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Because the mission of ACE is to foster 'Success through Collaboration', the Membership is resolved to promote internal communication and to enable interchange. One effective means to accomplish these objectives is through Blog activity to broaden the audience for thoughts, activities, and successes. 

This forum enables the members to share expertise and learning regarding topics of interest to the consultant community or to call attention to key work and current activities. However, areas of focus and expertise are better displayed in the Member Directory.

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  • June 02, 2017 1:31 PM | Uli Stewart


    When considering cooperating with your competition,  there is a natural tendency to resist.  In many instances those relationships can be beneficial and can lead to business growth,  as well as flexibility to take on different work and improving your reputation.

    An engineering manager recently rehired a project engineer who worked for his company in the recent past. Shortly after the original hire, the manager told him that their work backlog was insufficient for sustaining their group. Based on tenure, his position would likely be eliminated. Out of respect for their relationship,  the manager called a competing engineering firm, with whom he had an established relationship, to let him know about the project engineer’s situation. The manager described the situation and shared the project managers’ resume, along with a strong endorsement.

    Keeping in good standing with your competition just makes good sense. The sudden turn of business wasn’t the fault of the manager, and the project engineer appreciated the willingness of the manager to make the introduction. Referrals  and recommendations to a competitor are great examples of how collaboration can benefit everyone who is part of a business community.  With the changing needs of the marketplace, your competition may exchange employees with your company on a regular basis.  In Maine, we see this happen frequently.

    – – –

    Yacht manufacturing is a business that would seem not to be affected by the fluctuations in the economy, but that is not the case. Layoffs were a part of the companies’ culture to adjust with their level of business. This is common with most manufacturing firms but nevertheless damaging to their reputation. Since 2008, one particular company has been on a tear with a  30% increase in orders  from last year.  The business is very labor-intensive, so skilled tradesman/craftsman are critical to the success of the organization.

    Five years ago, the company hired a new General Manager , one who has struggled for the last 3 years to find the level of talent necessary to meet the demands of their growth.  This past year, his focus shifted. Along with tapping the local technical trade colleges for talent, he started speaking with his competition to ask them about establishing an alliance by providing their shops with overage work if they have the capacity.

    The hope is that it would minimize the need to bring in more people and would require training and on-boarding resources only to be released in a 2-3 year time-frame, when their workload leveled off.  If they could stem this continual hiring influx, they can concentrate on developing their core competencies;  processes/lean optimization, materials enhancements, leadership skills, product development/brand development. By developing a  sub-contractor workforce with the competition,  they  hope to develop a stronger client focus and reduce the negative impacts that are associated with layoffs.

    – – –

    Liam Holt is a  recent owner of a machine shop on the 495 hub of Massachusetts. Having been in the business for over 20 years for 8 different employers in the industry, he knows all the machine shop owners in the area.

    “It’s very competitive but also supportive,” Holt explains. “People lend tools and give advice freely [whenever someone] encounters a problem.  It’s a favor bank that you help your local shops, because you never know when you will be in need of help.  The ultimate respect is when your competition recommends you on a job”

    Recommending your competition happens in business all the time.  Your ability to accept work depends on many factors, including current workload, logistics, or willingness to undertake an all-or-nothing project. If you can best serve an existing customer by referring a better suited competitor,  it speaks volumes for your understanding that your customers needs come first.

    Selecting a Competition Partner

    When considering business partners, there has to be potential where both businesses benefit by working cooperatively. Trust and understanding are critical for determining consideration. When you refer a business or recommend a person, you take ownership in being a part of the process, good or bad.  There is risk associated with taking on any job, but when you recommend a business that you don’t fully know, that’s using bad judgement. Before you refer someone, you must know and trust them implicitly. Do they have the same values/business ethics? Do they stand by their product or service? Are they known as a company that overstates and under delivers? Or vice versa? Do they conduct themselves in a nonprofessional manner?

    As you get acquainted with a prospective partner, be sure to speak with a few people/customers who know and/or have used their service. After making your choice,  collaborate on smaller projects that would minimize risk for damaging your reputation. When there is a deliverable involved, be sure to have periodic reviews for measuring performance for both parties for quality and customer satisfaction considerations.

    Opportunities to Partner 

    In the spirit of cooperation, here are comments from fellow ACE Member Doug Packard’s Coopetition article from Mainebiz May 30, 2011, about selecting a partner competitor.

    The extent to which you partner with a competitor can take many forms. You may decide to rely on a range of partnerships, depending on the competitor and the type of customer engagement, such as:

     Referral system: Both businesses inform each other of opportunities that the other can handle more efficiently in return for an agreed-upon referral fee. To work well, both firms must refer business to each other on a regular basis.

    – Sub-contractor relationship: Depending on the situation, the sub-contractor can represent the originating firm or themselves. The originating company invoices the customer and handles project management while the sub-contractor takes on particular tasks or skill requirements.

    – Joint project partnership: Both firms work directly with the customer, and each invoices the customer for work performed. But the two firms also work closely in supporting the customer and collaborating on the project.

    Developing New Partnerships

    Getting comfortable with new partners can be daunting, but it can also help you to grow. Establishing a relationship with a trusted competitor can lead to discovery, awareness, or information that wasn’t known previously. Keep an open mind for fostering  competitive relationships, since it can lead to a better bigger-picture understanding.

    In my friend’s words: “Many business leaders may not be ready to take the coopetition step. But those who are successful over the long run usually earn a reputation for thinking of customers’ interests first, and coopetition is one of the best ways to demonstrate that. There are few secrets you need to worry about protecting from competitors, because business success usually comes down to relationships and execution. If you do both well and take care of customers, you will succeed. Try developing a matrix of your products and services by industry and geography to see if there aren’t some opportunities to accelerate success with a coopetition strategy.”

    – – –


  • April 12, 2017 3:36 PM | James Casey (Administrator)

    April 7, 2017

    Bland Marketing – Don’t let your brand lose focus

    Contact: jim@caseyommunications.biz

     

    There was a time not long ago when BRAND implied a highly focused strategic basis for what a company promised the public - what it stood for. The brand was the ultimate competitive advantage, and marketing the brand was a full-time job. These days, more and more it seems to me that brand marketing has become bland marketing - undifferentiated, me-too and dressed up in the latest designer look & feel.

    It amounts to brand blasphemy perpetrated on one’s own business. It’s not fair to the consumer or the company. But in these difficult economic times, unfortunately, too many companies settle for expediency rather than strategy.
    Instead of engaging and earning the trust of consumers bland marketing triggers suspicion and ire, which becomes the standard consumer posture.

    Understanding why this is happening is pretty simple. Most marketers just don’t do the hard work of identifying their company’s true raison d'être, assuming they have one. They are pressed for results so they settle for an idea that feels like a USP and works...in the moment. I’ve seen lots of examples of one brand annexing a competitor’s brand, adding a slightly different spin (hey, if it’s working for them, it can work for us!). The resulting marketing is uninspired, un-motivating: bland marketing.

    Let me be clear, there are many, many, many great brands out there. They are great because at the core they stand for something important to the consumer and the company. They represent value; they deliver on a promise that is important to the consumer and that engenders trust and allegiance. Internally, that promise drives the actions of the company. Great brands are nurtured continually by everyone in the organization. It’s hard work.

    Bland marketers need to pay attention to and learn from the greats.

    Creating a brand is hard work. Creating a successful brand is hard work, continually.


  • February 04, 2017 10:53 AM | Jim Milliken

          “Don’t argue with me – I have debated before the American Bar Association.”

         That is one of the more efficient discussion killers I have collected in a lifelong study of human conversation. If the remark doesn’t instantly freeze the other party, it sets an agenda for a losing exchange. You are put down and set up in one neat pre-emptive strike.
         Are you going to now argue about whether you’re arguing, or debate debating with a master debater?
         You got into the conversation originally to explore differences and seek understanding. It hadn’t occurred to you that it was a competition. If that’s what it is going to be, you’ll need to reorder your entire frame of mind. Probably need to do some research, too.
         That is, of course, if you buy the choice you have been so smoothly locked into. If you don’t buy it, how would you rate your chances of resetting the basis for why we’re talking? 
         Perhaps the politic thing to do is just acquiesce and withdraw.

         Here’s another, this one relying upon blunt force to nail a point:

         “That’s where you’re wrong.”
         Hey, I was just offering an idea, not picking a fight. Wrong or right wasn’t the point. Now that it unexpectedly is, I’m either flummoxed or mad . . . or both. If I’m not careful, we’re off into an utterly irrelevant argument about manner, facts, sources or events.
         I’m not prepared for that, and the sour outcome pretty much kills off whatever it was I started out to explain.
         Both of those examples involve managers and staff members, and both accurately reflect how the relationships were conducted as a regular matter. When the exchanges occurred in the presence of third parties, they were instructive for all – and sometimes intentionally hyped for that purpose.
         As with all communication between people, each of the conversations had two main components: Intention, or purpose; and tactics, the visible/audible action to execute the intention.
         If you think such a description makes too big a deal out of a simple comment/response, you’re mistaken.

         Think about it: There are people you are in regular contact with who make you feel good, just by the way they relate to you. They’re cheery, interested, responsive, always happy to see you. Your working arrangement with them may be virtually nonexistent, but they’re in your daily life and you’re happy to have them.

         If, on the other hand, they are directly above you in the organization’s hierarchy, it can be a pleasure to go to work each day, to exchange suggestions, carry out assignments and resolve problems. You can feel yourself growing, and you love everything about it.
         Now back to those two put-down artists. When someone fixes you with a steady gaze, pauses and says in a firm, even tone, “Now that’s where you’re wrong,” the statement sticks. The moment takes on some importance, and the criticism cuts somewhat deeper, because that is the obvious intention.
         Generally, with such a person you never know when you’re going to absorb a gratuitous slam. They ambush people, and you’re going to be cautious and restrained around them.

         As with so many other workplace realities, this intention/tactics consideration has a heightened effect in Project Management.

         When your project is heavily characterized by complexity, dependency, risk, time constraints, etc. – that is, is a real project – the project manager and key decision makers really need to trust one another.
         The relationships do not necessarily need to be close and warm, but the personal agendas must be open and truly collaborative. The moment-to-moment interactions must demonstrate sincere respect and responsiveness.
          When something needs fixing, including the actions or behavior of a teammate, there is absolutely no question that a constructive outcome is the sole strategic goal . . . and professional courtesy characterizes the tactics.
         Effective project managers make sure it’s that way. No argument.


  • March 18, 2016 1:27 PM | Stephen Jenks

    I just met a guy providing services to small consulting firms and individual consultants that allows us to get information comprehensively and inexpensively. His name is Guy Cohen and his company is Ask Wonder. Here's how it works. you go to askwonder.com/request, and write your question. They charge $30 / question and you get really a lot of information including all the sources they researched in answering your question. There is no membership, no fees involved. Here are some sample questions asked. Click on them and you can see the responses and sources:

    Typical use cases are:

        
  • December 18, 2015 5:01 PM | Jay Casavant (Administrator)

    For those who are making presentations and want nice graphics - here is a site that was brought to our attention.  Uli Stewart posted this through to the ACE Linkedin groups but was spammed as "inappropriate" 


    Data Visualization Template Tool

    Nice (free) Infographic tool that our talented marketing partner recommended. Can you apply it to your business or does anyone want to share their experience in using it? https://infograph.venngage.com/templates Thanks Louise Merriman!


  • February 20, 2015 11:13 AM | Jay Casavant (Administrator)

     

         On Thursday, February 20, I will be facilitating an open Round Table discussion, “Building Your Mentoring Program,” for members of the Association for Consulting Expertise (ACE).

         It has been suggested that ACE organize a mentoring program for our 60+ consultant members, with their varying levels of consulting for marketing, sales, management, process improvement and coaching, to name a few of our areas of specialty.

          This is a subject of vital importance to all of us, so I am using the occasion to offer some ideas on how it should be done.

    Background

         Most successful organizations use mentoring to simulate learning and creativity. This is a way for newer people to benefit from the knowledge and more experienced colleagues. When they have a structured/formalized programs, members can take the time to develop their skills. That offers great rewards to all those who participate, as well as the companies/groups that foster them.

         I have mentored several people over my 25 years in the recruiting field, and have found it an enriching experience. Seeing people grow and thrive over time has been a wonderful experience that has helped shape the person I am today.

         Our preferred model for hiring has been to bring on people who have no specific recruiting experience, and train them. We have always been competitive within the industry and among the branches in our company.

    Mentor Success Factors

         While mentoring that results in enhancing teammates’ performance is very gratifying, by no means is success a given. Factors that weigh on the outcome include communication style, personality, receptiveness to feedback and ability to focus on the needs of the individual client.

         The mentor must take ownership of the role. One’s ability to be coach, adviser, instructor and advocate is critical in communication as a mentor. Determining the mentee’s learning style is very relevant, as are strong listening skills to meet the necessity for open feedback.

         Prerequisites are patience, persistence and thoughtfulness on the mentor’s part in establishing a trusting relationship that builds confidence in the process. Confidence in and comfort with the depth of the mentor’s proficiency is illustrated by their use of stories.

    Conducting the Process

         The mentor needs to gauge the mentee’s enthusiasm and drive for learning to determine how to plan and execute the training process. If the mentee is to fully engage, he or she has to be open to the subject matter, and see the value in it. Reinforcing the learning process by employing those practices should be a part of any successful mentoring program.

         Proper mentoring takes that into account by having a plan in place to closely monitor and evaluate progress to maintain alignment with the set goals and objectives. Open and honest feedback by both parties is especially essential here.

         Being a champion for the mentee is one of the most critical elements for success. Frequent praise, support, acknowledgement of progress and of good ideas will generate enthusiasm, and encourage the furthering of the mentoring process.

         The end goal is to have the mentee be comfortable and confident enough to employ the newly learned material, growing and evolving the use of the skills.

    How to Proceed?

         “Success through Collaboration” is the defining statement of ACE, and that underlies the intention of establishing a formal internal mentoring program. The mission of the mentoring program will be to provide a framework for building members’ consulting skills – thereby meeting our responsibility to be the best we can be for our clients, and for ourselves.

         Given the varying needs and experience levels of the 60+ members, the methodology is as-yet unclear. As a start, here are the initial steps we will discuss at the February 20 Round Table discussion:

    1) Application Process

                    Mentors

                    Mentees

    Where are we now?  The plan is to develop a more formal mentorship program with a clear vision for a working program.   Should it be a requirement of ACE members to participate?  Where should meetings be held? What would be the time commitment?   

    2) Matching Process

    Defining the needs/wants of participants; defining the application/matching process. 

    Who are the mentors and how would a potential mentee reach one?  What does the mentee in a mentor; is there a suitable match for addressing the need?

    3) Mentoring Process (needs analysis)

    Any successful program requires goals and objectives.  Goal setting can be difficult but defining the parameters correctly makes for a tight alignment.  Using metrics to gauge progress and outcomes is critical.

    4) Process Improvement

    After a mentoring period, there should be an evaluation from both parties. What was learned? How will the subject matter be reinforced? What might be future considerations?

  • July 09, 2014 6:09 PM | Jim Milliken

    By JIM MILLIKEN

    Association for Consulting Expertise

          What do you want? What’s it worth?

         “When you’re thinking about bringing in a consultant, your eye should be on the prize,” says David Fields, the international mentor-consultant and best-selling author. “How do you expect to be better off at the end of this – and what is the value of that?

         “That’s a different conversation than ‘How do we have you work on this for $40 an hour?’ –which is about cost.

         “The project is aimed at solving a problem or achieving an outcome. That should be the focus of all the work and all the contracts and all the rest.”

         Fields, who wrote “The Executive’s Guide to Consultants,” is a prolific presenter and blogger, as well as a writer and consultant.

         He was interviewed after his recent presentation to Maine’s Association for Consulting Expertise. The ACE program was aimed at advising consultants. This interview explored the other side of the relationship – the client.


         It is a mistaken tendency of many executives, he said, to look at cost up front (Wrong!”) and to compare a consulting fee to employee salaries: “Why, I could hire four fulltime employes for that.”

         Fields answers: “That’s an apples-to-Oldsmobiles comparison.

         ”You’re hiring a consultant to help you solve a problem or achieve an aspiration, and the value they’re supposed to be delivering, compared to the value full-time employees would deliver is what you should compare. Across all industries, the average return on labor costs is around 6-to-1, so if your consultant is giving you more than a 6-to-1 return that’s a better investment than an employee. (Keep in mind also that a new employee would have to deliver that 6-to-1 return every day, month and year you have them employed.)

         “Before the person even talks to a consultant, have they figured out the value of the project? The first thing they should do is answer the question, ‘Why bother?’ What’s the reason to bother – solving the problem or achieving the aspiration – and what’s the value?”

         They should determine whether they really need outside help, he says.

         Mistakes are made both ways: “They often can get close enough without that help – they can get 80 to 90 percent there – all they really need. It matters because consultants are disruptive.

         “On the other hand, people frequently do things on their own that they shouldn’t. They should go to the outside if it is not in their core expertise. This is especially true with small companies, and even more when the founder is involved. It’s hard to bring in an outsider.”

     

         When there is a considered decision to hire a consultant, Fields says, the first thing the client and consultant should do together is thoroughly examine six topics:

    • 1.       What is the situation? Specifically, what has changed and why does the client need outside help?
    • 2.      What’s the desired outcome? Fields urges care to ensure that a simple deliverable is not mistaken for an outcome. If communication training is conducted to cut down on outcome errors, improved communication does not mean the desired outcome was reached if the errors are still happening.
    • 3.      What are the success indicators? How will you know you have achieved the outcome? This should be settled at the start. There can be qualitative indicators (improved confidence on the part of executives) as well as quantitative indicators (cost control, schedule improvement).
    • 4.      What are the risks and concerns?  There are threats to the project that must be considered, but also risks in bringing in a consultant.
    • 5.      What is the value? What hard and soft benefits will the solution or achievement bring to the client’s company, its employees and its customers?
    • 6.      What are the parameters? These are the limits, assumptions, etc.

         What if the project doesn’t go well? “I place the blame on the client,” David Fields says. “The client didn’t hire well. In most cases, clients do a lousy job hiring consultants. Just as with marketing, not as easy as, well, just anybody can write copy. Not so – there are some best practices that you need to follow.

         “I do put some blame on consultants. They’re the ones who let this go ahead.”

         One problem is that clients “tend to hire people who are experienced in their situation, instead of someone expert in the outcome. You already have the experience in your organization. You need someone expert in where you want to go.

         “You shouldn’t look for someone who has been a scorer in a particular sport. You need someone who has scored goals in a variety of sports. Or no sport at all – but has a talent for team energy, who can bring that to everyone.

         “You need someone who knows how to help coaches communicate with players.”

     

         David Fields looks for the vision and skills that account for the broad scene, anticipate possibilities of all kinds and ask lots of questions before formalizing a project.

         He provides a dash of cold logic based on taking that approach:

         “Everyone thinks their situation is unique – client and consultant. Not so. None of us is unique.”

        

      

        

  • June 24, 2014 3:28 PM | Anonymous

    Frustrated that you are using online tools to try to grow your business, but it feels like you are spinning your wheels?


    Are you delivering the right message, the right way, in your online marketing efforts?

    An upcoming Portland seminar in Sept will be offering support with these problems, but to insure that your specific online marketing concerns are covered, please respond to the following one question survey:

    Do you feel your company is getting a good return for your online marketing efforts (such as social media, your website, blog and/or e-newsletter)?
    Why or why not?


  • May 24, 2014 12:56 PM | Robert Keteyian
    http://www.fastcompany.com/3030939/4-pillars-consultants-need-to-effectively-communicate-with-clients

    Here's a link to an article I wrote for Fast Company. It's about a new communication tool I'll be presenting at the July ACE Roundtable. This tool is versatile and straightforward. I use it to:
    • Guide leadership communication
    • Focus professional development conversations
    • Structure difficult conversations
    • Plan communication strategies
    • Diagnose communication breakdowns

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