Last month we left Antonia, our fictional consultant, deciding on whether to accept a job offer that was made to her by one of her current employer’s competitors. When making a decision, she had to take a few different factors into consideration: the new role was undoubtedly a great opportunity to leverage (and further develop) her specialist consulting skills. However, she wanted to make sure that her decision wasn’t purely determined by her recent disappointment for not being asked to work on an assignment that she was instrumental in winning, mostly thanks to her strong professional relationship with Bill, the potential client. She also needed to be mindful of the fact that her potential new employer had close ties to that same client. As a result, he was mostly likely going to tender for more work with Bill’s company. Antonia knew that this had multiple implications for her and all other parties involved.
After much consideration, she decided that she wanted to accept the job offer but, before doing so, she needed to speak honestly and transparently about her intentions with her current employer, her future boss as well as her client. Her current employer was not happy to see her go but understood that the competitor could offer her a role that suited her knowledge and skillset better. At the moment there was no plan to develop her area of expertise internally. As a result of signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement, Antonia was required not to share any information discussed with Bill, the client, in regard to the assignment she helped securing for her current employer. In addition, she was also formally asked not to be involved in any bidding, project work or related communication with that specific client for a certain amount time after joining the new firm. Luckily for Antonia, her new employer accepted these conditions and the client understood the requirements imposed by Antonia’s current company, and both thanked her for being honest with them.
So, in the end, it all turned out well and Antonia started the new role with her new employer. However, we can’t help asking ourselves what would have happened if her new employer had been less understanding and/or her client had felt somehow betrayed by her sudden decision to move to another company. How, as a result, would this affect her professional relationships with the other parties?
If her potential new employer had not been understanding, she would have had to ask herself some searching questions. Did the new employer really want the client, and not her? What are the ethical standards of the new employer, and what other actions in breach of her personal ethical code might she be asked to undertake? What would that mean for her prospects in her new job? If her client had reacted badly to her move to another company, that would have been unfortunate but she would not have been working on his project anyway if she stayed with her old employer.
Our loyal readers will know that this series of dilemmas has been a feature of our Newsletter for quite a long time and each case presented an opportunity to think about different scenarios - and their related ethical implications - that we, as consultants, face at one point or another during our career. As this month’s commentary is the last instalment in the series, we would like to reflect on the key lessons learned that we should take away from these dilemmas. Although the insights may not be particularly surprising, they are worth mentioning to remind ourselves of a few of the elements that characterise our practice:
When carrying out an assignment, we should always try to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients and make sure that we act in their best interest.
We should work with our clients to identify the most suitable solutions, not only to deliver what we promised successfully, but also as a way to strengthen our relationship with them and, hopefully, turn it into a long-term collaboration based on mutual trust and respect.
Transparency is about being open with all individuals concerned at the right time and in the right way, so that there is full clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the client, the consultant and any other stakeholder involved. It also entails handling communication with sensitivity and avoiding any behaviour that could undermine our client’s confidence.
In our work as consultants, building a strong reputation is the element that can, probably single-handedly, determine our long-term success. We should always conduct ourselves with integrity and honesty, and be an authoritative source of impartial advice.
The dilemmas that we shared are based on a series written in the mid-1990s by Paul Lynch for Management Consultancy magazine. Even though we are now revisiting them almost thirty years later, a lot of what they say is still relevant and valid today, and shows how many of the issues that we face are unchanged and timeless.
What do you think? Which are the critical factors that define our work as management consultants?