Consulting Ethical Dilemmas

How would you respond to these challenges?

As you grow your firm and your consulting practice starts to thrive, the nature of your challenges also changes.

Consultants who are starting out or firms going through some kind of transition are often concerned about cash flow, marketing and sales, or hiring and developing the expertise required to deliver on their promises.

After you've built some momentum and are going through a growth phase, the issues often become more of better pricing your engagements, developing long-term relationships and partnerships, and keeping your team aligned. But growth will also create several ethical dilemmas you will have to deal with.

How would you respond to these challenges?

  • If I increased my lifestyle standards (and now only fly first class and stay in the best hotels), should I bill my clients for these preferences?
  • A competitor of one of my largest clients wants to hire me because of my reputation in the industry. As long as I respect NDAs, is there any ethical problem in working with clear competitive companies?
  • If I'm now a recognized authority and have a strong reputation behind me, is that acceptable if I take some ideas from other authors and consultants and put my personal spin on them (as long as I respect copyrights)?
  • If I'm doing internal research inside an organization and a midlevel manager tells me (on a strictly confidential basis) about criminal activity inside the company, should I share that with the CEO or leadership team? Isn't it better - or even ethically necessary - to maintain confidentiality and continue to be a trusted partner for the client?
  • Another consulting firm introduces me to a client they are currently working with to deliver a complex project together. The project goes well, and at the end of it the client asks me to take on a long-term project replacing the firm that originally introduced us. Can I ethically accept this project?

All of these situations have happened to me, to colleagues, or to consulting partners who are BCC members.

I believe there are no right or wrong answers to ethical dilemmas. Of course, we can't ignore specific context. But these situations will force you to take a stand and make a decision. One perspective I like is that of Alan Weiss:

"Always ask yourself, "Would I be proud of this if it appeared all over the Internet tomorrow?"

If you genuinely believe you are doing the right thing, there's no reason to hide your actions.

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