Becoming a Consultant 4 – Ethics and Professionalism

Brian Monger

ETHICS IN CONSULTING

Ethics is not just a vague theory but a working concept that can have an important and real effect on your consulting practice.  Ethics is not simply a matter of obeying the law; it goes much beyond this.  You will also see that the ethical problem is not simple, and yet it is one you will face frequently during your work as a consultant.

Ethics defined

Ethics are about moral evaluations of decisions as to whether they are right or wrong on the basis of socially/culturally accepted principles of behaviour.   Ethics are moral principles that define appropriate behaviour.

The most basic and common ethical issues have been formalised through laws and regulations to ensure conformity to the standards of society.   At the most basic level, practitioners are expected to conform to these laws and regulations.  However, it is important to realise that ethics go beyond legal issues.

Organisations need to operate in accordance with sound moral principles based on ideals such as fairness, justice, and trust.  Clients will generally regard unethical marketing activities as unacceptable and often refuse to do business with practitioners who engage in such practices.

Thus when practitioners deviate from accepted moral principles to further their own interests at the expense of others, continued exchanges become difficult, if not impossible.  Good ethical decisions make good business sense as they foster mutual trust between the organisation and its clients (as well as other stakeholders) and build good relationships.

When an organisation engages in unethical business activities, it may not only lose sales as dissatisfied clients refuse to deal with it, but it may also face lawsuits, fines, and even prison for its executives.

Regardless of how a person or an organisation views the acceptability of a particular activity, if society judges that activity to be wrong or unethical, then this view directly affects the organisation’s ability to achieve its goals.  Although not all activities seen as unethical by society may be illegal, clients may see it as unethical.  Their protests against a particular activity may result in legislation that restricts or bans it.

Ethics are individually understood and vary from one person to another.  Although individual practitioners often work within their own concepts of ethical standards, there needs to be shared standards of acceptable behaviour to guide all business decisions.

BUSINESS ETHICS ARE NOT ALWAYS CLEAR-CUT

If ethical questions could be expressed in clear terms of black or white, decisions on corporate conduct would be easy.  But that is seldom the case.

TYPICAL PROBLEMS OF ETHICS IN CONSULTING

1.  Client already knows the answer he wants to his problem.

2.  Client wants you to omit information from your written report.

3.  Client wants proprietary information that you learned while employed with someone else.

4.  Client wants you to lie to his boss.

5.  You are a head hunter and a member of a client’s firm wants you to recruit him.

6.  Client wants you to bill for greater or lesser than the actual amount.

Policies and Standards (Codes) of Ethical Behaviour

It is difficult for employees to determine what is acceptable behaviour within an organisation if the organisation does not have policies and standards of conduct.  Without policies and standards of behaviour, employees will make decisions based on their understanding of how their peers and managers behave.

Codes of ethics are formalised rules and standards that describe what the company expects of its employees.  Codes of ethics encourage ethical behaviour by eliminating opportunities for unethical behaviour: the company’s employees know both what is expected of them and what the punishment is for violating the rules.  Codes of ethics also help marketers deal with ethical issues or dilemmas that develop in daily operations by prescribing or limiting certain activities.  The codes of ethics do not have to be so detailed that they take into account every situation, but they should provide general guidelines for achieving organisational goals and objectives in a morally acceptable manner.  Top management also should provide leadership and guidelines in implementing the codes.

Acting Professionally

a professional is a person expert in their field of activity, who holds the ideal of service to others (community, client and profession) before their own interests, bringing to bear in this service the wider values of.

v  The acceptance of the “greater good” – having regard for things more important than making money

v  Competence

v  Discretion

v  Adherence to Professional Rules

v  Impartiality

v  Responsibility

v  Integrity and Fairness

v  Ethical Conduct

Key Factors of Professional Practise

Perhaps the most useful elements in defining what a professional should be comes in the following list:

1. Intellectual basis.

2. Private practise focus.

3. Advisory function.

4. Tradition of service.

5. Advisory services

6. Representative institute.

7. Code of conduct.

The list is developed as follows:

1. Intellectual basis

An intellectual discipline, capable of formulation on theoretical, if not academic, lines, requiring a good educational background, and tested by examination.

2. Private practise focus

A foundation in private practise, so that the essential expertise and standards of the profession derive from meeting the needs of individual clients on a person-to-person basis, with remuneration by fees from individual clients rather than a salary or stipend from one source.

3. Advisory function

An advisory function, often coupled with an executive function in carrying out what has been advised or doing ancillary work such as supervising, negotiating or managing; in the exercise of both functions full responsibility is taken by the person exercising them.

4. Tradition of service

An outlook which is essentially objective and disinterested, where the motive of making money is subordinated to serving the client in a manner not inconsistent with the public good.

5. Advisory services

Advisory services (including concomitant executive functions) on matters requiring expert intellectual knowledge and concerning the physical or mental health of an individual, or the protection or advancement of the rights or property of an individual or body corporate, are best provided by a private practitioner whose competence and integrity are vouched for by an independent body representative of such practitioners.

6. Representative institute.

One or more societies or institutes rep- resenting members of the profession, particularly those in private practise, and having the function of safeguarding and developing the expertise and standards of the profession.

7. Code of conduct.

A code of professional ethics laid down and enforced by the professional institute or institutes.

These seven characteristics, taken together, identify a group of vocations or callings essentially different from others and of particular value and importance to the community, which we may call the consultant professions. This is not to say that other callings are of less worth; only that they are different in nature. Since these excluded callings comprise those, for example, of the senior civil servant, the artist, author or composer, the business executive and the pure scientist it is obvious that no slur is intended by their exclusion.

MAXIMS FOR SUCCESS

Risk.  Never be afraid to take risks.  If you work for someone, that is part of what you are getting paid for.  If you work for yourself, it is the only way you can become successful.

Responsibility.  If you are assigned a task, you are responsible for its successful completion.  There are no acceptable excuses for failing to fulfill this responsibility, and the responsibil ity cannot be shifted to others.

Self-Confidence.  Self-confidence comes from successfully completing increasingly difficult tasks and assignments.  Give your maximum to every project, no matter how insignificant or formidable.

Leadership.  A leader accepts responsibility.  This means that the welfare of those that you lead must always come before your own well-being.  Therefore, while your primary duty is the accomplishment of your organisation’s mission, the welfare of your subordinates comes second, and your own welfare last.

Success.  Success does not come from working hard.  Success comes from playing hard.  Therefore, if you want success, you must position yourself so that the duties that you perform, no matter how difficult or challenging, are considered play to you and not work.  If you do this, not only will you gain success, but you will have fun doing it.

Compensation.  Compensation, whether in the form of profit, salary, or job satisfaction, is the by-product of your contribution to society and is in direct proportion to this contribution.  It is an error to make compensation the focus of your life’s work.  You will not reach your full potential, and you will have cheated society of the full benefit of your talent and ability.

Individual Ability.  Every individual has the potential to do great things.  To reach this potential it is necessary to discover your special abilities and qualifications.  This means that you should always attempt new tasks and accept responsibility for untried assignments whenever they are offered.

Duty.  Whatever your occupation, you have a duty to the society of which you are a member.  If you are a soldier, your duty is to protect that society.  If you are in business or industry, your duty is to create and manage the jobs, wealth, and products of that society.  Therefore, failure will be harmful not only to you, but also to society, just as success will be beneficial not only to you, but also to society.

Planning.  Successful actions are not results of accidents or luck, but rather of an analysis of the situation and the preparation and proper execution of plans.  Because of a changing environment and other variables, plans will not always succeed as originally conceived.  But planning will maximize your successes and minimize your failures.

MAANZ International has a new course – Developing a Professional Practise, which can either be taken as an individual subject or part of an Executive Diploma Program.  It is an excellent subject consisting of 10 modules (notes and PowerPoint slides) specifically created for Professional and/or Specialist Consultants.  A certificate is issued on completion.

For more information please contact Brian Monger – info@marketing.org.au

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3 thoughts on “Becoming a Consultant 4 – Ethics and Professionalism

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