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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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#77: Toolkits for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I hear all the time about the XYZ Power Matrix, or the ABC Market Chart, but I can't seem to find many of these in the literature. Two questions: (1) are all these "processes" legitimate, and (2) are they written up somewhere?

As if managers have not created enough of these tools, processes, tips, protocols and approaches over the years, consultants are not afraid to do the same. There is a steady stream of "new" concepts, but most are variations of ones that have been used for years. For example, most consultants have heard of the Balanced Scorecard, but don't realize that this concept is over 75 years old and has been "rediscovered" repeatedly in several disciplines, including other than management. The same is true for minimax decision making or the profitability matrix. If you believe there is nothing new under the sun, then you probably shouldn't worry too much about not being able to track down every named concept you run across.

Tip: There are a few encyclopedias of management that list these processes. Browse through business school or online booksellers for a range of management dictionaries and encyclopedias. One I like (and is available for $0.01 used from Amazon) is The Vest Pocket CEO: Decision Making Tools for Executives. It lists more than one hundred of the kind of decision making processes that you talk about, most in a one or two page format.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  intellectual property  knowledge assets  learning  planning  process  professional development 

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#37: Is Your Consulting Just Too Complex?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I have been seeing a lot of people who want to be "thought leaders" in consulting and business. What ever happened to consulting with the tried and true?

There are two sides to the concept of thought leading. One is the sense that there are always opportunities to improve management practices and consulting approaches. The other may be what you are getting at: how do we know that "new" is better than "proven."

If, as an academic or consultant, you are familiar with management practices that do not work well or are rarely implemented effectively, you are likely to view favorably any opportunity to explore and experiment with a well-considered improvement. If, as a manager, you have had experience with consultants who have saddled you with a new and unproven, and ineffective, service, you are likely to view favorably sticking with more diligent application of well-proven approaches. Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Tip: The balance here is that it is OK to be new as long as what you are proposing actually works. Consultants have an ethical obligation to offer services only when they can demonstrate that such services have a reasonably likely chance of improving a client's situation. Having a clever idea that "might" work is not a solid basis from which to be a thought leader.  Keep it simple and serve your clients with what you know works.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  ethics  innovation  intellectual property 

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#10: Are You Practicing Evidence-Based Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 20, 2009
Occasionally I team with other consultants and get to see them in action. Some have rich methodologies and demonstrable results, while others are using methodologies they developed that have no apparent proof that their approach has any validity. Is it unethical to be promoting a consulting approach that has not been proven?

This is a tough question to answer. In healthcare, evidence-based medicine is largely the standard. Here, despite inherent variations in the characteristics of individuals and conditions surrounding treatment, scientific methods are applied to make best case decisions about medical interventions. A "best practice" has been proven to have broad applicability and predictable results. The standard of care does not extend to faith healing, experimental treatments, or other approaches whose results cannot be replicated and validated as arising from a specific approach.

Similarly, businesses are starting to press for evidence-based management. Results-orients, fact-based, proof cases are all terms coming into wider use. Managers are increasingly asking that interventions in strategy, operations or culture come with some evidence that they actually work. Even authors of best selling business books are criticized for researching what "best" companies do and then asserting that if you want to be great, you should be like those companies. This is the classic logic trap of post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this") in response to which managers are asking for more proof that advisors prove that their recommendations will have the intended effect. The many stories of consultants advising millions of dollars of change that has no effect are taking their toll.

Alternatively, there is a large gap between evidence-based medicine and management. Since management is not a specific discipline, is practiced differently in various industries and cultures, and is highly influenced by fads, it is harder to prove the cause and effect. Nevertheless, several universities have started programs in evidence-based management and are conducting research.

Tip: It unethical to promote an approach for which you do not have knowledge, much less confidence, that it will deliver the stated results. However, given the newness of evidence-based management, one does not have to produce research results to ethically assert that their approach has merit if they can provide client testimonials of its past successful application. Get your former clients to specify the approach you used and describe the results they got and connect the two. Be as explicit about the steps, rationale and expected results and risks in describing your own methodologies when presenting to prospective clients. Let other consultants critique your approaches and make them as rigorous as possible.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  ethics  intellectual property  process 

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#5: How Well Do you Know the Foundations of Your Discipline?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 13, 2009
I admire consultants who know more than just technique. If you don't know the history or theory of a discipline or the major thinkers, how can you create the right approach for your client?

Although more a statement than a question, your point is very well taken. Managers are often disappointed with consultants who apply techniques that don't fit with the client's specific needs. We all use our experience as the basis of our designs for diagnosis, findings and recommendations. We add to this the benefit of our conversations with our colleagues, research we do and books or journals we read. But some of our best learning can come from looking into how various practices came about. When were they developed, who developed them and why, what caused them to rise and fall from favor, what replaced them and who are the dominant practitioners today?

This kind of deep understanding is what large consulting firms look for in case interviews and IMC requires in certification panel interviews for the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation. You may not need an academic grounding in the full history of the discipline, but you do benefit from knowing enough how it is applied in many settings to be a capable user.

Tip: One of the best ways to hone your understanding of the nuances of your discipline is through case discussions. Gather a half dozen of colleagues you respect with varied backgrounds by industry, age, and perspective (some consultants and some executives). Pick a relevant case study or example from the newspaper and debate and discuss it. Having to defend your position in vigorous debate really deepens your understanding of your discipline.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  intellectual property  learning  professional development 

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#989: About Your "Revolutionary" Consulting Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Several consultants I know seem to be in constant demand by providing services developed by a famous author or management professor. Is this something I should add to my consulting portfolio?

Let's break this down. First, there will always be organizations that are willing to try something new when traditional approaches do not work. Business books are among the most popular simply because effective management of businesses is hard work. That doesn't mean, however, that the latest fad or book is any better than foundational business principles that get less press. You know what works; you have been honing your consulting skills and behaviors for many years.

Second, ethical consultants are obligated to provide independent and objective advice to clients. If you go and get "certified" in some author's new method, is this really in the best interest of your clients, whose needs you don't even know yet? When you are oriented around a solution rather than the problem, you risk becoming the child with a hammer for whom the whole world is a nail. Your "certification" can easily cloud your independence and objectivity.

Finally, who is to say that the latest book or research is even new? Bob Sutton, coauthor of the Knowing-Doing Gap, shows why there is precious little new in management, despite the steady stream of "breakthrough ideas" coming out of business schools and large consulting firms. In Management Advice: Which 90% is Crap? Sutton, who admits to being cited for introducing revolutionary ideas that were just repackaged old ideas, advises caution to both purveyors and consumers of the kind of advice consultants tend to give.

Tip: Before you try to convince your client (or yourself) that you are delivering "never before seen" management advice, do a little research to see where your ideas came from. Odds are really good that they have been tried before, and may or may not have been effective. Only when the methods proven to be effective (even if they require hard work) begin to no longer apply to your clients should you begin to search for alternatives.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  ethics  innovation  intellectual property  marketing  professionalism  your consulting practice 

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