10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do

consultant

A consultant (should be) someone who offers good advice. Many times this is advice based on subject matter expertise, experience, or other unique qualifications. However having a particular subject matter expertise or experience is only one facet of being a good consultant.

Great consultants have a lot more than just expertise – they understand how to solve problems and work with people. These skills aren’t just valuable to those who want to make a living providing advice professionally, they can help anyone who is trying to make a difference in any organization.

Great consultants help:

  1. Define problems – the key to solving the problem is often finding it.
  2. Establish scope – successfully solving some problems planning to break it into manageable chunks
  3. Find solutions – sometimes the solution is right under your nose, sometimes it takes being able to think outside the box or how it has always been done.
  4. Work to deliver – great consultants don’t just give advice, they help get you to the solution. Whether you are trying to bring you consulting skills to bear on an internal project or have been brought in to find a solution…roll up your sleeves!

The four items above form a pretty straight forward problem solving but getting them right is hard. You can and I have talked about different specific approaches to these things. At a more basic level I think there are some things I think everyone who works in teams or problem solving should think about.

These 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are things I like to remind myself of every so often because doing these basics well establishes a foundation for success over time.

  1. Listen more – Even if you have deep subject matter expertise most consultants would be better served to spend more time listening. I like to spend 60-80% of my time listening.
  2. Keep your personal opinions/life out of it – Especially for paid consultants but even with internal staff, the job is problem solving not discussing random life events. The less time we spend discussing the slopes, gym, love life or pets the more likely we are to solve something.
  3. Keep it positive – Even when things are bad, they could typically be worse and for most of us literal life and death do not hang in the balance. Focusing on the positive keeps even the most daunting tasks from becoming overwhelming.
  4. Take notes – I’m amazed at how rare note taking is…I don’t care where you take them (paper, iPad, computer) but take them. Not sure what to write? Anything that someone is supposed to do that doesn’t occur in the meeting, key on the following phrases (We should be…, the problem is…, someone needs to…, I’ve asked for…, the next step is..) Also…share your notes. You would be amazed at how few other people took them.
  5. Focus on results not effort – Nobody wants to hear about how you are working around the clock on something. Trust me people know hard workers when they see them and your results should speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you worked 4 hours or 10. I want the results.
  6. Do or Do Not – I hear all the time about how to multi-task “better” and shake my head. I hate multitasking. Do one thing. Get it done. Go on to the next thing. Running back and forth lowers overall quality and lengthens time to market. I can’t prove it but I can sense it. Oh and turn off that loud music!
  7. Take breaks – Sometimes I will literally go for a walk to clear my head. Problem solving requires a lot of focus and energy. If you find your attention drifting change tasks, take a break or otherwise give your head a chance to recover from recent effort.
  8. Tackle the tough stuff in the AM -Trying to solve complex problems is hard.  Trying to do it at 1AM after a 17 hour day isn’t going to happen. I like to split my work day so that most of the thinking is done in the morning and the more mundane and social tasks are in the afternoon. Most people are simply better prepared to problem solve in the morning.
  9. Do the research and include the research – Even when you know the answer off the top of your head go find the backing information. I’ve been amazed over the years at how often the right answer last year has been overtaken by advances in technology, business process changes, etc. I also always try to write up solutions to include references. I do this so it is easier for others to understand how I arrived at the solution. Also, I often need to go back to at least one of the 30 websites I looked at when developing the solution.
  10. Plan your problem solving efforts – Too often the plan for solving a problem is simply getting everyone in the room and talking about it. The end result too often is an agreement to meet again next week. Create a plan for your planning. Include agendas for meetings with clearly stated outcomes and objectives. Close meetings by checking against those items and ensuring action items are clearly defined and attributed.

Most of my 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are common sense. What is on your list? Do you have a repeatable approach to problem solving? Let me know @jmillsapps.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Making Twitter useful again…

@jmillsapps

@jmillsapps

I popped open my twitter account (@jmillsapps) this morning and realized that for the last few weeks I hadn’t really been on much. I remember back when I first got on Twitter I loved it because so much of what I was interested in came to me without my spending time combing the web. I just followed a few people and I got the benefit of their time spent combing and culling the webs content. Now a few years later I find I’m almost never on or only if I have something I want to tweet. It has essentially become a megaphone instead of a two way communication stream.

So…I went to my account and took a look at it. One of the first things that jumped out at me was that I was following almost a thousand people. How did it happen? Well when I first started tweeting I was amazed that people would want to follow me – so I almost always followed back. It kind of felt rude not to do so. Then I realized some of these folks were just trolling for exactly this behavior so I stopped following everyone back. However, I still followed folks that looked interesting back on a pretty regular basis. Also because I was using my twitter account as a way to identify content I might be interested in I would often follow people whose content came to me via a RT of someone else I followed with the thought that I would be interested in other things they have to say.

Today it all came to a head. Following a thousand conversations just isn’t possible and I’d essentially stopped using Twitter because of it. The fact is I love Twitter’s ability to help me find content I otherwise wouldn’t see. Much like Slashdot.com it combs the internet for me and serves up some brilliant content I otherwise would never see. So I decided it was time to get back to a useful number of people I follow. I chose 250 as a max limit and immediately began trimming. The problem is that manually trimming is terrifyingly boring and painful. So I did a little searching and found manageflitter.com. This tremendously useful website allows you to quickly comb through the accounts you follow and unfollow people quickly based on different categorizations like how talkative the account is, how many people it follows, whether or not they follow you, etc. It also has a handy bulk unfollow box if like me you need to do serious trimming.

My goal is to get down to 250 people I follow and then trim judiciously from there. Unfortunately I hit the 800 person unfollow limit that manageflitter has in place and so I was stopped short of my 250 person goal. I’m hoping this makes Twitter relevant for me again. If your Twitter feed has become unmanageable – try manageflitter.com. It makes unfollowing easy.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 questions to ask your self and get your groove back

Getting back in the groove!

Getting back in the groove!

One of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that I seem to perform better if I’m in what I like to think of as rhythm. A lot of times when I start feeling overwhelmed or overloaded I’ll try to take a step back and look at the way I’m living. I ask myself some simple questions:

1. Am I keeping to regular schedule? Meaning:

  • Am I getting to bed at around the same times?
  • Eating at around the same times?
  • Generally performing activities at the same times.

2. Am I giving myself time to get things done properly? Meaning:

  • Am I managing my time blocks so that I can fully complete one task before moving on to the next?
  • Am I managing my to do list so that I have a realistic chance of completing everything on it?
  • Am I budgeting time to standup, stretch and eat?

3. Am I doing things properly? Meaning:

  • Am I multi-tasking? In my experience nothing kills real productivity like the illusion of productivity that comes with multi-tasking.
  • Am I reading what I write once out loud before I hit send, thinking before I speak and pausing before I leap into action?
  • Am I delegating the things I can and allowing others to help me succeed?

Most of the time when I start feeling crazed I can run down this list and figure out pretty quickly where I went wrong. For me the big ones are over scheduling, under delegating and managing my time blocks. Do any of things on this list make your list of ways to drive yourself crazy?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Customer Focused + Results Driven = Success

Success math problem

I’ve been working in my selected field for many, many years.  For at least the last ten of those years I have been in an owner/senior leadership position within my organization.  Over those years I have learned countless lessons on the do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship but I’d like to discuss two of some of the most important ones today. The first one I’d like to discuss is a commitment to being customer focused. I’ve found that one of the biggest keys to success is an absolute commitment to customer service.  For more than 10 years I‘ve given every customer I’ve ever had my cell phone number and told him or her they can always call the owner of the company; and I have never regretted giving them that option. Customer service is often the easiest thing you can provide and the thing they will remember most. Repeatable quality is important because your customers will always remember your failures more readily than your success.

If you do have a customer service set back it is critical to immediately be accountable. Accountability is critical in every facet of leadership but with customers, not being accountable will result in a lost customer that never comes back. Real leaders own their mistakes, learn from them and move forward. Occasionally you can even profit on the heels of a customer issue because it highlights an opportunity for improvement. These opportunities are the lifeblood of the entrepreneur.

Another important lesson I’ve learned is that being successful isn’t just being able to spot the opportunity in the mist of trouble but it is being able to tease out the problems you will encounter along the way and work with others to take the data available and make the right decision. Often this means making decisions without all of the information. Entrepreneurial activities often require working in uncharted territory with less than perfect information; this makes ensuring the analysis you have that much more important.

Once you have the information necessary to make the decision or reach the point at which either no more information will be forth coming or where the value of making a decision in the near term outweighs any further certainty in awaiting additional information it is critical to act decisively. Not making a decision is making a decision.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 Questions to ask before you make a big decision

Riddler_Wallpaper_by_Darthkoolguy

Oftentimes l will have somebody come into my office and sketch something out pretty quickly and then look for a decision on the spot. Now if you don’t make the decision quickly you’re holding up progress but there’s always the risk that by making the decisions without the right information, you leave yourself open to down the road having a whole bunch of problems. So I think there are three big questions I like to ask myself before making a big decision. Some of them may seem obvious but it’s worth taking the time to ask just in case the person that is asking for the decision either a) hasn’t thought of it or b) hasn’t thought to share it.

  1. What’s the risk? – I put that question broadly and vaguely in hopes that the person on the other side will take a second and think about what are all the things that could wrong with this before they just move forwards. It’s surprising how regularly they’ll say something that makes me change the answer that I was going to give.
  2. What’s the cost? – This should almost always be followed up by: did you think about how much it’s going to cost? Too often people don’t think about internal resources having a cost. When you’re trying to make these decisions you have to take into account that there’s almost always some level of effort involved in it and you have to weigh that against what we’re going to get out of it.  This is where I get to the next question.
  3. What do we get out of it in the near term and what do we get out of it in the long term? – So maybe that is two questions but I normally ask as what will we get out of it? From there I will break down it down further into those two parts. Again it doesn’t have to be all about near term benefit but it’s awfully nice to know that all the benefits aren’t all far out. The problem with benefits that are a ways out are that if it takes that long to get to where you’re going, sometimes the benefit is not enough to make that decision worthwhile.  The other part of it is weighing the value of the dollar and the resources of what you have now vs. the benefit that is so far out in the future.

You don’t want to become somebody who manages everything in the near term of this quarter, this quarter, and this quarter. Although one of the nice things with managing with an eye towards the near future is that oftentimes things that build value now are things that will build proven value. They result in long term value on the basis of accruing things at a faster rate than the things that are 6 months, 8 months, a year, 2 years, 5years down the road. Certainly it’s important to build towards a larger strategic value as well, but I will say be careful of the allure of things that are only going to benefit you months and years down the road.

So those are my big three questions.

  • What’s the risk?
  • What’s the cost?
  • What’s the benefit?

Those are pretty basic things that you should ask yourself before you ask for a management decision or make a big decision yourself.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Big Presentation, Little Prep Time: What to do?

Presentation Blog

One of the most difficult things to do well is to give presentations and speeches on short notice.   There’s an expectation that goes along with a presentation that there will be a certain amount of preparation that goes into it and the audience is going to be receiving a fairly well knit together show.  There’s a couple things that you can do if you’re put into a situation where you have very little prep time.  Maybe you are coming into to speak for somebody that is sick or maybe you were just presented with an opportunity to speak and have a very short time to get ready. Either way I think that a there are a couple things that you can do that will help put you at ease and help that presentation be well received despite inadequate prep time.

  1. I think a good way to start off is to, in some way, acknowledge the fact that you haven’t had an enormous amount of preparation time.  If it’s something where it’s public knowledge that the person you were subbing in for is sick, it’s really easy. You can use it as an opportunity to inject a little humor. Anything along the lines of, “So and so is ill so you get the b team,” or  something like that is a little bit funny but it also sets it in the audience’s mind that they should take in to account that you may stumble a little bit. You may get some slack out of it and a little bit of humor can work in your favor.

Oftentimes with very polished presentations the audience doesn’t feel as engaged as they sometimes do, particularly if it’s a smaller group, with a less polished presentation.  When you’re working your way through something you’ve given a lot of times, you lose some of the natural beaks and a lot of the conversational tone that really engages audiences when you’re speaking to them.  So I think sometimes the shorter the time between preparation and presentation can actually be a blessing in disguise. You end up with a better product from both sides because there is more of a willingness to experiment and take direction on the fly.

  1. The second thing is to try to eliminate highly specific sides and builds across slides.  One thing I do when I’m presented with a situation like this where I’m having to work from a deck or something like that is I will pull out any slides that have builds across two slides.  The tendency is to talk to what’s on the slides because that’s what’s providing you the guideposts to your talk, which is especially helpful when you are short on prep time. If you have something that builds across two slides, inevitably you’ll make one of two mistakes. Either you run across the second slide during the first slide or in anticipation of needing the material that is on the second slide and not remembering that it is there, you’ll use another example or you’ll have cover that material in some other way. It really just creates a kind of fumbling appearance to the presentation. I would much rather go in in advance and have more generic slides. That gives me a lot more free range than to have a polished slide deck and an unpolished presentation.  That will just serve to highlight the lack of preparation.  So make sure to remove complexity from your presentation materials and give yourself the broadest amount of free range possible.
  2. Finally the last thing I want to talk about is building that connection to the audience. I find it worthwhile to make sure I find something to link directly to my audience and their target interests. Say for instance that you are going to speak to a group interested in education, I’ll try to find some facts and figures that, while maybe not 100% directly relevant to my topic whether it’s strategic planning or investment portfolios, can be used as stage setting but also are just generally interesting that relate to their field. If you can find a few of these things to sprinkle into the beginning of the talk you’re giving that day, you can garner that little bit of engagement and trust you want from your audience. If you’re able to get people to buy into the fact that you’re going to be interesting, maybe not be topical, but at least interesting; the audience will give you a chance.

They’ll give you a chance to engage them throughout the rest of your presentation and I think that is really critical within the first few minutes. You need to be able to build that interest within your audience where they say, “Hey this is somebody that I want to listen to talk.”  You don’t always have to do that by being directly relevant to the speech that you’re gong to give the rest of your way through.  It could just be something that just builds a bond with the audience and generates enough interest so they listen to the rest of what you’re going to say.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Continue to learn. Continue to improve.

New ideas

To continue to improve you need to continue to learn. You have to continue to find new opportunities whether those things are books, training courses, or reading newspapers; just anything that exposes you to new ideas.  Something that’s been nice about writing this blog over time, is it’s sort of a good “canary in the coal mines” device for when I’m not taking in enough new ideas, learning new things, reading about new things, or hearing about new things. So when I find myself struggling to think of something to pull together for my daily blog, I think of that as an early warning system for maybe I’m too stuck in the daily grind.

When I’m too lodged in my routine to bring in the type of new ideas that are going to help me solve the next challenge or the next problem I know I need to bring in some fresh perspectives. I think it’s something that you need to be aware of. I think you need to spend a little bit of time every day or every few days freshening up your mind; whether it’s an article that somebody recommends to you or just anything that keeps you thinking and growing. So the next time you’re out and you don’t have something to say, maybe it’s because you aren’t taking in enough new ideas.  So grab the newspaper, get a magazine, or get a recommendation from a friend on a book.  New ideas are how you solve the next big challenge.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.