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Ethical dilemmas: Commentary on Case 2: Silently watching

In this series we confront readers with ethical dilemmas and ask: what would you have done?

These are based on a series written in the mid-1990s by Paul Lynch for Management Consultancy magazine in which he posed ethical dilemmas that might confront management consultants and asked readers what they might have done in those circumstances.

Paul followed up each case with a commentary based on readers’ observations and what had happened in reality.  You can read Dilemma 1 here and its commentary here.

In the second case, Silently Watching, the fictional consultant Antonia was faced with a strong and competent managing director inviting her to vet or check another consultancy firm’s work in secret. Readers were left at the point of Antonia being faced with a decision to accept this invitation or not. Again her personal dilemma was that she needed the work and the income or at least the possibility of income.

This may seem simplistic to some consultants but many who are self-employed sole practitioners will no doubt be familiar with the sort of pressure this brings to bear on the individual and which can compromise ideals and integrity.

Whether the question faced by Antonia in this case is entirely an ethical one is doubtful although it does appear to transgress a basic principle of consultancy ethics concerned with transparency. Transparency is openness with all concerned at the right time and in the right way, so that no one is in any doubt about the roles of the client and the consultant.

An ethical consultancy providing competent work should have no fear of a third-party audit. Antonia’s check should thus not constitute any threat, and should provide comfort that the managing director is receiving value for money.

Antonia's discomfort is centred on the fact that the whole arrangement is secret and there seems to be something underhand in the way that this is being done. It is not in her nature to do things in such a way. This may possibly have been the stronger driving force in her decision to refuse the invitation. When she left the client, she drove back to base wondering whether she'd done the right thing – something many of us might wonder when faced with such a dilemma: have we done the right thing or not?

The story does have a happy ending: some weeks later Antonia was invited back by the managing director to carry out a small assignment in an open manner, upfront, with clear written terms of reference. Virtue has its own rewards perhaps.

Friday 12th June 2020
The Thinker statue