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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 

#973: Getting Consulting Engagements Off to a Fast Start

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Do you have any advice to jumpstart consulting engagements? It seems like, even with a reasonably well defined objective, the windup period is too long for my sense of urgency.

The responsibility for how long it takes a consultant and client team to hit their stride is the responsibility of both the consultant and the client. What you call the windup period is probably the least value producing period in an engagement. This is the period where you get to meet the client, get to know the culture of the organization, get caught up on company history, and become trusted enough by staff to hear the backstory on the specifics of your engagement. Unless you are starting an engagement with a past client, this stage, however long or short, is inevitable in each engagement.

If you think your are itching to get started with the engagement, imagine what your client must be feeling. The best thing you can do is to come to each engagement with a plan of action to get to work providing value as quickly as possible. The plan should include your best guess of what people, information, relationships, and authorities you need to get to work on day one.

Tip: Provide to your client a two-week (or whatever period makes sense for the startup phase) plan of what you need up front, what you want from the client as to ongoing support, and when you need it. Provide a written explanation that you don't want to waste anyone's time and describe the reasons you need specific types of data, facilities, support staff, access to prior internal or consultant analysis reports, etc. If staff interaction is a major part of the project, ask that your presence and role be announced before you arrive, that you be introduced to staff as soon as you arrive, and that staff have access to you as soon as possible. This comes off as thoughtful and professional, and gets you through the windup period a lot faster.
 

Tags:  client relations  engagement management  planning 

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#961: Taking Good Meeting Notes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 9, 2009
During engagements, I take extensive notes of meetings, interviews and discussions with staff. However, since these notes are not required as project documentation, it is unclear it is worth the effort.

The ability to capture information by taking notes is an important part of a consultant's toolkit. Whether you are capturing information from a meeting, interviews, focus groups, or research, your notes are a way of structuring relevant information for later evaluation, reduction and transformation. Thomas Edison was a prodigious note taker, amassing over 5 million pages of notes in his years of research and development work. His notes were so effective that they served as a thorough archive of his activities and basis of staff doing their own derivative research years later.

Good note taking has several important features. First, be prepared to take notes. Don't just show up for an interview or meeting with a blank sheet of paper and start writing down what is said. Create an interview script with space for capturing responses or a list of key "ask its" for a meeting.

Second, create a consistent system of notes so you can understand them long after they are taken. One way to do this is to create for your use a standard set of symbols and formats. for example, use one symbol to indicate items that are your opinion vs. something another person said, or for items that require you to follow up.

Finally, set aside time immediately after taking notes to confirm the clarity and accuracy of your notes, evaluate their significance, verify any questionable data, reduce them to a vital core of information, and interpret any aspects requiring it. Don't take notes and wait several days to look at them, lest you find you can't read your handwriting, recall important facts, or are overwhelmed by dozens of pages of notes you transcribe or interpret.

Tip: Treat note taking as a deliberate, intentional business process to be planned, evaluated and improved.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  meetings  planning 

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#959: Making Your Numbers

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, January 7, 2009
When I was a partner at a major consulting firm, I worked hard to "make my numbers" for my group every quarter. Now that I have started my own firm, many of the performance measures are not as relevant. What "numbers" are appropriate for a solo practitioner?

This is a common question, whether one has left a large firm or is a new consultant as an independent. The short answer is that the performance objectives are largely the same but how they are characterized may differ slightly. They may also differ as a function of what you plan to accomplish with your new firm as compared to your old one. At a minimum, the "numbers" you make at your new firm are based on your individual values, not the collective values of your fellow partners at your old firm.

Without being presumptuous to suggest which specific measures are "best," here are some that you should consider. Think in terms of balanced scorecard categories: customer, process, assets (innovation and learning), and financial. Customer measures should address the health of your pipeline, such as how many prospects are at each stage and the alignment of each prospect with your firm development objectives. Process measures should address the use and improvement of processes and protocols to market and sell, deliver services, and run your practice. Asset measures (called innovation and learning in the balanced scorecard methodology) should address how you are growing as an individual and a firm, specifically in terms of what new skills, data, and capabilities you have created over the last period of time that you can monetize as higher valued services to clients. Finally, financial measures should address the revenue and profit targets you have established for this quarter/year as part of your multiyear business plan.

Tip: Although you presumably manage what you measure, small firm management should work with a vital few metrics. It is reasonable to set a target and track only one or two in each of the above categories. If you are not meeting these targets, you can drill deeper.

P.S. A common reason consultants leave larger firms to be independent is to have more control over consulting service delivery and their personal lives. Given that independent consulting can consume a lot of time, consider including a metric of how much leisure time you are making available for you and your family. Making your consulting numbers should not come at the expense of these other important "non-business" considerations.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  fees  planning  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#957: The Dry Run

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 5, 2009
As experienced a consultant as I am, I am occasionally surprised at how often I have to "relearn" things I used to do but had let lapse. That's one reason I like your Tips. One practice I have gotten back into is doing dry runs for client briefings. I highly recommend them.

It's hard to disagree with either point: that we constantly need to be on the lookout for practices we have forgotten or let get stale, and that practice is a good idea. Both points are tied to a commitment to life-long learning. It is easy for some of us to feel so busy that we don't have time for these critical practices. But it only takes one time being not as prepared as we thought we were to make us realize that we need to keep dry runs on our client briefing checklist (and, if you don't have a list of items to make sure you have or do before each client briefing, you should).

The dry run serves three purposes. First, it is a check on timing of a presentation. You'd rather not realize an hour into your two-hour presentation that you are only one-fourth done. Second, you'll always want to practice under conditions similar to those you will experience during the actual event. Having to project in an auditorium or move around a training room is a different experience than a read through at your desk. Third, having it recorded means you can listen to see how it sounds, albeit not entirely objectively. Even better is doing your dry run in front of another person who will provide constructive feedback.

Tip: The origin of the concept of a "dry run" was to simulate what would actually take place in a critical event, but under controlled test conditions, used first for trial runs of fire departments (without water in the hoses, hence "dry"). Plan to give your presentation, training, briefing or speech in an environment as similar to the one you will be speaking at as possible. Plan the scope, sequence and content to adhere to the client's needs and have a colleague or two critique it. As much as you think you know the material, you can't be sure until you do a dry run.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  planning  practice management  process 

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#956: What's Climate Change Got To Do With Consulting?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 2, 2009
Several of my clients have started asking about how I can help them address climate change in their business or changing supplier or government policies about climate change. Is this likely to be a long term issue that consultants need to know about?

If your clients are asking about it then, by definition,it should be of concern to you. Climate change issues are so pervasive that every consultant should be knowledgeable about the issue and its impact on business. Regardless of what discipline or industry you work in, climate change is already affecting how your clients run their businesses and plan for its future.

If you are in human resources, higher fuel prices and congestion are leading to a growing demand for teleworking, which will require operational policies and procedures, new management skills, and new collaboration technology. If you are in transportation, weather will affect operations. If you are in banking or risk management, increasing storm intensity and frequency will alter your exposure and possible liabilities. If you are in facilities management, consider how your clients will need to alter heating and cooling across their facilities. If you are in hospitality, food prices affected by rising temperatures will affect your overall cost structure. If you specialize in corporate governance, a range of new state, federal and international regulations are coming, knowledge about which you need to be ahead of your clients. As a consultant, your failure to advise clients of potential criminal liabilities they face relative to environmental regulatory compliance will not go over very well. Finally, employees want to work for, and other companies in thesupply chain want to work with, green companies.

Tip: Climate change is a complex issue but don't get caught up in the political debate and forget that the impacts on business have been significant and increasing for more than a decade. Learn about the interrelated impacts on food supplies, water resources, energy costs, risk management, required retraining and corporate strategy and governance. This issue pervades everything a company does and you need to be regularly reading up on its impact on business. For a good fast primer on the issues your clients face from climate change, see a recent Pew Trusts report.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  planning  sustainability 

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