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Ethical dilemmas: Commentary on Case 6: The bearer of bad tidings

This case described how the mythical and multi-talented consultant Antonia had been recruited by Alpha Associates, a professional services firm, to head their IT advisory department.

Her first project was for client ABC plc where Alpha Associates was assisting in a major change project. Following Antonia’s appointment Alpha Associates won a competitive tender to plan the development of IT services as part of the change project.

During her work at ABC, Antonia found that the Finance Director – Alpha Associates’ main client at ABC – was sponsoring a project that, although being of considerable commercial benefit would, she estimated, have IT requirements at odds with the mainstream development and would eventually prove to be a waste of money. Antonia’s dilemma was whether to report this, as doing so would not only be reputationally damaging for the Finance Director, but would also put the whole change programme at risk, and perhaps result in the complete loss of ABC’s business with Alpha Associates. Readers were asked what they would do.

Being less than honest with a client for fear of losing their business runs counter to the code of conduct for management consultants that requires them to put the interests of the client first. However, if the change programme would be set back by Antonia’s report, then it may not be in the best interest of the client to report her conclusions.

Even so, it seems that if Antonia is correct, ABC will eventually end up wasting a considerable sum of money, and the FD and the board may quite reasonably ask Alpha Associates ‘If you knew about this, why didn’t you tell us?’

Antonia has of course assumed that her conclusions are correct, even though she has not got all the information she needs; and that the Finance Director is unaware of this potential difficulty.

She therefore needs to go about communicating her findings with some sensitivity; going public with them as a first step would be a mistake as it pre-empts better options and Antonia should consider less confrontational ways of proceeding. As a newcomer to Alpha Associates and ABC, Antonia would do well to ask for advice on how best to handle this situation. Therefore, as a first step she should brief the Alpha Associates partner appointed as relationship manager with ABC before taking any action and seek his advice on how best to deal with the situation. The partner should have a better understanding of the context, of ABC plc, and the personality of the FD, so as to be able to help Antonia develop a well-informed strategy.

Antonia should therefore use a joint problem-solving approach which Alpha Associates might also employ with the FD. The successful resolution of problems jointly between client and professional adviser often strengthens the relationship!

Saturday 13th February 2021
The Thinker statue