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#75: Consulting to Friends

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 19, 2009
Updated: Friday, June 19, 2009
I have been retained by a long time friend. We have discussed separating the roles of advisor and friend and felt we were clear about boundaries. However, this is just a bit strange and I am beginning to wonder if this was a mistake.

I suggest that, despite your discussion of your respective roles with your client, you still have a problem. Yes, you "disclosed" the facts surrounding the nature of your relationship with your friend. Presumably, you also talked about exactly how you will maintain independence and objectivity, the two foundations for ethical consulting. The fact remains that your advice is still, to some extent, compromised. Recognizing this is a necessary first step to resolving this conflict. Recall Solon's warning that "In giving advice, seek to help, not to please, your friend."

Consulting for family and friends can be done but there are two general ways to step back from the subjectivity in advice you just may not be aware you are providing. The first is to identify those areas in which you have an interest. These might include financial (any loans or shared investments?), personal (marriage or history of intimacy?), or legal (is the contract for consulting services the same as for any other provider?). If these conflicts exist and the scope of your services require you to make personal judgments about the individual who is your friend or the position he or she occupies, then you should offer to recuse yourself from decisions in those area. Second, if your special knowledge or unique perspective or experience makes it difficult to recuse yourself, and with the approval of your client sponsor, suggest bringing in another individual for what would constitute a "second set of eyes" to support you.

Tip: This standard of care should apply not only to the time when you start advising clients, but also throughout the engagement. It is quite possible for you to develop financial, legal or, most common, personal relationships with a client during the course of providing advice. What was a truly independent and objective relationship may no longer be so after a few months, or even years. Your continued vigilance is required to assure a developing relationship does not create a compromise.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  ethics  roles and responsibilities 

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