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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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#106: Scientific Literacy is Critical to Management Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Sunday, August 9, 2009
Sometimes when I try to explain to a client that the underlying premise of all consulting is to propose interventions based on diagnosis followed by a hypothesis driven recommendation that can be tested, I get blank stares. How important is it for a client to have knowledge of scientific methods?

Scientific literacy is increasingly important for effective management, as well as for being an informed citizen. A basic knowledge of scientific principles and history is essential to being able to work with and make decisions about business operations and technologies. This is not just for technology companies. Decisions about regulation and policy affecting every business are grounded in understanding of scientific principles. How your company (or you advise your client) deals with topics like corporate response to climate change legislation, decisions about facility siting, selecting effective training technologies, mitigating airborne pathogens in sealed buildings, or HIV testing of staff all require scientific knowledge.

This is not an esoteric issue, nor is scientific literacy about specialized jargon. It is understanding the fundamental principles of evidence-driven inquiry , hypothesis testing and confirmation processes every consultant is obligated to follow when proposing changes to a client's enterprise. Yet, most people are profoundly lacking in these skills. Only 7% of American adults overall, and only one in four with graduate degrees, is scientifically literate. For example, one-fifth of American adults believes the sun revolves around the Earth (something disproved centuries ago), and only half of the remainder know how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. Less than half understand the principles of evolution and can apply them to explain how it works in either natural or business settings. The above examples are about basic scientific knowledge. It is unclear how many actually use scientific processes to make management decisions or provide consulting advice.

Tip: Part of your effectiveness as a consultant (beyond being scientifically literate) is to be able to assess the literacy and understanding of scientific principles of your client decision makers. If they do not fully appreciate the science and technological underpinnings of business decisions, then you are obligated to raise these. Otherwise, you are letting your clients make decisions with incomplete information. If you want to read more try Why You Should Be Scientifically Literate for an overview, or The Salience of Secular Values and Scientific Literacy for American Democracy for a more wonkish look at the impact on scientific literacy on being an informed citizen in the 21st century.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  consulting process  customer understanding  process  professional development 

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#77: Toolkits for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I hear all the time about the XYZ Power Matrix, or the ABC Market Chart, but I can't seem to find many of these in the literature. Two questions: (1) are all these "processes" legitimate, and (2) are they written up somewhere?

As if managers have not created enough of these tools, processes, tips, protocols and approaches over the years, consultants are not afraid to do the same. There is a steady stream of "new" concepts, but most are variations of ones that have been used for years. For example, most consultants have heard of the Balanced Scorecard, but don't realize that this concept is over 75 years old and has been "rediscovered" repeatedly in several disciplines, including other than management. The same is true for minimax decision making or the profitability matrix. If you believe there is nothing new under the sun, then you probably shouldn't worry too much about not being able to track down every named concept you run across.

Tip: There are a few encyclopedias of management that list these processes. Browse through business school or online booksellers for a range of management dictionaries and encyclopedias. One I like (and is available for $0.01 used from Amazon) is The Vest Pocket CEO: Decision Making Tools for Executives. It lists more than one hundred of the kind of decision making processes that you talk about, most in a one or two page format.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  intellectual property  knowledge assets  learning  planning  process  professional development 

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#46: Different Types of Review Processes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 11, 2009
What is a "Murder Board"?

When a project management function wants to subject a project to intense scrutiny, it convenes a group of experts to try to find faults in the scope, sequence or content of the project plan. This can be applied to a project plan, a summary of findings or recommendation for implementation. The "murder board" is a term often used for the team convened to see if they can push hard on a project plan to see where it will break. This process goes by other names, depending on the subject of the scrutiny and type of firm in which it is employed. For a hard review of a proposal, it is usually called a "red team." Some consulting firms call final briefing reviews "gauntlet drills."

The process is presumed to have gotten its start in the middle ages where the Church appointed a "devil's advocate" in proceedings to determine if an individual was worthy of sainthood. It was this person's job to find any and all fault with the candidate, legitimate or not, to defeat canonization. This set a high standard and required an irrefutable case to proceed. Presumably, by this logic, if one can't find anything bad, then the subject of an inquiry must be good.

Tip: The complexity and severity of a rigorous review process should correspond to the consequences and risks of the plan or product being reviewed. For a simple, short-term project with minimal risks, the reviews can be cursory. For a complex engagement plan for a major multi-year project, you may want to convene a team made up of members of your own practice as well as representatives from other practices in your firm or specialists from outside the firm. Regardless, you would do well to craft a protocol for the criteria and process for your own project or product reviews. Build a book of these over time to handle each type of project plan, client briefing, or implementation plan you provide to clients.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  planning  process  proposals  quality 

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#10: Are You Practicing Evidence-Based Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 20, 2009
Occasionally I team with other consultants and get to see them in action. Some have rich methodologies and demonstrable results, while others are using methodologies they developed that have no apparent proof that their approach has any validity. Is it unethical to be promoting a consulting approach that has not been proven?

This is a tough question to answer. In healthcare, evidence-based medicine is largely the standard. Here, despite inherent variations in the characteristics of individuals and conditions surrounding treatment, scientific methods are applied to make best case decisions about medical interventions. A "best practice" has been proven to have broad applicability and predictable results. The standard of care does not extend to faith healing, experimental treatments, or other approaches whose results cannot be replicated and validated as arising from a specific approach.

Similarly, businesses are starting to press for evidence-based management. Results-orients, fact-based, proof cases are all terms coming into wider use. Managers are increasingly asking that interventions in strategy, operations or culture come with some evidence that they actually work. Even authors of best selling business books are criticized for researching what "best" companies do and then asserting that if you want to be great, you should be like those companies. This is the classic logic trap of post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this") in response to which managers are asking for more proof that advisors prove that their recommendations will have the intended effect. The many stories of consultants advising millions of dollars of change that has no effect are taking their toll.

Alternatively, there is a large gap between evidence-based medicine and management. Since management is not a specific discipline, is practiced differently in various industries and cultures, and is highly influenced by fads, it is harder to prove the cause and effect. Nevertheless, several universities have started programs in evidence-based management and are conducting research.

Tip: It unethical to promote an approach for which you do not have knowledge, much less confidence, that it will deliver the stated results. However, given the newness of evidence-based management, one does not have to produce research results to ethically assert that their approach has merit if they can provide client testimonials of its past successful application. Get your former clients to specify the approach you used and describe the results they got and connect the two. Be as explicit about the steps, rationale and expected results and risks in describing your own methodologies when presenting to prospective clients. Let other consultants critique your approaches and make them as rigorous as possible.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  ethics  intellectual property  process 

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#974: Understanding Client Culture Through Its Humor

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Updated: Friday, January 30, 2009

What tips do you have to quickly learn about the culture of a client organization? Currently, I use my intuition, supplemented by several validated culture assessment instruments.

This is a great question because even the most experienced consultant needs a robust understanding of the culture(s) of an organization prior to investigating processes, structure, strategy, etc. Validated assessment instruments are certainly one way of getting a sense of a place, but these require experience to appreciate the nuances of a culture, and these vary widely in their validity and usefulness. Certainly, there are a lot more things going on than a single assessment tool can tell you.

Consider using humor. By that I mean that your understanding of the type of humor various individuals and groups use within an organization provides a powerful insight into its culture. Supposedly humor is a reflection of pain, so humor must also be a reflection of the source of that pain and the way an organization chooses to deal with it.

Is the use of humor acceptable for all staff or just the leaders? Does everyone "get" the jokes? Is the humor lighthearted and positive, or disparaging and mean-spirited? Are jokes made at the expense of individuals, either within or outside the organization? What cartoons are posted in the break room or at the executive assistant's workspace? Are disparaging jokes made about consultants to your face the first day you arrive? Does humor have undertones of racial, gender, age or other targets of discrimination? Is it highbrow or vulgar? You should be able, within a few days at a site, to get a good sense of the culture by looking at a complete picture of how humor is used.

Tip: Create an informal log of how humor is used as you begin an engagement. Start with any use by client personnel leading up to your engagement. Note who creates humor, to what (or whom) it is directed, and how it differs across the organization. Draw your conclusions, perhaps after discussing your findings with a colleague who does not know the client. To the extent that humor is lighthearted, this may indicate an easygoing organization with relatively few conflicts. Then again, it may also signify a shallow communication style. After a few clients to calibrate your approach, you will improve your rapid culture assessment capabilities. Another tool in your consulting arsenal.

Tags:  assessment  business culture  client relations  consulting process  process 

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