When you go to work on a consulting customer’s project, that customer is placing a great deal of trust, not only in your abilities to help resolve a business problem, but also in your resolve to be responsible, especially with the knowledge you acquire about the client organisation’s internal affairs.
If you’re planning to set yourself up as an independent consultant therefore, you should make sure you understand ethical practices in management consulting and commit to your own code of personal ethics, which you will religiously adhere to when working with your customers.
The following four tenets of ethical practice should never be broken if you want to be regarded as a trustworthy consultant, who customers would rehire and recommend to others without hesitation.
1. Be Honest and Responsible About Billable Hours
Never violate your customer’s trust by billing for anything more than the time attributable to working on her project. Similarly, although it can get tough when you are juggling projects for multiple clients, don’t perform work on one customer’s project while you are located on the premises of another. If you are on a customer site, it’s expected that your time is vested only in work for which that customer is paying.
2. Don’t Promise Anything You Can’t Deliver
Ethical practices in management consulting apply not only to what you actually do, but also to what you say. Never promise a customer you will do something if you have the slightest doubt in your mind about successfully delivering on it. That doesn’t mean you can’t demonstrate optimism, but there’s a big difference between saying you’re optimistic about an outcome and promising that you’ll secure it.
3. Honesty and Candour in Communication
Sugarcoating facts and twisting the truth to make it more palatable are political techniques best left to those within your customer’s organisation. Your customer is paying you good money to expose issues and problems and to propose solutions. You can only help your customer effectively if you are totally honest, even if that means telling people things they don’t wish to hear. Honesty in communication is one of the most important ethical practices in management consulting—perhaps second only to confidentiality.
4. Client Confidentiality
This is a big one and I already mentioned it briefly in the introduction to this post. When working on a customer’s project, you’ll be privy to all kinds of proprietary information which you’re expected to protect. Never discuss the details of projects with anybody outside of the client company, unless you’re given express permission (by the customer) to do so. You will also need to take appropriate measures to protect any paper documents, digital files or data that belongs to the customer.
Create Your Own Code of Ethics
The four ethical practices in management consulting described above are those which I believe should be given the highest priority and should never be subject to compromise. I strongly recommend that you create your own code, which includes these and any other ethical considerations you intend to honor. Put your code of ethics in writing and display a copy prominently in your office or above your desk.
As a consultant you are in a position of great responsibility, which is something you should never lose sight of. Creating your own ethical code of practice will help to cement that sense of responsibility. Adhering to it determinedly will allow you to respect yourself and become known in your marketplace as a trustworthy and reputable consultant.