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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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#610: Simplifying Your Writing to Better Communicate

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 15, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011
It is sometimes a little tricky deciding how complex to make my client briefings and analysis reports. Clients generally want precise and explicit language but reports that may be made public or for various audiences are best simpler. Are there any rules or advice about what level of reading difficulty is best?

First, take Albert Einstein's advice to "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." It is hard to go wrong writing as simply as possible, as if you were trying to explain your findings and recommendations to a 10th grader. Some consultants will bristle at this suggestion, claiming that their sophisticated analysis must mirror the complexity of the client's situation or market or strategy and all their communication demands complex language. This defies both logic and experience. Any consultant leaning on complex language probably lacks sufficient understanding of the basic principles and processes about which he or she is speaking.

Second, drifting into consultant-speak is a sure way to lose touch with your audience. You may have a vigorous discussion with your technical counterpart or the CEO using technical language, but it is the customers, staff, and other stakeholders who must eventually accept and act on your recommendations, If you want your findings and recommendations to live past the first reading of you report, put them in plain English.

You can use any of several automated tools to train you to streamline your words. These tools analyze your text for length and complexity of sentences and number of syllables per word. One document readability tool I like lets you enter text and gives Flesh Kincaid and other readability indices. This tool is really useful by telling you which sentences most violate simple language rules. Readability is stated as a grade level (i.e., number of years of education needed to understand the text). For example, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is at grade 13.4 (one year of college) while Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" is at grade 2.9.

Tip: Analyze your website, client reports, engagement letters, press releases and client communication. You will likely be shocked at how many of these communications are at college level. Use these analyses to simplify your writing. I suspect you will lose nothing of the meaning by streamlining the language.

P.S. This tip has a readability score of 11.2. A rewrite could simplify and clarify sentences without reduucing quality.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  information management  interpretation  presentations  publishing  recommendations  speaking  website 

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#600: Make Your Presentations Soar

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 1, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 1, 2011
How can I keep my presentations focused and full of content without resorting to "Death By PowerPoint?"

Because most consultant presentations are more informing than persuading, we are inclined to reveal all we know about the subject by lots of slides with lots of content (diagrams, bullets, build slides). However, if we consider how adults learn and remember, we should resist this temptation and stick to minimal, clean content with a visual appeal. Apple's Steve Jobs has, over 20 years, evolved as a presenter into what a good consultant should emulate.

There is a simple (in theory, hard in practice) formula Jobs uses for his presentations to make them remarkably effective, and you don't need groundbreaking technology to make your presentations memorable:
  1. Plan in the Old-fashioned Way of Black-and-White - create a storyboard - on paper - with concepts before you even start dumping your favorite images, graphs or demonstrations into a PowerPoint deck.
  2. A Twitter Friendly USP - create a memorable and short theme statement for the subject of the talk that you are sure everyone will remember.
  3. Introduce the Common Enemy - central to remembering a story is a contrast between protagonist and antagonist (for Apple is was IBM), so find something notable that the subject of your talk is intended to "defeat."
  4. Focus on Benefits - instead of trying to wow your audience with all the features, which they will forget within seconds of the words coming out of your mouth, make sure they understand how they will personally benefit - they'll come back to learn about features if they are interested.
  5. Use Simple Words - without paying attention, consultants can slip into their jargon, so use the simplest words you can, which will help you boil down your message to one that resonates.
  6. Make Numbers Meaningful - especially for consultants or anyone presenting technical findings or recommendations, cast large numbers in terms that make sense (e.g., the number of widgets sold this year would fill up 30 football stadiums).
  7. Practice a lot - Jobs spends days working and reworking his talks so they are seamless and easygoing when he delivers them, often recognizing many little ways to refine the content, pace or emphasis each run through.
Tip: One final hint is the overwhelming use of graphic images instead of words. Watch some Jobs presentations and you will see how a lot of content is conveyed with only a few word slides. There are books on this topic but a good slideshare presentation gives the basics on how to make your presentations soar.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting skills  presentations  recommendations  speaking 

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#599: Help Your Executive Clients With Social Media

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, June 30, 2011
Updated: Thursday, June 30, 2011
Our firm is all over social media for our own purposes and we think most of our clients should do the same. However, we get a lot of pushback from older executives who promote it for their companies but consider it personally inappropriate for someone their position. Any thoughts on this issue?

The client's industry, culture and marketing plan will largely determine the extent to which a company as a whole uses social media. However, neither a company's use nor lack of use requires the executive to do the same. Even if a company is not or cannot be highly active in social media, there are benefits to the executive being so. These include the obvious presence among stakeholders (including employees) created by their participation and the consequent creation or strengthening of a personal social media "brand." Also, an executive's participation on social media likely gives them a new and broader insight into the world of their stakeholders and industry than they would otherwise have. For executives, it is this "inbound" knowledge that creates new perspectives and advises their ideas about strategy and tactics. This is probably the unspoken real value of social media for executives. While talking (i.e., blogging, tweeting, posting) has value, listening through social media is critical.

In almost every industry, more consumers, suppliers, vendors and market intermediaries are spending an increasing proportion of their time on social media (an average of 5 hours per month). For an executive to avoid going where his or her stakeholders (and peers) are gives up important knowledge about where his or her company is now and should be going.

Tip: An article in Chief Executive, Should CEOs Use Social Media? describes succinctly other reasons for executives to participate in social media. Research and anecdotal evidence from CEOs themselves make a strong case for why you serve your executive clients well by helping them engage in social media.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  brand management  communication  learning  recommendations  social media  trends  website 

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#586: How Would a Consultant Advise the Consultant?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 13, 2011
Updated: Monday, June 13, 2011
When working with other consultants for the same client, different perspectives and histories (and strong wills) can sometimes bring the discussion or problem resolution to a screeching halt. We all want to do right by the client, but how can these differences be resolved when each of us is "right" in some sense?

Clients often hire consultants for our independence and objectivity. However, independent means independent from the client, not necessarily from other consultants. Our job is still to provide our best analysis and recommendations for the client's welfare. That our recommendations may differ from those of other consultants working for the same client does mean we have an additional burden to resolve these differences before they get to the client. The worst thing we can do is to present our differences to a client and ask the client to sort them out.

One solution is, having listened to all perspectives from the various consulting teams, to ask us what would a new consultant recommend to all of the current consultants? We all know our individual consulting positions, but if we asked an independent "third-party" consultant to address our differences, how would he or she make that decision? Would it be through consensus building, forced triage, or some other method? Consider what process that person would use to cut through the self-interested positions (yes, even consultants have their own biases).

Tip: Make it a point to study group decision making processes, even if it is not your principal consulting practice. Helping a client come to agreement on an issue is no less of a value added than it is to facilitate a group of consultants to reach agreement on a client’s behalf.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  consulting colleagues  decision making  recommendations 

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#585: Consultants Can Help Validate Client Vision, Mission and Values

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 10, 2011
Updated: Friday, June 10, 2011
After getting to know my new client, I see a significant disconnect between their stated vision, mission and values and their actual implementation of the same. Although not in my purview for this engagement, is this something I should point out? Without integrity for these foundations of the company, I doubt my recommendations can make a significant difference.

Vision, mission and values are certainly important for a company to define and on which to build their strategy and operations. If they are not well articulated or, even worse, ignored, then you have an obligation to open up this discussion with your client. It is surprising how many organizations either do not fully develop these parts of their operating basis or let them get out of date. The first thing to be sure of is how your client defines these and sees their value as a foundation of your specific work.

A "vision" is the definition of the state of nature for the organization some time in the future. It can define either the external view of the world as a result of the organization's activities or the internal state of the organization. An explicit vision provides a clear picture everyone has of progress being made. Its ultimate purpose is to create a sense of shared purpose, motivation, and drive to achieve between the organization and its employees. Its resonant impact should be reflected in the way the board governs, the way the executive manages, and the way people work.

A "mission" describes why the organization exists. It describes its fundamental purpose and core business for the benefit of its stakeholders and society as whole. Focused on the present, it emphasizes what the company currently is and not what it is striving to become. Missions are usually stable, may be similar to that of other organizations, and are frequently at odds with actual activities because succeeding generations of managers have lost the feeling of the original mission.

"Values" are the organization's key guiding principles, fundamental beliefs and expected behaviors. Values help to create a cohesive corporate culture and are critical to supporting the organization's mission and ensuring that its vision is ultimately achieved. They are the basis for decision-making as well as program design, and adherence to them requires continuous reinforcement.

As consultants, we have to be aware of and fully understand the expressed vision, mission and values of our clients. Our recommendations must be consistent with those and we should make sure that implementation of our recommendations is consistent with them.

Tip: If there is a discrepancy between vision, mission and values as stated and as lived, it is appropriate for you to raise the issue with your client. Failure to do so compromises the effectiveness of your recommendations. Cast this discussion in terms of, "If the foundation (vision, mission and values) is weak, then the whole building (including your work products) is weak."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  customer understanding  recommendations 

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