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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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#727: Consultants Are Not the Only Game in Town

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Why is it that the same consultant's recommendations, even when fully recommended, sometimes have a huge impact on one client's performance and other times have little impact? The skill or insight of the consultant is just as good but the outcome is different.

There is far more in play here than just the consultant. It is easy for consultants to consider themselves the principal intervention in a client organization. After all, an executive has selected them from among a group of their competitors specifically to address a key challenge or opportunity. The executive team and consultant engagement director spend a great deal of time discussing weighty matters and strategic choices. The fate of the client organization hinges on the effectiveness of the consultant's recommendations.

A nice picture, if only it were true. In fact, a consultant is but one of many simultaneous factors affecting a client organization, before we even get to the flurry of other processes, cultures, and initiatives going on inside an organization while a consultant team is active. We are not the only game in town within the organization.

The same thing can be said of the persistence of our intervention. Both consultants and managers may conclude that a particularly innovative modification of a business model or strategy will take an organization to the top of its market. They are probably right - in a static, noncompetitive market, our recommendations would result in a better outcome. The problem is that there are other competitors, each with their own strategic initiatives (and consultants). We are not the only game in town outside the organization.

Tip: Humility and perspective are among consultant's best friends. Remember these two factors, (1) consultants are only one of many concurrent factors influencing an organization's performance, and (2) the specific impact we have will be disrupted by markets and competitors, each of whom is changing their own strategies to try to outdo our clients. Interventions are valuable if they improve the client's position over the long run, even if success cannot be attributed solely to the consultant.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  customer understanding  performance improvement  recommendations 

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#704: Take Care When Recommending Other Consultants to Your Client

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, November 24, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2011
I sometimes want to recommend another consultant to my client but feel that it might take away additional opportunities for my consulting business. After all, there is limited money in their budget and only so much time to devote to a consultant. Am I wrong in being concerned about this?

Your feelings are very natural, but think of it this way: you are there to help the client in any way you can. If you believe that recommending another consultant will add value or provide much needed assistance to the client, you can rest assured that you are doing the right thing by making the recommendation. Sound referrals will help build trust and demonstrate your interest in the client's ultimate success even if it does not translate into direct business for you. Here are a few guidelines when recommending someone to your client:
  1. Issue a clear disclaimer so you don't appear to guarantee the performance of the other consultant.
  2. Recommend more than one consultant for the job (if appropriate and possible). Let the client make the choice. This is important to avoid the appearance of a possible conflict of interest where you might be seen as recommending someone with financial or other ties to you.
  3. Let the client do the interviewing and selection.
  4. Try to avoid opportunities for uncomfortable "pairing" if you will be working alongside the other consultant.
  5. Always be supportive and helpful to the other consultant in every way you can.
  6. Don't look for a referral fee from the client.
Tip: Recommend another consultant any time you genuinely feel it will be helpful. Putting the client's needs first is why you are there.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting colleagues  recommendations  referrals  teaming 

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#702: Find Opportunities in Your Client's White Spaces

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Several of my clients are planning to restructure or downsize in advance of tougher times in their market. I worry that this might reduce my opportunities to provide consulting services. Any advice on how to avoid this?

Recognizing that clients do not exist for the purpose of providing you consulting opportunities, changes in a client's market or overall economic conditions do present a challenge for consultants. However, if you are in a position to see how your client is changing, it is also a great opportunity to increase the value you can provide.

Almost every change in an organization means a change on the organization chart. Positions are added or removed. Reporting relationship are altered. Overall structure may be leveled or new layers added. Each of these changes presents an opportunity to provide some services to smooth the transition. Ostensibly, these changes were thought out and intentional. However, sometimes they are made with some, but not enough, forethought.

Look at your client's organization chart as it is likely to be over the next year. You may have even suggested some of these changes. How are these changes going to affect the "white spaces," those parts of the org structure that are not related to specific authority and reporting relationships? What can you do to make them work better.

Tip: Once you have confirmed what the org chart is likely to look like, develop some recommendations of how you think it might work even better. Talk to some of the people involved in some of the changes (without violating any confidentiality rules) to confirm your insights. Once you feel you have a solid grasp of the emerging situation, develop some recommendations of how your services might help the transition. Thinking at the highest level will help you better understand your client and will likely let them see you in a more strategic light.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  creativity  customer understanding  recommendations 

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#685: Consultants Need to Understand Type I and Type II Errors

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 28, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 28, 2011
I always hear about Type I and Type II errors in business and how important it is that consultants understand these concepts. Why should I care about this?

People are referring to a statistical concept where a Type I error is a false positive and Type II error is a false negative. For the statistician, a Type I error is rejecting the null hypothesis when it should have been accepted. For a businessperson or consultant, a Type I error is seeing something that is not really there. Type II errors are missing something that is really there (and potentially company making or breaking).

A Type II error (false negative) can be serious when looking at competitive markets or human resource issues such as culture or employee opinions. Inadequate surveys or incomplete analysis may lead a consultant to conclude that there are not serious competitors or impending revolts among employees when, in fact, there are. Depending on the situation, a Type II error may result in serious losses for a company or put it out of business.

False positives are of most interest to consultants engaging in diagnostic or investigative activities, in two ways. As a consultant whose job it is to find problems to solve or opportunities to capture, we are looking for something on which to act. Maybe a process is "broken" or a market is "large and available" to your client. In either case, you may identify something that is not really significant enough to expend resources on. Alternatively, as a result of your activities, you conclude that your impact is significant when it really is not. In both cases, you have overstated the significance, or even existence, of your role to the client. Understanding Type I and Type II errors gives you good perspective on your role and significance to a client.

Tip: Think in terms of medical testing when you consider how you are going to control for Type I and Type II errors. The worst outcome when looking for a serious disease is to conclude it is not present when it is (Type II). To accommodate that, we use screening procedures that are relatively fast, cheap and for which we can tolerate a Type I (false positive) error. As a consultant, you may want to develop protocols that let you quickly tease out potential problem areas and for which you recognize there may be Type I errors. Those items that show up may be real or, more likely, false positives. Then you can proceed with more focused and rigorous protocols to look more closely at an issue, recognizing that what you want to avoid is a Type II error (false negative). You don't have to be a statistician to understand the concept and how your ability to mitigate risk on behalf of your client is a significant value added.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  assessment  assumptions  consulting terminology  consulting tools  diagnosis  information management  recommendations  risk analysis  statistics 

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#682: Make Assumptions Carefully

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Part of being a good consultant is being able to get through the diagnosis and to a solution as quickly as possible (but getting it right). To do that we must make assumptions, but where are assumptions potentially erroneous short cuts and where are they appropriate?

You know what they say about assumptions. We can't realistically base our diagnostic conclusions entirely on our empirical research done at the beginning of an engagement. We make what we consider to be reasonable assumptions based on discussions with the client and staff, market or technical research, our own analysis and any other information we collect - including years of our own experience with analogous or similar cases. It is a judicious combination of facts, intuition and experience that is the hallmark of a consultant's detective like skills.

However, professionalism compels us to be on watch for assuming too much, too fast. It is all too easy, after years of experience, to be impressed with our knowledge and comfortable with believing we "have seen this case a thousand times before." To keep this in check, a professional has processes in place, maybe even formal ones, to challenge and verify all assumptions made on the way to a diagnosis. What are the ways you make sure you are not assuming too much without knowing it?

Tip: Write out the steps you take in your normal process (or more than one) of scoping a project, collecting data, completing a diagnosis, and presenting findings and recommendations. Note the type and criticality of your assumptions at each stage. Finally, describe the implications on this diagnostic chain of each of your assumptions and what you could do to mitigate the risks of wrong assumptions. Now, when people talk about your assumptions, they will have only good things to say.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  assessment  assumptions  methodology  recommendations 

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