities 

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#480: Regularly Rethink What You Know About Management Theory

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 14, 2011
Updated: Friday, January 14, 2011
As a consultant, I find it troubling to see the vigorous debate about fundamental flaws in what we all have assumed are the legitimate bases of management theory. Why isn't the consulting profession leading this discussion instead of staying on the sidelines?

I assume you are talking about Sumantra Ghoshal's 2005 paper Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices, which has been simmering for several years. Ghoshal laid out a cogent argument that the underpinnings of management and, derivatively, management consulting, are based on fundamental flaws in logic that lead to poor management priorities and practices. The consequences are destruction of capital, violations of ethics and perversion of employment practices. The "common wisdom" goals of maximizing shareholder wealth, only managing what can be measured, and characterizing people as self-interested profit maximizers are all unsupported by empirical and theoretical studies, yet we continue to teach them to managers and consultants.

My area of concern is ethical behavior and Ghoshal's premise leads to an unavoidable conclusion that we are seeing the behaviors that we have created by these false management theories. If we tell executives that their job is to maximize income, should we be surprised that financial manipulation to achieve that goal results in dozens of executives being charged with ethics violations and the evaporation of hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth as a consequence? To answer your question about why the consulting profession is not addressing these issues, it is generally not the place of consultants to recreate social or economic theories, although we should be more active in questioning why what we are selling to our clients is not having the effects it should on their performance.

Tip: Read Ghoshal's paper and many of the reactions of management theoreticians, economists, and social scientists over the past few years. It should shake your confidence in your understanding of management theory and the real wisdom of what you likely have been telling your clients about their business. Consider what you have you learned about management and spend some time exploring just how strongly it is supported by theory or facts.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  ethics  guidance  intellectual property  management theory  professionalism  recommendations  roles and responsibilities 

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#479: Start Creating Your Consulting Assets

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, January 13, 2011
Updated: Thursday, January 13, 2011
After a dozen years in business, our consulting firm is well regarded and we are considering our long term exit strategy. We do have a good client list but are not sure how we can create value if we decide to merge or sell the business.

Intangible capital is what professional service providers have to offer but few recognize how to turn that into an asset they could sell directly or parlay into something of value. Think about what you have to offer a client. Is it your winning smile or is it the possibly unique and probably proven approach you bring to solve their problems? Is it the good feelings your clients have when you have completed your work or is it the lasting value you created through your methodologies?

What you bring of value is the ways you use knowledge, judgment and technique to turn problems into solutions, and to create value out of potential. But keeping these only in your head creates three problems. First is your inability to explain or pass them along to others to leverage your time (you do want to scale your business don't you?). Second is your inability to improve their effectiveness through testing and validation (you do want to improve your service to clients, don't you?). Third is your inability to present your intellectual property in a format that someone is capable of understanding and willing to buy (you do want to show the full value of your efforts, don't you?).

Tip: You have intellectual property that you don't realize. Start writing down the scope, sequence and content of your methodologies. Start with your current or a recent project. Flowchart the steps in the engagement and draft one-page descriptions of the challenge, approach, resources, required, solution deployment, risks and mitigation, solution, and sustainability steps. Each time you start en engagement, review these methodology descriptions to plan your work. Each time you finish an engagement, evaluate and refine your methodologies. Over time, you will produce a tangible asset you have been creating throughout your consulting career.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  intellectual property  knowledge assets  learning  product development  your consulting practice 

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#467: Have Your Engagement Kickoff Process Ready to Go

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I am a relatively new consultant, with about twenty years of executive experience. Since each project is different, how do I go about starting the consulting process with a new client without customizing each project?

It pays to have a core process that you use to drive your clients toward a solution. Assuming your consulting practice focuses on a particular area of performance improvement, you probably start each engagement with some diagnostic effort. Although the path resulting from your initial diagnosis will vary by client and circumstances, you are likely to start that process with some consistency, especially as you improve your approach.

Peter Drucker would always have five questions to start off a management conversation. These usually resulted in management having to retreat a bit to figure out, then agree within their ranks, what the answers were:
  1. What is your organization’s mission? Why do you exist in the first place? What are you trying to accomplish for your customers?
  2. Who are your customers? Describe the person you wish to satisfy with your actions.
  3. What does your customer value? What is it that you do especially well that you are uniquely suited to provide to your customers? How can you exceed the standards set by your competition?
  4. What results are you trying to accomplish? How do you measure success?
  5. What is your plan? How do you go about satisfying your customers and getting the results that are most important?
Tip: Dedicate yourself to at least having your engagement kickoff process streamlined and perfected.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  engagement management  intellectual property 

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