Sometimes the world of consulting is seen like the world of insurance salespeople, and that’s not meant to denigrate them. When someone asks you what you do for a living and you say “consultant”, they look at you like they believe your job is to go into businesses and tell them everything they already know. Either that or they see you as someone who will make bold promises that can’t be kept. Dilbert hasn’t been kind to consultants over the years, yet we all know the comic is fairly accurate much of the time.
I’ve been a consultant for 10 years now, and I have experienced a variety of emotional responses based on who I talk to and when I talk to them. The best experiences I’ve had are when I’ve been able to share something that not only works but is totally truthful, and representatives of the client being shocked that something actually worked. I’ve actually had people surprised when I said every once in a while “I don’t know”, thinking that’s the most honest thing they’ve ever heard.
The flip side of course is having those people who don’t want to even give you a chance because they’ve had other consultants who have failed them. Suddenly you’re grouped with those who violated the ethics of being a consultant because they weren’t properly prepared to do the job, and that’s a hard one to overcome.
I’ve known some of these other consultants. Probably the worst of the lot was the guy who kept telling upper management and the company I was consulting for that he could do pretty much everything. I’ve actually heard business coaches tell people to never admit to not being able to do something, but this was way over the top. Upper management ended up giving him some extra responsibilities that quickly turned out to be something he wasn’t qualified for. I know this because I was qualified to do the job and I kept telling him he was wrong. It never occurred to me to even mention that I could do it because I was doing a different aspect of the project and not trying to find ways to keep myself there, where we were all earning a pretty penny. When I finally went over his head and got the corrections that were needed to help the department he’d been put over work better, he actually tried to make me the heavy for making him look bad, and I had to tell him that it wasn’t about him; it was about doing the right thing for the client.
That’s really the big thing about being an ethical consultant. It’s not whether you look good or someone else looks good or whether someone else has to look bad or you have to look bad. It’s always supposed to be about the clients and their needs. Of course clients can be a pain in the behind as well, and one of those ethical things that I believe some consultants need to learn is how to fire clients. If you’re working with someone who keeps getting on your nerves you not going to give them the best you have to offer, and that’s going to make the world of consulting look bad as well.
The PCA has an actual page of ethics online. I don’t know if everyone’s taken a look at it but it’s the most visited page on our website. If you haven’t seen this, or haven’t seen it in awhile, go take a look; we’ll wait…
That’s some pretty heady stuff, don’t you think? How much does anyone believe this is true? Actually I believe all of it is true with the possible exception of the last one, and that’s only because I don’t know if the organization has ever been contacted by someone to complain about one of our listed consultants. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t act on it, but if we’ve never had an opportunity to act on it the it either means that every member of PCA throughout history has been above board or there’s no one who knows that someone is a member of our organization to know the complain to us about them.
Still, not knowing about us or our statement doesn’t give allowance not to be ethical. There needs to be a moral compass for all of us as consultants that leads us to want to do the right thing. Personally, I believe that almost every single person I’ve ever met who’s been a member of this organization has been ethical. Were all out there trying to do the right thing, and at times will also point out something when we know it’s not the right thing.
Ethics are never totally black and white; if they were, Captain Kirk and Captain Picard never would have violated the prime directive as many times as they did. As long as we as individual consultants continue to try to do the best we can, and as long as we, the members of the Professional Consultants Association of Central New York continue promoting ethical standards for all consultants, it’s pretty much the best we can ask for. We help each other to be better; what can be more ethical than that?