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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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#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were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.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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#729: Are You Reaching High Enough in Your Business?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 29, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011
How do consultants generally measure the success of their business? If we were interested in just making money we could just track consulting income, but there are a lot of other reasons to be in this profession.

There is an inherent conflict in your question. Our goal is to create lasting value for our clients but such value is not necessarily fully valued by the marketplace. Measuring our worth by our revenues falsely assumes that the client's business, and the increment of performance we provide, is fairly reflected by market capitalization, revenues, profits, etc. Consider a Navy Seal and an investment banker. Seal s are drawn from a far more selective group, they are better educated, trained and equipped, yet receive far less compensation than bankers. The latter may even receive a financial bonus with no downside risk for "exceptional" performance, while a Seal puts his life and reputation at risk and is paid the same regardless of performance. The market is not a true measure of your intrinsic value or contributions.

A second aspect is that your client may benefit tremendously from your counsel but is not in a position to pay you what you would be worth in more financially advantaged markets. Consultants who advise educational, public sector, nonprofit, government or market-depressed private sector clients know this well. We all know colleagues who are paid far more or less for the same work. We also know that fees can increase or decrease in certain markets even if the value of our services do not.

Do you know how you know when you deliver value? Your client sponsor tells you. Client staff commend your services. You see your recommendations implemented and have the intended effect. Your clients thrive. You get unsolicited referrals. You gain the respect of those colleagues who know your work. You are sought out by others in your client's industry. You are asked to speak to professional and civic or industry groups. You recognize growth your own consulting competencies. "That's all well and good," you say, "but it doesn't pay the bills." It is true that you need to generate an income to stay in business, but don't let compensation substitute as a measure of your value.

Tip: Michelangelo said, "The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." When setting your goals, consider setting some for those indicators of value above, and set them high. Revenue is fungible; it is the impact on your client that is the true measure of value delivered and something that you uniquely provide.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  compensation  evaluation  quality 

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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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#372: Make Sure Your Consulting Products Are Section 508 Accessible

Posted By Mark Haas CMC , FIMC, Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Our client just told us all our products needed to be Section 508 compliant. I know this is a government requirement, but is this really necessary for non-public work products?

Section 508 refers to a provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal agencies (and their consultants providing work products to be used as federal products) to make their online information accessible to people with disabilities. This makes sure information is provided in a form that everyone can use and benefit from. Legally, you are likely not required to deliver section 508 compliant work products for private sector clients.

However, as consultants, we are professionally obligated to maximize the access, use, and understanding of our work products, regardless of the client. Making your work products Section 508 compliant not only assures access, it is a "good (if not best) practice" and a valuable standard by which you can improve their consistency and quality. This is not just the law, and not just a good idea, but a way to improve the usability of your products for the potentially millions of people who might eventually use your work products or derivatives (e.g., that piece of text, chart or web page your client repurposes to the public). It’s the right thing to do.

The Section 508 guidelines address page layout and formatting, fonts, page and document numbering, images, tables, video captioning, HTML and CSS formatting, web page linking formats, etc. These apply to word processing, spreadsheet, webpage, multimedia, presentation. Some very good resources such as checklists are available.

Tip: Compare the Section 508 guidelines with your own company's document creation and publication guidelines. Oh, you don't have quality assurance standards for your communications? Here is a good and rigorously developed start to enhancing your consulting value and professionalism. A good place to get the basics is (fully qualified URLs are a Section 508 good practice).

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  information management  professionalism  quality  regulation  Section 508  usability  website  writing 

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#348: Creative Email Proofreading

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Occasionally I go reread an email or letter I sent and cringe. It sounded good at the time, I spell checked and proofed it (admittedly quickly) before sending, but it didn't quite give the message I intended. Any tips (other than "be more careful next time") on how to improve the quality of my communication.

Sounds like an easy problem to solve but, as good writing coaches will confirm, the solution to improving communication in a fast paced business environment is not obvious. Good communication takes both time and care, which we seem to not want to provide in our haste to "knock out a few emails," measuring our effectiveness by how many rather than by how effective they are. Pascal said (although attributed to many others since), "I made this [letter] very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter."

However, here are three ideas that might marginally improve your emails:
  1. Reread your work from bottom to top instead of from top to bottom. Your mind can sometimes trick you by efficiently "filling in" a missing word when you are reading from top to bottom.
  2. Print a copy of your correspondence and read it out loud and see how it sounds or use the applications some word processors have for text-to-speech.
  3. If possible and appropriate, save it as a draft and leave it alone for a while, at least for an hour and even overnight. Reread it the next morning when your mind is a little fresher and you have been away from it for a while (particularly useful when you are crafting a note in haste or anger!).
Tip: These might help a bit but there are few "tricks" to improve communication if you are not willing to give it the time and respect the recipient deserves.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  quality 

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