Getting Clients to Implement Your Recommendations

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A very advanced skill in consulting is presenting recommendations to clients in a way that increases the odds they will actually follow your recommendations.

It has nothing to do with the logic of your analysis and everything to do with understanding people.

If you want to be influential and effective, you will want to learn this skill.

Incidentally, most consulting firms including MBB are actually pretty terrible at this.  They believe that if you make a logical argument, you will convincethe client you are right.

Now this is generally true.

But just because a client agrees with what you recommend does not mean they will actually do it!

There is just an enormous difference between the two.

I elaborate on this topic towards the end of an article I originally intended for those still in the recruiting process.

Towards the end I explain why clients will often agree with you and then promptly do nothing... and more importantly, how to prevent that from happening.

Here is the article below (skim the first few parts, the relevant stuff for new consultants is towards the end of the article -- but will not make sense withoutreading the first part of the article).


*** Start of Article ***

BCG & Bain Offers without Live Practice


I would like to talk about one very specific aspect from my recruiting experience that has led to securing offers from BCG and Bain.

My background is engineering from a top English university, and I was applying to another Western Europe Office.

The specific aspect that I would like to talk about was my lack of practice partners.

Basically the opposite situation from previous emails in your newsletter!

I was on a year abroad in another Western European country in a university where the interest for the MBB was pretty low, so I had NO access to practice partners here.

The way I acquired the necessary skills was done in four ways and over three months:

1) Getting consultants to give some cases

2) Read a lot about consulting

3) Listened again and again to LOMS

4) Leverage as much as I could the feedback given after each rounds

Here it is in more detail:

1) Consultants were willing to give me a couple of cases, but due to limited time for most consultants and the fact that I did not have personal friends in consulting, I only ended up doing three practice cases, all by phone.

2) Reading a lot about consulting very early in the process showed me the importance for being Hypothesis driven, structured and data driven.

So after I listened to LOMS, I really understood that your teaching methods were based on the thinking process of McKinsey.

3) As I did not have any access to practice partners, it was amazing to listen to cases (4-5 times) and it worked!

During the case interviews I had, I was speaking exactly like you up to the point I was scared other candidates did it too.

I think during my interviews I was so hypothesis driven that some of my interviewers were getting bored as it is obviously a little more lengthy but it always came out as a very positive aspect.

4)  I don't think anyone starts with the first interview being perfect and what I felt was that the feedback from the interviewers was given to see if you could improve.

One of my last round was the most obvious, as I was given a very similar case to the penultimate interview. Only to test if I would do it right this time, and I got told so!

Okay, so overall I think that you can now get an MBB offer without practice partners, but this was probably not possible before LOMS existed!!!


My Reply:

Congratulations on your offers from both Bain and BCG.

For the benefit of others reading this, there was one observation you made the really jumped out at me as quite insightful, and you are the first person to have mentioned it to me.

You mentioned that "...after I listened to LOMS, I really understood that your teaching methods were based on the thinking process of McKinsey."

At some level it seems this would be obvious, but it is actually a profoundly insightful observation that I think many if not most people too easily overlook.

Many new members to my case interview preparation community start off looking for frameworks.  I get a lot of questions from new members if I have a framework for IT consulting cases, or human resource cases, or economic policy cases.

These are usually from people who have companies outside of the strategy consulting firms that I tend to focus on.

In some respects, this somewhat misses the whole point of both what I teach in LOMS, and what is actually used on the job at McKinsey and other strategy firms.

In three years at McKinsey, I don't think I used a single framework the entire time I was there. Instead, I absorbed (was indoctrinated, some might argue) in a way of thinking... a thought process... an analytically-oriented problem solvingprocess.

Once you "get" that you're supposed to think like this, a framework becomes somewhat unnecessary.

When I don't have a framework, I just make one up by doing three things:

1) Come up with a hypothesis (a decision that is phrased as if the decision has already been made).

So a hypothesis is not "should the client enter XYZ market." A hypothesis is "YES, the client should definitely enter the XYZ market".... or "NO, the client should definitelynot enter the XYZ market."

2) Figure out what data is needed to prove the hypothesis to be correct.

3) Try to organize that data in a way that is either MECE or at least somewhat MECE.

That's it... presto you just made up your own framework...also know as an issue tree.

So I am not surprised that you got offers from both BCG and Bain, because clearly you used LOMS and got out of it exactly what I had hoped people would get out of it.

The point of LOMS is not to memorize the specific choices made in specific cases.

Instead, it is to learn, through example, the underlying thinking process principles that apply across all case situations -- including situations you have never encountered before (which pretty much happens on every other project on the job as a consultant).

To address your concern that perhaps other candidates speak using a language pattern similar to the one I demonstrate in LOMS, there is no need to worry.

The vast majority of people at MBB speak this way!  It is as the book says, "The McKinsey Way..."

I know for McKinsey people in particular, they all recognize when someone else thinks and speaks in this particular way... it is code that the person is good.

Now if you use the language pattern but don't actually solve the case, well then that just looks suspicious.

But if you are using the language pattern and identifying the key insights, it demonstrates competence.

Getting back to my original topic, it is one thing to intellectually know you are supposed to do something, it is an entirely different thing to actually do it under the pressure of a real world interview setting.

So in this email for example, I just emphasized you want to have a hypothesis ... and in my Case Interview Secrets video tutorial, I emphasize the same thing ... and yet, when I interviewed the 20 or so people that I did for LOMS, 75% did not hypothesize!

And these were all people who were required to go through all of my Case Interview Secrets videos.

After the case, I asked all of the ones who did not use a hypothesis if they were familiar with what a hypothesis was and that they were supposed to use one ... 100% of them said, "Yes, of course; you said that multiple times in your videos."

So everyone who did not use a hypothesis in their live case with me knew they were supposed to but still did not.

Actually this was somewhat disappointing to me, as I concluded on the one hand my Case Interview Secrets videos were very effective in getting the message across... every person I interviewed remembered what I said in those videos, could recite it and their recollection was accurate.

So from a "did I teach them well and did they remember what I taught them" standpoint, the Case Interview Secrets videos were very effective.

But on the other hand (and this was the really disappointing part), the vast majority of people who could recall what to do still did not do it!

This was the moment that I realized that a case interview is not a school exam where you are taught five new ideas and are asked to recall those five ideas.

In other words, being a good memorizer does not enable you to be good at case interviews.

This was the moment I truly began to appreciate the fact that being good at case interviews is a skill... and that knowing what to do is not the same as having the skill toactually do it.

For example, I could read a book on how to perform heart surgery. I know I'm supposed to cut a line down the center of the chest. I know I am supposed to use rib spreaders to gain access to the heart.

And despite my knowing all of this, would you let me operate on your heart?

Of course not!

That's because though I may be knowledgeable about heart surgery, I do not have the SKILL necessary to do it well. It takes practice.

So when I asked the candidates I interview for LOMS, Why did you not use a hypothesis in the case I gave you even though you just told me you knew you were supposed to?", I got all kinds of answers I was not expecting.

The #1 answer I got was, "Oh yeah... I totally forgot about that."

The #2 answer I got was, "Oh I was planning to do that later, but I kind of got distracted and then I had to do the math problem... and then three pages of notes later, I forgot about it."

The #3 answer I got was, "Oh yeah, that thought did cross my mind... but how exactly are you supposed to do that again?  What exactly do you say?"

The #4 answer I got was, "I knew I was supposed to do that and I knew I was supposed to do it early in the case, but there never seemed to be a natural time to do that... and then I got distracted by XYZ... and then, shoot, I kind of forgot about it, didn't I?"

What I realized from these debriefs was most people were unclear how to apply their case interview knowledge in a real world setting.

I thought briefly that maybe I should just do another PowerPoint type presentation and attempt to define a dozen more specific rules... and maybe that would help.

One of the inspirations behind LOMS came from Irene van der Zande who is the co-founder of

That charity has trained over 1 million children globally on personal space assertiveness training (for young kids) and self-defense training (for older kids, seniors and the disabled).

What I found incredibly remarkable about kidpower was the incredible retention rate of what they teach their students.

For example, she was explaining to me how one of their very first students was a 13-year-old girl who they taught in a three-hour one-time class how to defend yourself when being attacked by a male attacker.

Fifteen years later with no additional training, this girl (now a 28-year-old woman) was taking a walk with her boyfriend.

The boyfriend had recently fired an employee at work, and in the middle of this walk, the disgruntled employee comes charging at the couple with a baseball bat -- with the intention of bashing the boyfriend's head in.

The boyfriend is of course stunned and paralyzed by the shock of the unexpected attack.

So the woman, without even thinking about, takes down the attacker in a single move, disarms him, and incapacitates him, all in the span of about three seconds.

Keep in mind, the only training this 28-year-old woman has had was a one-time, three-hour class fifteen years ago!

Do you want to know the secret to this incredible retention rate?

Well I did too... so I took a version of that class for very young children (where the focus is not on self defense, but rather protecting your own personal space... which if a young child can do -- without even realizing why they are doing it -- will ward off about 95% of the violence committed against young children).

And once I took the class, in about fifteen minutes, I discovered kidpower's incredible secret of skill retention under real world conditions.

First, they told us what to do.

Second, they showed us via demonstration how to do it.

Third, they made us do it six times!

Every phrase. Every hand gesture. Every change in body language.

Literally every specific thing we were supposed to do, they made us practice it in real-life role playing.

So even though I am a business advisor to kidpower (they are a pro bono client), I rely on Irene to be my teaching advisor, particularly in the area of skill retention (which I have come to realize is quite different from knowledge retention).

So her advice to me is you need to get your students to actually "do" the skill, not just take notes on how to do it.

So linking this back to case interviews, let me explain the role of my various case interview training suggestions, and how it maps back to what kidpower does.

My Case Interview Secrets videos explain what to do in a case.

Going through Look Over My Shoulder® the first time shows you via demonstration how to do it.

Practicing with a live case partner or going through LOMS multiple times while practicing out loud every step of every case is my version of making you actually do what I told you and showed you how to do.

Because doing well in a case interview is a verbal skill as much as it is a thinking skill, it is important that your case interview prep has a verbal component.

It is for this exact same reason I strongly discourage LOMS members from passively listening to the cases in it, and instead encourage people to use a stop and go approach... hitting the "pause" button on the recording and askingyourself, "Did this candidate do it right or not?"

If not, "What would I have done differently?" ... and then (very important) actually say out loud what you would have done instead, as if you were the candidate.

This is learning by actively "doing," rather than passively listening.

If you have access to a practice partner, it is quite useful to practice these skills -- once you've learned what to do in Case Interview Secrets, and have seen how it is supposed to be done via demonstration in LOMS.

But, some people simply do not have any access to - or only very limited access to - practice partners.

In those cases, going through LOMS multiple times using a sort of "re-enactment" approach is an effective alternative, as demonstrated by the person who sent in today's email.

I still think best practice is a 50/50 split between LOMS and live practice, up until about 20 live practice cases, and then focusing only on live practice after that.  But if the live practice is just not an option given your circumstances, then LOMS alone is a good second best choice.

I have elaborated on this thought process behind my recommendations for several reasons.

1) If I tell you what to do, but do not explain why... you won't do it. But if I do explain why, you are much more likely to do it.

2) Once you start working in consulting, do not forget this rule -- if you want clients to buy in, don't just make recommendations... explain why you recommend what you recommend.

If the reason just makes an incredible amount of sense, it substantially increases your odds that the recommendation will be accepted.

3) When you do strategy work, one of the most common engagements after a strategy project is implementation -- getting your clients to actually do what you previously recommended.

If you expect them to execute your strategic recommendations just because you recommended them... well guess what, you will be in for a rude surprise, because many will not do it.

If you want them to make this change in their operations, you have to show them how to do it... and if you need specific employees like sales people, research engineers, etc.. to change their behaviors, you need to create a way for them to practice these new skills (required to implement your strategic recommendations) without fear of failure and embarrassment.

It is far easier for a front line employee to ignore your recommendation (or shoot it down, or explain why it won't work, or argue as to why it is a bad idea) than it is for them to do something that is out of their comfort zone.

So if you encounter a client that is resisting change, keep in mind the source of this resistance often is not an objection to the logic behind your recommendation, but is rather due to the factors I've just outlined.

I am actually in the middle of a strategic planning session with a client quite ironically in the moving industry (ironic because one of the cases in LOMS is in the moving industry and after weeks of analysis, this real life client is virtually exactly like the case in LOMS... even though this client found me after LOMS came out).

And one of the requests from the CEO was to have me demonstrate an alternative sales approach to key members of the sales team tomorrow morning.

So don't say, "We need to have the sales team execute differently," show us (or rather show them) how it is done... so they can visualize how they could do it. So I will be doing exactly that.

Now one of the dirty little secrets at MBB is that the percentage of clients that implement recommendations from MBB is nowhere close to 100%.

I do not know the actual number, but a surprisingly high % of clients either do not implement at all or implement so slowly that it takes years to do so... and the lack of results in those years leads detractors to point out that the strategy clearly does not work.

You can minimize some of this tendency by keeping the points I mentioned above in mind.  Don't just make a recommendation, help the client visualize what the recommendation in practice would look like.

It is stuff like this that separates consultants that create good slides vs. consultants that make client businesses better.

I know I might be getting a little ahead of myself given where you are in the recruiting process, but since the topic seemed relevant to the topic at hand, I thought I'd mention it.


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1 comment… add one
  • Waqas Ahmad Feb 7, 2014, 1:31 am

    This is wonderful article. I have started my consulting career almost 6 months ago coming from the operations background, I exactly faced the similar situation and I did exactly the same what is mentioned in this article.

    Great piece of work to read for all.

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