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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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#714: Balance Your Intuition and Thoughtfulness

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 8, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011
When I began my consulting career, I was amazed by the ability of my mentor to just "know" the scope of a problem and come up with solutions. It was more than just having seen the problem before; it was intuitive creation that didn't require long analysis and contemplation. Is this something that can be taught (or learned)? It would be a really useful skill for a consultant to have.

Much of what we see in people who can seemingly instantly come up with a problem solution is pattern recognition. They have seen either the problem before or enough components to assemble them into an understanding of the problem. In many cases, this ability to recognize patterns is combined with a pattern creation capability in which they can then devise a solution. Oh, that we could all have this capability.

Yet there is a difference between what we consider intuition and what most successful problems require for their solution: thoughtfulness. As fascinated as we are by quick thinking, it carries with it a range of flaws and dangers, including recency and other biases. Thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is less revered and people who insist on deliberate, logical thought are often considered pedantic. Yet, deliberative thinking also carries risks, including bias, information overload, and overconfidence.

Each style has its proponents but it has become apparent that neither is very effective by itself. If we want to be a productive and effective consultant who recognizes patterns and creates robust solutions, we need to learn how to use both capabilities together. We spend so much time learning consulting processes, analytical techniques and interpersonal skills that we neglect learning how best to effectively use our thinking engines.

Tip: A terrific journey through this issue is Dan Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Like much of Kahneman's work on judgment, intuition and decision making under uncertainty. it should be considered a user's guide to the consulting mindset. This is one of the best books on the subject and one that bears reading twice.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  contact information  creativity  decision making  knowledge assets  knowledge management  learning  process 

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#713: Don't Take Your Client's Assessments at Face Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost every engagement starts with the assumptions of the client about the problem, its causes and at least some suggestion of its solution. I don't want to be disrespectful but to what extent do we consider the client's assertions valid as a basis to start our work?

This is a great question, since it lies at the heart of the consultant's value or lack thereof. Presumably we are retained to provide independent and objective advice. This includes testing the assumptions of the client. As Will Rogers said," It ain't what we know that's the problem. It's what we know that just ain't so." If the client's assertions about the cause, problem and solution are right, then why are our experience and judgment needed at all? You are not insulting your client by validating his or her assertions - it is why you are there.

Another issue is whether a client's staff, or vendors or customers, should be considered the same way. Many organizations have a culture that represents that management doesn't know what is going on but staff really does. Or that the customer is always right - regardless of what an organization thinks of the services or products they provide.

Here is a good example of how perceptions vary widely within a company. According to a study of how companies work, managers see their companies as self-governing and egalitarian. Employees see nothing of the sort. How would you advise organizational change if you faced a client with perceptions internally differing as much as in this survey? DO you believe the management or the employees, or neither?

Tip: Consultants would be wise to treat information or emotions or conclusions provided to them at the start of an engagement as just that - firmly held beliefs of the source. All information needs to be verified and we, as independent and objective professionals, do well by not taking anything at face value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client staff  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning  market research 

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#711: Bounce Back From Mistakes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 5, 2011
I really screwed up at a client. It was an honest mistake, or at least it was unintended. My concern is that it may have caused problems in related areas of the company of which I am unaware. Consultants are supposed to be the experts so the gut instinct is to fix the problem quickly, tell those who are affected, and figure out how to not let again. Anything else?

We all make a mistake now and then. Most of us admit it to ourselves. Some even admit it to others. There are two concerns in a situation like yours for a consultant's mistakes.

First, you cannot possibly know the extent of the impact your mistake will have and the extent to which it ripples through the company and its stakeholders. A consultant cannot have deep insight into how a company's informational, social and power networks really work until they have been there for years. Therefore, you need to fully disclose to management and encourage them to disclose across the enterprise what happened. If done quickly enough, you might be able to stop the propagation of the mistake throughout the organization. Delay (e.g., seeing if you can minimize the damage yourself) can be deadly to your client.

Second, it is a cliché but research bears supports the conclusion that one of the most powerful sources of personal and organizational growth come from making, and fixing, mistakes. Air crews and hospitals both have technical environments with fast paced operations and hierarchical power structures. When mistakes in those settings are suppressed, they tend to amplify the likelihood of future hits to performance. As hard as it is, get the mistake out in the open, take your licks and own the process to make sure it won't happen again.

Tip: Take a quick look at an article on recovering from mistakes in business for some examples to give you heart and some references. As hard as it might be to keep pushing your mistake out in the open, you have a rare opportunity to turn your mistake into a problem solving initiative that benefits the client beyond the scope of your initial engagement.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  learning  professionalism  reputation  trust 

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#703: Consultants Can Take a Few Tips From Sherlock Holmes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Isn't consulting the same as detective work? Don't we both look at the facts and try to "solve" the client's problems?

Consultants might want to learn how to play detective, using the techniques of the famous literary character Sherlock Holmes. We are often asked to solve a problem, figure out what caused a failure (or success), etc. Think of yourself as that famous London-based fictional sleuth of the late 19th/early 20th centuries created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The next time you face a quandary, think "What would Sherlock Holmes do?" He would:
  1. Keep an open mind, not being swayed by the preponderance of opinions as to the "obvious" solution.
  2. Employ deductive reasoning, based facts you have confirmed.
  3. Investigate all possibilities thoroughly, especially ones that at first seem implausible.
  4. Look carefully at the details, again especially at those details that may seem irrelevant.
  5. Look for connections, relationships, consistencies and inconsistencies.
  6. Ask lots of questions, and don't automatically accept the first answers you are given.
  7. Wear a disguise (OK-you might want to scratch that one!).
  8. Be relentless in pursuit of the solution.
The next time you are given a challenging question, remember to ask yourself the question, "What would Sherlock do? What processes would he use? How would he outsmart the problem at hand and not just follow well worn solution paths?"

Tip: Did you know that Holmes never actually uttered that famous line "Elementary, my dear Watson" in any of Conan Doyle's four novels or 56 short stories featuring the character? Holmes does say "Elementary" in the book The Adventure of the Crooked Man, but the famous line does not appear in its entirety in any of Conan Doyle's stories. The full phrase seems to have originated in either a subsequent film or theater play (the actual source has been long debated) based on Conan Doyle's original work.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning 

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#695: A Good Question Beats a Good Answer

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 11, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 11, 2011
Given that clients look for creative - and fast - answers these days, how much tolerance do they have for diagnostic, exploratory tasks that traditionally kick off most engagements?

Much of our value as consultants is to stimulate ideas and solutions clients are unlikely to reach on their own. How you go about this varies by engagement. However, some ways of managing your engagement create solutions faster than others. Specifically, clients are less tolerant of consultants starting off with reading client documents, gathering data and interviewing staff. They want to engage quickly and use the consultant's insight to ask the right questions, not have the client presume to deliver the answers independently. The best way to do this is to ask penetrating, and provocative, questions:
  • Why would people leave your competitor for your company?
  • What would you have to provide a recently departed customer to get them back?
  • How can we preserve our culture while we grow so rapidly?
  • Who would you pick from among current staff to repalce you?
  • How would you create a new product service if it had to be on the market in six months?
  • How can we build our core values into our brand as seen by our customers?
  • What recent strategic mistake can we reverse?
Note that these questions aren't answered with a yes or no. Instead, they start honest, insightful, and perhaps difficult conversations. Engaging a client in the solution makes you far more valuable than just delivering your own solution.

Tip: Your role does not end with the initial question. The questions above are a fine start but do not provide the unique value you are capable of providing. The series of follow up questions that dig deeper may be the foundation for a new direction for a company. Mutual exploration using your insights and your client's mission and motivation creates unbeatable value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  customer understanding  facilitation  guidance  learning  your consulting practice 

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