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#412: Think Twice About Accepting an Assignment from Your Client's Competitor

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I have been working for a year with a major manufacturer. A few days ago, I received a call from my client's direct competitor, inquiring if I would be interested in performing some ad-hoc analysis for them. Although I certainly do not want to jeopardize the great relationship I have built with my largest client, accepting this assignment might result in obtaining more significant work from them in the future. Can you foresee any potential ethical issues with accepting this offer while continuing to work with my current client?

When you consider accepting simultaneous assignments (or similar subsequent work) with competitors, there is always a risk that either side might suspect some type of impropriety or conflict of interest, even if you don't. The IMC Code of Ethics (COE) provides guidance in avoiding such conflicts by recommending that members fully disclose details of the proposed assignment to both clients and obtaining express, written permission from both parties before accepting the work.

If either party raises concerns over the proposed work arrangement and these concerns cannot be resolved, the consultant should express a willingness to reject the new assignment (or withdraw from both assignments, if necessary). I have done this whenworking for two cllients who were facing each other in court. A full and advance disclosure and offer to withdraw resulted in both clietns accpeting my continued work for them, both noting that my CMC designation and commitment to ethics made a difference to them.

Even if the new arrangement is fully disclosed and permission to proceed is mutually granted, actively working for competing clients may have unforeseen risks. For example, a conflict of interest could develop from the unintentional sharing of client- proprietary information. You must be extremely careful not to apply specific solutions designed for one client to those of a competitor without mutual, express permission. Breaches in confidentiality may also result from carelessness (e.g., casual conversation overheard in public) or even by not employing proper data safeguarding (e.g., passwords, encryption, document destruction, etc.).

Tip: Following the COE, and then some, is the best way to avoid client dissatisfaction with your services and potentially irreversible damage to your professional reputation.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  ethics  trust  your consulting practice 

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