Ethical Consulting

I stumbled across this link on earlier today called “Is Ethical Consulting Possible?“. It discusses an ethical concern for consultants.

“The basic ethical challenge of consulting is that the acting in the client’s best interest is often in conflict with the consultant’s business goal of maximizing revenue and profit from the engagement. It is in the client’s best interest to receive the most cost-effective IT services possible – to spend the least amount of money possible to obtain the best return on investment – while a consultant’s revenue and profit depend on maximizing the money spent by the client and minimizing the effort spent in obtaining this money. This conflict of goals is normal in any business transaction between two parties, but for consultants it frequently leads to an ethical conflict-of-interest situation whenever the consultant influences the work being done or to be done by themselves for the client.”

I don’t think this is any different than taking your car to the dealership and asking if anything is wrong with it. They have the expertise, they have the parts, and they will charge you to do the work. We all know that there are some disreputable car dealers out there, just as there are disreputable consultants.

My suggestion is that the consultant needs to change what his goals are. His goal should not be to maximize revenue. His goal should be to meet the customer objectives and if that is to save as much money as possible, then so be it. Obviously this doesn’t mean you should do the job at a loss unless there’s a guaranteed future upside. But if you do what the customer wants instead of trying to drag them over the coals, you might get repeat work and if you do a good job, you might get referrals to other clients who need work done.

What’s more important? Making a few extra bucks on in the short term, or a long term relationship that you might be able to tap into if things get tight?


  1. Erik Lane on October 27, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    I totally agree,. As a consultant you want to become one of you client’s trusted resources. That means that they trust that you’ll do the best work you can and provide them with honest and trust worthy opinions/ideas/etc.

    Becoming a trusted resource is not quick nor is it easy. It is earned by them watching and learning from your actions. If they don’t feel you to be one of those resources then they’ll keep you around until your current project is over or worse, before it is over.

    Most clients are looking for trusted resources. If they felt that they had everything they needed in-house they wouldn’t be looking for an outside consultant.

  2. Basil Vandegriend on October 28, 2006 at 3:51 am

    Thanks for the link to my article. I personally feel that the long-term relationship is the smarter and more ethical route to go (if it wasn’t obvious from my article :).

    The problem is that consultants have multiple goals, one of which is to keep the customer happy, and another is to maximize revenue / profit. Trying to balance these sometimes conflicting goals is the real challenge.

  3. Mike Taber on October 28, 2006 at 6:23 am

    You’re very welcome. I think we’re in agreement. I was just pointing out that maximizing revenue should be a secondary goal, not the primary one for what I would call a ‘good consultant’.

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