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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were (maybe) effective a decade ago when the economy, culture and management practices were entirely different but are no longer applicable.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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#673: Who Will Respect Consultants if We Don't Respect Ourselves?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The seemingly increasing publicity of ethical and/or criminal activities by consulting firms (e.g., false payments, kickbacks, insider trading, conflict of interest, plagiarism) is unsettling for a profession I have been proud to represent. Is this just more publicity or have the standards of the profession declined?

As with many newly discovered "trends,” it is always hard to tease out what part is actual change, an increase in reporting, or increased sensitivity to the news itself. Take the recently reported increase in domestic violence in a particular ethnic group that was commonly to be rare behavior. It turns out the increase, rising to the same levels as for other ethnic groups, was only due to newly available language-capable case workers. The "crisis" in the community was just a correction in reporting.

It is true that a lot of books have been published about unseemly behavior in management consulting firms. These authors pick on the larger firms because the stories are more spectacular. However, with greater scrutiny of corporate management, stiffer penalties and greater mobility among executives at consulting firms, it is logical to have greater visibility of such activities. As with any professional services firm, the pressures are high to sell more work to current clients, prove the value of that work, and to create opportunities to provide your services in new markets.

What has changed are the business models of consulting. What once was a relationship business in reality has become less of one today. Clients increasingly look for specialized expertise, lower cost and shorter term engagements and, because of greater migration of client executives, have less loyalty toward a particular consulting firm. This creates incredible pressure to step closer to the ethical line than ever before. As Ethics Officer of IMC USA, I hear more allegations of impropriety than in the past. In reality, however, it is a testament to the ethics and professionalism of many consultants that there are as few of these transgressions as there are.

I don't have empirical proof that consultant behavior is worse than it has been in the past, but the conversation about consultants has definitely coarsened over the past few years - both among clients and consultants. It is uncomfortable to hear executives say that they spent millions of dollars for a prestigious firm's services that left them with nothing of value. However, what is really troubling are conversations among consultants that disrespect colleagues, other firms or the profession. Take a series of consulting cartoons by James Sanchez called Big Consulting. While clever and painfully true, they make light of consulting firm compensation, disrespect for associates, questionable client relationships, and of highly unethical practices. Laughing at yourself is healthy, but crosses the line when it poses unethical behavior as funny.

Tip: Management consulting is a respectable profession but only deserves the respect we are willing to give ourselves. Let's use our intelligence and self-respect to promote excellence and ethics in our chosen field and treat our colleagues, our competitors, and particularly, our clients and communities, with the respect they deserve.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consulting colleagues  ethics  goodwill  professionalism  publicity  reputation  trends  trust  values 

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#636: Increase Diversity in Your Practice - Even if You Are a Solo Practitioner

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 22, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 22, 2011
Diversity consulting seems to be a big deal these days. Is this something I should add to my Organizational Development practice even if I am not a minority?

There are four aspects of your response that warrant comment. First, it is rarely a productive strategy to get into a consulting market just because it is hot. Entering a new market should be because it fulfills an important aspect of your existing strategy. Otherwise you are chasing butterflies.

Second, you refer to your ethnicity as an issue that might preclude your effectiveness in this service. Diversity consulting is often associated primarily with ethnicity because this has been the subject of regulation and high-visibility academic research. However, the essence of diversity includes culture, age, gender, etc. as well. While your own background contributes to your perspective, not being a cultural or ethnic minority does not preclude your being an effective diversity consultant.

Third, diversity management as a strategy is a big deal because organizations are finally realizing how powerful a strategic advantage it can be. Diversity has always had tremendous power; it has just not been applied as much as it could have been.

Finally, the value of diversity is not just for your clients. It can apply to your own practice, even if you are a solo practitioner. Every experience that exposes you to new people, places, cultures, even consulting practices, gives you a broader and richer perspective on which to draw.

Tip: Make strategic diversity of your own practice an element in your next strategic planning initiative. Bring in as advisors other consultants and clients who can look at your strategy from a different angle. Then include in your professional development plan activities that expose you to an appreciation of new ways of looking at, and seeing, a more diverse world.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  demographics  diversity  values  your consulting practice 

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#588: Make Sure Your Clients Know Your Values

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 15, 2011
We have pretty good relationships with our clients, many of whom we have been with for years. As consulting moves steadily away from a relationship business (although many people claim it still is one) to a problem solving one, how do we assure that clients can see beyond just the next engagement?

This is an increasing concern of consultants. Consulting relationships that used to last as long as decades are increasingly being affected by a client attitude of best value for the immediate engagement. Part of this is the increasing speed of business and an emphasis on making every dollar count, which means getting the best consultants for each job, not using who you know. This is amplified by the increasing rate of turnover among client managers and consultants. All of this weakens the personal relationship between client and consultant. A concerted effort is needed, as it never was in the past, to offset these many factors that weaken your ties to a client.

Probably the most important first step is to make sure that the client is clear (assuming you are) about your corporate and personal values. It might surprise you to ask your client "What do you think I (my firm) stand(s) for? What are our basic principles by which we operate?" and get a blank state. Historically, we have rarely made this explicit with our clients. We just assume that because they hired us, and continue to hire us, that they must agree with our values.

Tip: In the future we will all have to sharpen our pencils to show exactly what value we bring to a client for each engagement, but we can tip the scale in our favor if we make sure that the client understands the intangibles we bring to the relationship. It has to be more specific and authentic than "we have integrity" or "we put our client first." Your values can be a powerful discussion with your client about how you make decisions under uncertainty (or duress) and what you would give up if you had to make a choice. Your client likely has had to think about this for his or her business and a discussion about your values will likely resonate.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  ethics  goodwill  reputation  values 

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#581: Consultant "Bedside Manner" May Be More Important Than You Think

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 6, 2011
Updated: Monday, June 6, 2011
I don't think consultants do their clients a service by becoming chummy with them. I even know many clients consider this an attempt by consultants to "go native" and settle in for a long stay, but I just think it is unprofessional. Shouldn't we just go in and get the job done?

As with many consulting challenges, the answer is: it depends. We consider "bedside manner" important in some professions, like medical treatment or social work, and not in others, like auto repair and mining. The difference is the role of the provider in helping the purchaser or consumer better understand, accept or transact the service or product. Some people don't want or need any help. I might want a skilled surgeon to remove my gall bladder and I am paying for a procedure and could care less about making friends. Alternatively, for a life-threatening condition, I might consider procedural and emotional factors equally and may even want to include my family in this need for emotional service, making bedside manner a critical decision point in selecting a provider.

It is about the emotional component of the engagement. A divorce lawyer needs skills but possibly the more important service is emotional care through the change process. A consultant's bedside manner can be just as important. Consider that clients only hired you because the organizational change process was long, complicated and difficult. You know how hard (if not impossible) it is to effectively change an organization without adequate emotional and cultural preparation.

Tip: The emotional mechanisms needed to communicate, understand and accept change may differ significantly for each of your clients, even within the same industry. If you are not spending significant time understanding these factors, then you are not doing your job as a professional or change agent. Even if you are providing a commoditized service (e.g., diagnostic survey or workshop), consider the emotional care required for effectiveness before you dismiss your service as "just technical."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  communication  consultant role  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism  trust  values 

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