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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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#730: Prove That Your Consulting Practices Are Effective

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 30, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2011
How would you recommend management consulting as a whole improve its effectiveness?

The traditional definition says, "A management consultant is a professional who, for a fee, provides independent and objective advice to management of client organizations to define and achieve their goals through improved utilization of resources." Buried in this widely held definition lies the challenge for consultants. "Independent and objective" often ends up interpreted as thinking in novel ways about business and management, adapting a presumed "best practice" to a new situation or developing entire new management concepts to promote a portfolio of services with which we are familiar and practiced. Nowhere is the primacy of evaluation and proof that what we are proposing actually works. Many of commonly used and highly promoted consulting practices lack validation. To be sure, our approaches are logical, they align with other management theories and our client seem to have done OK after we applied them. Where is our proof of value? Evidence-based intervention is increasingly required in medicine, but not for consulting.

We as professionals need to develop a deeper capability to recommend and deliver to our clients only those practices and strategies that are provably effective. Proving effectiveness is hard, which is why it is rarely pursued. So we develop consulting approaches that are:
  • Too old - we propose approaches that were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.
  • Too new - we propose something we just read about in a management journal (most of which these days are written by consultants) but that has only been tried a few times, much less proven effective widely or over the long term.
  • Too abstract - we propose convoluted and theoretical processes that we understand well but for which the client and staff have no realistic capability to adopt or sustain.
A healthy skepticism to consulting techniques is our best defense against obsolescence as a profession and as individual consultants. Look at most "standard" management concepts from the past thirty years and you can find legitimate and well researched evidence why they are inappropriate for consultants to apply in many circumstances and potentially hazardous in others. We are now fully into a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) where the pace and scope of business exceeds the ability of any individual to think through improvement approaches by him or herself. The standard of proof for consulting effectiveness will continue to increase.

Tip: Seek out disconfirming evidence for every concept, process, approach or technique you have in your consulting portfolio. There are good resources available. For an overview of how to think critically about your consulting approach at a high level, read carefully Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not. For a more specific critique of individual techniques, look at Calling a Halt to Mindless Change: A Plea for Commonsense Management. Being a true professional means that, before we promote approaches we assume to be effective, we make sure we can defend our current practices in the face of logic and evidence that they neither make sense nor really work all that well.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  assessment  client service  consulting process  consulting skills  consulting terminology  consulting tools  diagnosis  education  innovation  learning  management theory  methodology  performance improvement  practice management  professional development  professionalism  quality  roles and responsibilities  sustainability  technology  trust  values  your consulting practice 

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#653: Think Twice About Data You Use in Your Recommendations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
We are a quantitatively-oriented and capable consulting firm but not so much that we would be considered a heavy-duty analytics one. Here's my question. Our clients can vary considerably on the extent to which they are convinced by numbers. At the risk of sounding harsh, are those that discount quantitative analysis not being responsible managers?

We shouldn't be quick to criticize a client's reluctance to adopt our quantitative analyses. As much as fact-based decision making is a good practice, it implies that those decisions are based on valid and reliable data. Reluctance to base decisions on your data can be a competent approach by managers. Do your clients consider the data you use to develop your recommendations valid or not? Your analytical methods? Whose data and models should you, or your clients, trust?

It is widely accepted that data series used for public policy and private decision making are less than perfect. However, it is increasingly recognized that some of these data and the concepts on which they are based are fundamentally flawed. Research over the past decade shows several macro scale financial concepts (e.g., CAPM, VAR, shareholder wealth) fail to stand up to empirical analysis, despite still being taught in business school. At the national policy level, GDP has fallen from favor because it excludes the majority of asset value and infrastructure investment, compelling some countries like the UK to develop a replacement measure. The World Bank admits that 80% of the wealth of nations is left out of asset accounts, even as those flawed accounts are used for policymaking. The unemployment rate, used by economists and media to track the state of the job market, is understated by about half because it measures people looking for work who can't find a job, not real unemployment. See Shadow Stats as one of many emerging alternative statistics sources.

At the company level, executives complain about distorted financial and tax measures they have to contend with. An investment in training is counted, and taxed, as an expense not the investment it is, thus never shows up on the balance sheet. Uncompensated overtime by salaried employees is considered free labor. Data series, business concepts and tax laws all add to this distorted view of the world. As a result, portfolio managers and consultants are adopting ESG (environment, social, governance factors) triple bottom line asset valuation models, for which there is expanding evidence of being a better predictor of financial success than traditional models.

If you are trying to lose weight and the scale was off by 5 (or maybe 10) pounds in one direction (or maybe the other) every few days, to what extent would you base your diet on that scale? We ask our executives to make fact-based decisions but we also should let them be responsible for judging the validity of the data on which they make those decision.

Tip: This is a good reminder to review with our clients at the beginning of an engagement our assumptions about data sources, analytical models and philosophies, and the extent to which we will base our recommendations on analytical vs. other findings.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  data visualization  management theory  recommendations 

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#634: Help Your Client With Chemistry

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 18, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 18, 2011
As consultants, we are often retained to solve a particular problem only to discover cultural or leadership problems that need to be solved first. Sometimes discovering this social or leadership disconnect takes a long time to really surface. Is there a tool or methodology to shortcut the discovery process if we suspect something like this?

Surfacing this kind of intangible is what separates experienced from new consultants. Years of experience in a range of industries and organizational settings sensitizes us to both the existence of these social issues and to their likely solution. However, you asked about the discovery process so here is one area to consider. Although you may need specialized expertise, some reading up on network analysis is useful.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is being used by companies, sports teams and military units to surface the team power, work and influence networks and dynamics within and among teams. A team, or company, is at peak performance when it "clicks." When there is internal dissension, miscommunication or ambiguous roles, performance plummets regardless of the capability of individual team members.

This synergy effect is just as important for your consulting interventions. As smart as you are and as clever your recommendations, your client's performance will suffer if the organizational chemistry isn't here. An SNA analysis will tell you quickly where these social glitches exist and who is in a position to address them.

Tip: The dramatic impact of transforming a collection of stars into a high performing team is clearest for sports teams, when you see a cohesive team of average players beat a group of individual stars. A collection of SNA cases will give you the perspective to quickly assess whether there are social or cultural landmines and the extent of a formal SNA required as part of your diagnosis.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting tools  customer understanding  management theory  networks 

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#633: Strengthen Your Incomplete Consultant Education

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2011
To make sure I can talk intelligently with prospects and clients, I have subscribed to those recorded book summaries (available from several publishers). Do you think these summaries are good? What else should I be reading (other than major business magazines)?

Your strategy is a good one. It makes sure you are up on the latest business ideas, whether they are good or not, only time will tell. However, I suggest there is more at issue that being familiar enough with the latest business concepts to converse with a prospect. I have two suggestions that might enhance your ability to provide value to your client.

First, reading ideas and cases is a good start but you could build your understanding by debating them with others. Lots of concepts sound good when you read them, It is when you have to debate the merits of these ideas with someone who has a different perspective that you find some are weaker than others, or don't even hold up to basic logic. Just because an idea is quoted in a prominent business journal does not mean it will still be credible a year from now (remembering that a lot of business articles are written by academics or consultants and include an element of marketing).

Second, just as a lot of this month's ideas will pass away soon enough, a lot of ideas from a decade or five are still powerful foundations of business thinking. Compiles summaries of classic business books are a useful part of your understanding of business history and current trends (given that old ideas are often recycled).

Tip: A couple of compilations are available for a few dollars from Amazon and a great addition to your business library. Try The Best Business Books Ever: The 100 Most Influential Management Books You'll Never Have Time to Read and The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  management theory  professional development  trends 

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#624: Design Your Recommendations at the Right Scale

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 4, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 4, 2011
When a consultant has a new client, there is a period of time before we really understand the culture and personality of a client sponsor and the organization. What seems like an appropriate recommendation may seem to the client too radical or not impactful enough. Is it better to go big and let the client scale it back or take some other approach?

This is a great question because we tend to focus on getting the right answer and not necessarily the right size answer. Western cultures take a linear and reductionist approach to analysis. We take a big problem, decompose it into its parts and solve the components and then reassemble it into what we presume is an appropriate scale solution. Unless we have a good sense, at the outset of the analysis, a sense of at what scale the solution should be, we risk creating an intervention for the client that is over engineered or insufficient to be effective.

The answer lies in understanding the nature of the problems we are trying to solve. Each problem has its own scale, and finding it requires knowing the scale at which the recommended intervention will be most effective, not the perceived scale of the problem itself.

Consider environmental policymaking. We consider overpopulation, biodiversity loss, air pollution and limited strategic resources as complex, pervasive problems. While they may exist globally, their solution depends on the physical, institutional and cultural options available to solve them. Hence, effective climate policy is global, energy policy is national and water policy is local.

Tip: Define as early as possible the scale at which you will craft your solutions. But be careful. If you have not dealt with the kind of problem sufficiently to identify the solution space and scale prior to starting the engagement, consider whether you really understand the client condition and solutions well enough to take on the engagement ethically.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  engagement management  ethics  management theory  recommendations 

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