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#976: Ethical Dealings With Your Client's Staff

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 30, 2009
What if I am approached by a client staff member about joining my consulting firm? This would be after the engagement is over, to be sure there is no conflict of interest?

During engagements, consultants work closely with client staff. In many cases, this interaction can develop into a strong professional, and sometimes personal, relationship. Mutual respect for each other's work and professionalism and working toward a common goal puts in play the foundation for a strong relationship. This does, however, present the possibility of a conflict of interest and an ethical challenge for both the client and consultant.

We are more concerned here with the consultant's potential conflict than that of the client. However, for both sides, anything more than an independent and arm's-length relationship carries the appearance, if not the fact, of impropriety. Is the staff member really working in the client's interest or just currying favor with the consultant? Is the consultant explicitly or implicitly offering the option of post-engagement employment with the consulting firm to either win the business in the first place or create conditions favorable to the consultant's remuneration for advisory services? Maybe none of this was intended but one party believed it to be true. In any of these cases, the possibility for misperceptions or miscommunications are as dangerous as an overt strategy by a consultant to "steal" an employee.

Tip: The IMC USA Code of Ethics is quite clear on this point. Paragraph 8.0 says, "I will refrain from inviting an employee of an active or inactive client to consider alternative employment without prior discussion with the client." As you can see, the prohibition extends well beyond the end of the engagement. The takeaway is that, as attractive a client staff member may be as a future partner, even if such a relationship is in the best interests of the two individuals involved, the potential damage, perceived or real, to the client organization, calls for staying away from such action unless there is full and clear discussion with all parties.

Tags:  consultant role  ethics  professionalism  reputation 

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