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Where Have All the Ethics Gone?

Posted By David T. Norman CMC-A, Friday, May 13, 2011

Even though in my previous blog I promised to address How I Got Here, I’m changing that due to some very recent news.

On May 11, 2011, The New York Times published an article by entitled, Next Up, A Crackdown on Outside-Expert Firms, and while it wasn’t specifically about management consulting firms, it does raise serious ethical questions in a number of arenas. At this moment, I am humming Peter, Paul and Mary’s song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” substituting ethics for flowers. If you know it (or admit you are old enough to remember it), hum along as you read.

Robert Weisberg, a professor of criminal law at Stanford, was quoted in the article, "If this little industry [ed: the outside-expert network] is to survive, it’s going to have to glow with virtue, which means a lot of self-regulation.”

It is my opinion, supported by research (see, for example, Gallup’s 2008 Nurses Shine While Bankers Slump Ethics Ratings), that ethics, for a number of professions, is slumping, "..the 12% very high/high honesty and ethics ratings for business executives … is a record low for that profession.” The rating did improve somewhat in the most recent survey (to 15%) by Gallup. [Note: Management consulting, as a profession, was not in the survey.]

As a member of IMC USA you pledge in writing to abide by our Code of Ethics and voluntarily agree to be self-disciplined. Take a moment, click the link, and look at the Code. Now think about the predicament that the New York Times article addressed about the outside-expert network industry. What if members of that industry subscribed to such a Code of Ethics? Take #5.0, for example, "I will treat appropriately all confidential client information that is not public knowledge, take reasonable steps to prevent it from access by unauthorized people, and will not take advantage of proprietary or privileged information, either for use by myself, the client's firm, or another client, without the client's permission.” Would that industry and some of its leaders be in a much better place now? I think so.

So, as I keep humming my "Where Have All the Ethics Gone?” tune, I am convinced that the ethics reside, at least for the management consulting industry, within our membership and our adherence to the Code of Ethics, which forms our backbone. And, this makes me proud. Thank you.

Remember our tagline, Setting the Standard for Excellence and Ethics in Consulting.

Stay Tuned,

My best,


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Comments on this post...

Rogene W. Baxter RN MA CMC says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
Thanks, David. It is always helpful to be up to date on articles like this one in the NYTimes. And a great reminder to stay true to our commitments at ALL times! Rogene
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Philippa Gamse CMC says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
Hi David, In addition to ethics, what about pride? I'm pretty disgusted with the story this morning about Burston Marsteller being paid by Facebook to spread muck about Google - seems like the pot calling the kettle black - and sad that a PR firm with such a great reputation wants to be part of it . . .
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Roberta Guise says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011

I used to belong to a well-known networking organization. After 9 years of membership I "resigned" on very good terms, and shortly after I hired a member to perform some professional services.

It was a small job. But the person didn't complete what we agreed to in the contract and stopped answering my emails and calls to finish the work. After about 6 months of pursuing him, I contacted the organization, only to discover that its code of ethics applied only among members, not to members providing services to non-members.

How that entity has survived with such a distorted concept of ethics is baffling. Suffice to say I have stopped recommending that anyone join. It's their loss.
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Helen E. Dao says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
I can see how Ethics can relate to the IMC USA Management Consultants community. In our practices, we as management consultants, know the code of ethics and pledge to remember and practice them daily.

Code of Ethics are the foundation and pillars of our industry and can pass it on (legacy) to current and new generation of management consultants.

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Chris N. Lambrecht CMC says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
Ah yes, but the church member does not necessarily abide by the Ten Commandments.
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Bob Phillips says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011

When I am asked by a potential client my first reference is always to our Code of Ethics. Many of them say they are suprised that we have such a strong code!

Great start in your new role!!
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Thomas K. Casey CMC says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
I think the article avoided the term "management" Consultant" to emphasize "Outside Experts", which nowadays includes those paid for opinions in product verification roles with pharmas and medical research.

As you know, there is a major distinction to be made.
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John J. Tracy Jr. CMC FIMC says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2011
David, our profession is always under scrutiny - whether deserved or not! A few years back it was the Beltway Bandits, and then it was the Andersen Enron thieves who did us harm on the front page. With the "big money" out there, there likely will always be soul-selling crooks among us. Page B-6 of the May 12, 2011 NY Times identifies several. Page A-6 of that date explains why government is not a solution. IMC must be the face of excellence and ethics to the press and the public. Preaching to ourselves only wastes energy.
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Jennifer Leake CMC says...
Posted Saturday, May 14, 2011
David - as I read your latest blog, it made me think of what happens when consultants get together and how it relates to item #5 in our Code of Ethics. Often at an IMC event, attendees will share stories about their clients. (Names of companies, their problem and the solution the consultant provided.) At times, it has made me uncomfortable as I think they are sharing more information than I would want to divulge (or hear) about a client. How can one tactfully share this discomfort with a fellow consultant?
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Alan Weiss FIMC says...
Posted Monday, May 16, 2011
Does IMC really have an enforceable ethics code? How many IMC members have been expelled or rebuked for ethics violations in the past five years? How many clients have ever filed a complaint about an IMC member? I think it's a fine aspiration, but it's not a pragmatic reality.
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Drumm McNaughton FIMC says...
Posted Monday, May 16, 2011
Yes, IMC DOES enforce its CoE. Due to their sensitivity, alleged and adjudicated ethics violations are not publicized. As for numbers, we have had more than a handful of complaints over the past few years; some from clients, some from other consultants.
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