Consultants, especially new consultants, can expect to encounter ethical issues. Ethical behavior affects the quality of work a consultant performs. Consultants should always keep the client’s needs as a driving force to ethical behavior. In the following paragraphs, three ethical dilemmas that consultants are likely to encounter are described along with suggestions of how to deal with each issue.
Serving the Client’s Needs at All Costs
The consultant’s requirements and propositions are put into words and conveyed to the client during the contracting meeting. These are the resources that the consultant will need in order to assure that the project is completed successfully. Even when a consultant has these resources in place, consulting is still a challenge. For example, time constraints, limited budget, and overcoming resistance are all challenges that may occur during various phases of the project and must be overcome. But when a consultant is faced with completing a project without the necessary resources ever being offered in the first place, the challenge of successful project completion can be devastating.
If faced with the dilemma of accepting a project without the client meeting, or at least negotiating, the consultant’s requirements and propositions versus walking away from the project altogether, the event of successful consulting would be better served by walking away from the project. Saying yes to this type of project, knowing that the resources aren’t in place, jeopardizes the quality of the project and the reputation of the consultant. Saying yes to this type of project will not serve the client’s needs.
Success Isn’t Measured By Client Volume
One of the components of a marketing plan is to delineate a measureable marketing goal. A marketing goal will, more often than not, set forth an increase in clientele or profit margins. If these targets are set too high, the consultant risks undertaking business that otherwise should have been rejected for reasons such as insufficient or non-existent resources, or the consultant’s transparent incompatibility with the client.
Instead of measuring success by client volume, the consultant, especially the external consultant, should measure success by such success markers as the consultant having taught the client how to deal with similar future situations. If at the end of a project the client is more capable of learning, and now has an organization in which he or she can believe, the consultant has rendered a qualitative rather than quantitative service.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Many organizations do not maintain internal Human Resource Development (HRD) consultants and rely on outside consultants to establish a problem solving procedure and set standards for employee performance. If clients are satisfied with the work of the external consultant, the expectation is that the financial rewards will include continued opportunities for consulting services with that client and referrals to new clients. However, if there is more demand for business than the consultant can handle, the consultant may either need to refer new business to other HRD consultants or hire subcontractors.
It is recommended that the consultant build a network of reputable consultants. If a consultant takes on more business than can be handled, it is likely that the consultant will not be able to perform the quality of work that clients deserve.
Consultants should conduct a financial analysis of projected yearly expenses. Based on these projected expenses and the number of days the consultant expects to work within a year, a desired rate of pay can be established. The financial analysis and rate will help the consultant maintain a professional, quality practice. If the consultant decides to hire subcontractors rather than refer new business to a trusted network of consultants, the consultant will need to divulge this information to the client. The client has every right to know exactly who is working for the consultant and for the client. The subcontractor(s) name(s) and a description of the work being performed should be incorporated into the contracting agreement. It should be made quite clear that the subcontractor(s) is/are bound by the same terms of the agreement as is the consultant. Professional practice, not the size of the practice is important to assure quality service is rendered to the client.
When faced with ethical issues, it is important that the consultant remember that a successful consultant serves the needs of the clients. Accepting projects with inadequate resources, accepting projects merely to increase business, and accepting more projects than can be handled by the consultant jeopardizes the quality of the project and the reputation of the consultant.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A. Human Resource Development