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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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#717: What Are the Defining Moments of Your Consulting Career?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 13, 2011
One of our firm's best engagements just concluded - I wish I could repeat the experience with every client. We had a committed sponsor, the staff worked well with us and we all grew as professionals because of the challenges (it was a merger). I am wondering what makes for valuable, or at least memorable, engagement for other consultants.

Two thoughts come to mind. the first is that many (not all) consultants have a clear idea about their ideal engagement. The criteria they use may vary from how much they learned, how successful the client became, or how much money they collected in fees. Based on those criteria, they are probably pursuing clients with whom they could get those outcomes. The more successful those pursuits, the more memorable their consulting careers.

The second is that sometimes there are the unexpected events, people, and circumstances that, although unplanned and unintended, are the most memorable. What might have been a long term, steady client suddenly changes strategy and you are caught up in an exciting, challenging project. Or you meet someone, whether a client sponsor, a staff member or a consulting colleague, with whom you interact and it changes your career or life. Neither would you have chosen this event or person nor would you have thought that it would have been as significant as it turned out to be.

For me, these defining moments in consulting (positive examples) include several colleagues who exhibited exceptional ethics and professionalism, time spent at national labs with some incredibly talented engineers, and facilitations on response to nuclear terrorism and standing up a new corporate board. Conversely, there were some moments that were not so pleasant. Yet, I don't want to forget them because they affected me in that they either helped me know what (or who) to avoid or left me with humility or awe at what I still needed to learn as a consultant. And, yes, the times I messed up and vowed to never make that mistake again!

Tip: Look back over your consulting career (add in management or other elements of your career) and pick out a few each of the people, places, events, and projects that changed your consulting skills, attitude or perspective. What are they? Email me at dailytips@imcusa.org or post your throughts on the IMC USA website in the comments section to this blog.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting colleagues  consulting skills  education  guidance  learning  professional development  professionalism  your consulting practice 

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#711: Bounce Back From Mistakes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 5, 2011
I really screwed up at a client. It was an honest mistake, or at least it was unintended. My concern is that it may have caused problems in related areas of the company of which I am unaware. Consultants are supposed to be the experts so the gut instinct is to fix the problem quickly, tell those who are affected, and figure out how to not let again. Anything else?

We all make a mistake now and then. Most of us admit it to ourselves. Some even admit it to others. There are two concerns in a situation like yours for a consultant's mistakes.

First, you cannot possibly know the extent of the impact your mistake will have and the extent to which it ripples through the company and its stakeholders. A consultant cannot have deep insight into how a company's informational, social and power networks really work until they have been there for years. Therefore, you need to fully disclose to management and encourage them to disclose across the enterprise what happened. If done quickly enough, you might be able to stop the propagation of the mistake throughout the organization. Delay (e.g., seeing if you can minimize the damage yourself) can be deadly to your client.

Second, it is a cliché but research bears supports the conclusion that one of the most powerful sources of personal and organizational growth come from making, and fixing, mistakes. Air crews and hospitals both have technical environments with fast paced operations and hierarchical power structures. When mistakes in those settings are suppressed, they tend to amplify the likelihood of future hits to performance. As hard as it is, get the mistake out in the open, take your licks and own the process to make sure it won't happen again.

Tip: Take a quick look at an article on recovering from mistakes in business for some examples to give you heart and some references. As hard as it might be to keep pushing your mistake out in the open, you have a rare opportunity to turn your mistake into a problem solving initiative that benefits the client beyond the scope of your initial engagement.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  learning  professionalism  reputation  trust 

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#699: Does Your Title Really Matter?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, November 17, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 17, 2011
Some of my consulting colleagues head up small or solo consulting practices. Between them, they are President, Principal, Managing Partner, Chair, Executive Consultant, CEO, CXX (any number of "creative" titles), or no title at all. Does any of this matter?

To whom?

These titles are important in a large firm to differentiate between various executive, management and staff jobs. It helps outsiders know which roles and responsibilities an individual has. HR departments use these to describe a job to applicants. Inside a firm, it helps define accountabilities, and who gets what size office. Certainly if your business is related to the Internet or marketing, there has been an arms race in creative job titles.

For a solo or boutique firm consultant, this boils down to what your ego needs and what makes your mother proud. It really doesn't make any difference what you call yourself. Clients are hiring you for your expertise, perspective, skills and behaviors, not because you are CEO or President or Grand Poobah.. I've heard more than one client express some disdain in reaction to a consultant whose business card reads "CEO and Chairman" when they are a one-person firm or "Managing Partner" in a ten-person firm.

Tip: Call yourself whatever you like, but know that it is mostly for your own benefit.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  goodwill  professionalism  reputation 

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#698: Consultants Should Still Dress for Success

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2011
This may sound like a stupid question, but there are times I feel overdressed for meetings at my client's office. Every Friday is a "casual dress day" and there are some people who never wear a suit and tie or nice dress, including the CEO. Can I dress professionally and still be "overdressed"?

It seems that every generation goes through this question of how to "dress for success." There are plenty of books written and classes offered to help you select and dress "appropriately." Yes, there are even consultants whose practice centers around advising others how to dress for the job. Some consulting firms, in effect, have a "uniform" that supports their brand - either suit and tie or business casual, depending on the markets they are in, and they always dress in this style. Others are more flexible, letting individual consultants tie their dress to that of the client.

There are a few basic rules about how to approach this. The first is that this is about you and not your client. Regardless of what the dress rules are for your client, what kind of image do you want to project? What makes you comfortable and what do you want your dress to say about you? Dress or pantsuit? Sport coat or three piece suit? "Power tie" or no tie? You don't have to match the dress of your client (especially if each of your clients vary) - pick a style that works for you.

A second rule is addressing occasions that call for attire other than the office standard. For example, if you are invited to a company social or sporting event where causal dress is called for, you can dress casually. Casual, however, does not mean sloppy. Have a set of casual clothes specifically assembled for such events, don't just throw together whatever.

Tip: Select your clothes from a one or two sources that fit your style and budget and stick with them. This will help you create "brand continuity" and make sure your attire is not an issue of note. The bottom line is that your dress not be a distraction from what you are there to do - deliver services.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism 

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