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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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#706: Build Innovation Into Your Consulting Practice

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, November 28, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 28, 2011
I know that my consulting practice should be changing as fast as the businesses of my clients. I just don't have time to create new lines of service. Any ideas how to put a little more innovation into my practice?

Good question, and one many consultants don't ask themselves. Whether you call it staying fresh, ahead of the curve, or innovative, consultants must constantly create new value. Let's talk about how.

Your inspiration for innovation should come first from your clients, and those organizations you wish to serve. They are either in need of new services or are actually asking you for additional services. Be attentive to their needs and discuss possible new services with them. Be aware that your innovation can come from processes, technologies or culture, and it can be about how they do business or about how they are served by you or others.

The second source of innovation is from your colleagues and from consulting conferences. Members of your network are providing services that, with a few adaptations, could add to your own. Find a collection of consultants with diverse practices who discuss trends in consulting and are also looking to innovate. Conferences like Confab are great places to meet with senior consultants with whom you can develop new areas of interest and potentially team.

Tip: However you decide to innovate, do it through a steady process, whether you develop new areas of practice or are tweaking current ones. Take one of your primary services and spend a month improving it. Find a more effective way to describe your service to prospective and current clients (this might give you some ideas about what areas of value might be missing). Work on delivery mechanisms, taking advantage of new analytical technologies, communication approaches, or adult learning research. Ask colleagues for examples of how they provide similar services. Finally, ask your clients how you could improve your service - they will probably appreciate being asked, since so few consultants do so. Work on innovation; don't just wait for it to happen.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  efficiency  innovation  market research  process  product development  quality  technology 

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#557: Validate Client Questions Before You Answer Them

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 3, 2011
One of the many things I've learned as a consultant is that the real problem is often not the one the client first presents. However, since they are paying the bill, isn't it appropriate to start with the problem they give you?

Our obligation as consultants is to improve the client's position, which means we have to solve the problems as they exist. We are to lead the client on a path with the right questions, not follow them down the wrong path because they ask the wrong ones. It does not necessarily mean we will start on the path the client specifies or even the one we assume is correct before we begin the engagement. Many times, a client will scope your engagement by telling you the problem he or she sees, but this may just be a symptom, or may not be the root cause of the challenge or opportunity they face. It may not even be the most critical or the first in a series of issues that need to be addressed.

Above all, our obligation is to make sure the question is legitimate before you try to investigate it. It is easy, especially if you don't have experience as a consultant or executive, to be tricked by something that sounds like a legitimate problem. For example, the client says her salespeople are not on the road enough of the time. This is neither a problem statement nor perhaps not even a symptom. Your investigation begins with why sales staff utilization is even an issue (i.e., the best situation is to generate target sales with 0% utilization) and then decide whether it is staffing, revenue, management, cost, etc. that are the real issues.

Tip: Develop a standard process or sequence of criteria you use to validate and scope engagements. This is one area many consultants decide to just "wing it" and ask penetrating questions until they close in on the real problem scope. Create an investigation process and use it, refining it on every engagement. When your client expects you to answer a question, you will then have vetted and validated it and will be sure you are answering the right questions.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  process 

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#542: Put Your Client in the Headlines

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
What are some effective visioning exercises to use with my clients in strategy development processes?

As with all such techniques, think through whether or not this process works well with your client's culture and fits with the rest of your strategy development. Clarity in strategy always starts and ends with simplicity - start with a clear, focused concept and expand it as needed but, ultimately, it has to be easily communicated to stakeholders.

Here's an idea that seems too forced or trite to work but is incredibly powerful. If not constrained, a client team can consume a day of enthusiastic debate on this one exercise.

Have each member of your working group imagine a headline about the company at some point in the future, say in 5-10 years. Ask them to select a newspaper, journal, or industry magazine - whatever they individually think would provide the best visibility and credibility for the company. This means not just the local newspaper but the most influential journal or opinion source in their industry. Have them write down a headline and a sentence or two of the story lead. You may be surprised how different each person's aspirational view of the future is.

Tip: Create a mock up of the newspaper or journal. Start with the consensus headline and build out the story, in journalistic style, starting with the key features, followed by subordinate facts. Add a picture if appropriate. If you have time and interest, sketch out the adjacent stories that might appear on the page to reflect conditions and trends in associated industries, contemporary political or economic events of importance, and maybe even a view of what might come next for your company. There is no best format - let it organically grow from the enthusiasm and needs of the group.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting tools  methodology  planning  process 

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#252: Taming the Email Monster

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, March 2, 2010
I am sure I am not alone but my email is out of control. I can't get to all the requests I get and feel like I am getting a reputation for being nonresponsive. Any suggestions?

There is no simple answer to this but there are a few tricks people use to resolve this growing (no pun intended) problem. First is controlling what gets to your inbox in the first place, even before we get to separating important from urgent emails. It is easy to get on any number of email lists and have lots of unsolicited mail. Get yourself a good spam filtering program (note that several "Do Not Email Registry" websites are themselves scams to get your email address). Also, instead of just deleting unwanted mail that sneaks through, put it into a junk folder and save it for unsubscribing later. Most people who provide an unsubscribe option will honor it. Every little bit helps.

Second, use filters to redirect mail into groups: clients, personal friends, mail to each of your email addresses. I use specific email addresses for various types of subscriptions, online offers, and for people I don't know. As I receive email from those addresses (they are sometimes resold despite privacy policies to the contrary), they are routed into folders to which I should, may, or won't respond. Finally, when I get a few days behind on mail (e.g., when I am on travel) I sort mail by thread or sender and can often respond in groups (i.e., a common response to several people on a common thread).

Tip: Let people with whom you correspond know that you have some rules you follow, and deliver on that expectation. For example, if you are the sole addressee in the "TO:" field, you will get back to them in X hours/days and if you are in the "CC:" field, you take it that the sender does not expect an answer from you. Also know when a "Reply All" thread is out of control - either pick up the phone and resolve the issue or remove some names for the large list in the (often growing) list. In many cases, behavior can be more effective than technology in getting some control over the monster.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  efficiency  information management  process  your consulting practice 

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