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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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Top tags: client relations  communication  customer understanding  your consulting practice  marketing  consultant role  learning  client service  reputation  goodwill  consulting process  market research  practice management  sales  ethics  planning  client development  engagement management  innovation  proposals  professional development  professionalism  knowledge assets  prospect  trends  presentations  recommendations  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  product development 

#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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#727: Consultants Are Not the Only Game in Town

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Why is it that the same consultant's recommendations, even when fully recommended, sometimes have a huge impact on one client's performance and other times have little impact? The skill or insight of the consultant is just as good but the outcome is different.

There is far more in play here than just the consultant. It is easy for consultants to consider themselves the principal intervention in a client organization. After all, an executive has selected them from among a group of their competitors specifically to address a key challenge or opportunity. The executive team and consultant engagement director spend a great deal of time discussing weighty matters and strategic choices. The fate of the client organization hinges on the effectiveness of the consultant's recommendations.

A nice picture, if only it were true. In fact, a consultant is but one of many simultaneous factors affecting a client organization, before we even get to the flurry of other processes, cultures, and initiatives going on inside an organization while a consultant team is active. We are not the only game in town within the organization.

The same thing can be said of the persistence of our intervention. Both consultants and managers may conclude that a particularly innovative modification of a business model or strategy will take an organization to the top of its market. They are probably right - in a static, noncompetitive market, our recommendations would result in a better outcome. The problem is that there are other competitors, each with their own strategic initiatives (and consultants). We are not the only game in town outside the organization.

Tip: Humility and perspective are among consultant's best friends. Remember these two factors, (1) consultants are only one of many concurrent factors influencing an organization's performance, and (2) the specific impact we have will be disrupted by markets and competitors, each of whom is changing their own strategies to try to outdo our clients. Interventions are valuable if they improve the client's position over the long run, even if success cannot be attributed solely to the consultant.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  customer understanding  performance improvement  recommendations 

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#681: Tackle Your Weaknesses One at a Time

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 24, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2011
There are some things about my skill set and consulting approach that cause me trouble in analysis, client service delivery and practice management. What's the best way to address these weaknesses?

Every one of us has some weaknesses that we should consider opportunities for improvement. Given how busy we are marketing and delivering client services, however, we rarely take the time to address them. Eventually, some of these small problems can grow to seriously hinder or effectiveness and value as consultants. This is Covey's principle of stopping to sharpen the saw.

So what are you doing about those weaknesses today? First, identify what your biggest challenges are (and, yes, we all have them). Are they writing, statistics, presentation skills, finance, creativity, interviewing, public speaking, a technical specialty, or what?

Next, get started improving those skills or attitudes. Go to your favorite online book retailer or search online for articles relating to strategies, products or processes to address your specific weakness. How many books or articles came up? Probably a lot. Read the book reviews and buy one or two or download a few articles. Commit to tackle one of your weaknesses over a week (or two or three, depending on how big a problem it is). Place the books or articles strategically around your office and home, and read them whenever you are so moved. Just don't let them escape to a pile somehwere that you can intentionally avoid or miss seeing.

Tip: The point is to make a commitment to vigorously tackle this weakenss and not avoid it because it is hard and seemingly a low priority compared to billable work. Set some kind of measure so you can know when you are done. You do not have to eliminate a weakness entirely, just improve it to a satisfactory point. Before long you will have to start looking for another weakness.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  learning  performance improvement  professional development  teaching/training  your consulting practice 

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#601: How to Know Which Organizations Can Most Benefit From Your Help

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 4, 2011
Updated: Monday, July 4, 2011
Looking back across two decades of consulting clients shows a range in success. Some clients were both committed to change and others were less so, and still others varied in their ability to change. How does a consultant know which prospective clients are worth the effort to support?

This is a factor in consulting most of us never consider. Clients assume that if they are facing a crisis or a lull in performance that a good consultant can improve things. Consultants also assume that if their experience and skills are appropriate, then they should be able to help just about any client. There is a critical logical deficit in this thinking that every consultant should think about before taking on a client.

Not every organization is in a position to take a consultant's advice or, even if they are listening, to implement and sustain such advice. The leadership needs a certain level of awareness to understand what improvements are possible, and the organization needs a certain level of operational performance to implement recommendations. Not all organizations are in this position. Whether leadership is incapable or unwilling to talk about leadership, strategic or cultural issues or the organization functionally is not in a position to implement, there are some clients who will not improve despite your best efforts.

Perhaps more important is your helping establish the social and operational foundation before you suggest sweeping performance improvements. If the client is willing to accept that change may require hard work on personal and social issues and to put in place operational processes that make it possible to even see how your recommendations would apply, then you have a chance of doing good. If your prospect is not even willing to prepare the ground for your change recommendations, then this organization is unlikely to benefit from your talents.

Tip: Consider a "Goldilocks" strategy. Organizations that are too strong (e.g., too flush with cash and on a growth tear) may be unwilling to accommodate improvement recommendations because they fear losing their streak. Organizations that are too weak in leadership, culture or operations may be unaware or unwilling to profit from your help. Your ability to best help is with organizations that are "just right."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  customer understanding  marketing  performance improvement  prospect 

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#566: Capture the Benefits of a Sense of Urgency

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 16, 2011
Updated: Monday, May 16, 2011
Having left a large consulting firm to start my own practice, I spend a lot of time doing things I never had to do before, incuding administration. Is it just a more efficient use of time to be in a (scalable?) larger firm?

One of the great things about being an independent consultant is that we have a lot of control over our time. At some point in our career, we can take the clients we want and negotiate our schedules. The opportunity of flexibility is not an obligation to waste time. Precisely because you have control of time means you should treat it as a precious commodity. Consultants, and managers, who respect time make steady progress against their goals by using it well.

As the expression goes, hard work always beats talent that doesn't work hard. The same is true of people who use time as well as their talent. Those with a sense of urgency will get started, and get finished, with their work sooner and accomplish more.

Make this sense of urgency a habit and a develop a reputation with others for using your, and their, time wisely. Prepare your daily, weekly and project schedules to make the best use of time and regularly evaluate and revise them. Expect that those with whom you work also treat time with respect, especially yours. Ask for updates to their schedules and what they think may put them off schedule. Always remember that time wasted is time gone forever.

Tip: Give the gift of time to others. Think of ways you can save others time in your interactions with them. Suggest ways of combining tasks or running them in parallel. Offer to provide a service for someone to save them time or suggest a process for saving time. There is no greater gift.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting colleagues  goodwill  performance improvement  reputation  time management  values  your consulting practice 

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