Ethics and Transparency in the Consultancy World

Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash

By Sophie Robin, Managing Partner
Stone Soup Consulting

Stone Soup Consulting are Organisational Members of SVI, find this article on their website here.

Stone Soup Consulting are a part of Joint Member Network EsImpact.


Article originally published on Diario Responsable

Whoever has worked at any time in the consultancy world knows that a relationship of mutual trust is the key to a sustainable business model. Contracts are earned either because there is already a good relationship (that is, clients want to carry on working with a consultancy because previous experience was good) or because the people who put the clients in contact with the consultancy are known and trusted by the client or because of the consultancy’s reputation or by direct recommendation.

The consultancy world is a little like the baby-sitting world: there’s an open market but when it comes to looking after Baby (the company) the majority prefer to choose people or entities they know and like. Up to here everything is perfect, comprehensible and legitimate.

The problems start when this trust begins to be the only criterion taken into account in spite of the rules established by the market. When consultancies and clients already know each other, work together or have a personal relationship and just like each other they begin to distort the market rules by  making the asset of trust prevail over everything else.

This is where the grey area begins. To generate good relations with existing or potential clients is normal and desirable  but this principle should always be secondary to the market rules and never more important than them. Unfortunately for our sector many (both clients and consultancies) confuse the two things which often leads to situations where the tenders are pre-arranged just as we have seen on the news recently. Situations arise where consultancies even agree on parcelling out the territory, not necessarily at the client’s request, and prepare three proposals of which only one is the clear winner.

This is unacceptable. As in other sectors, what should take precedence is purely and simply an objective and unbiased evaluation of the consultancy candidate. This means their technical competence, their previous experience, the quality of their team and the price.

Recent scandals in the consultancy world reveal the need for consultancies that are more ethical, more responsible and more transparent. Those of us who have been working in this field for years know that these bad practices are more common than we would like. The important thing is to fix this  and one solution would be to train all consultants to recognise these ethical dilemas. What does this mean in practice? It means not participating in a public tender that has been rigged even if one can benefit from it. It means accepting contractual limitations and not taking advantage of personal relationships to request additional information which could tip the balance against other contending companies. It means working, at all times, in accordance with market rules and not around them. It also means, sometimes, being firm and knowing how to self-impose a NO, or saying a diplomatic, reasoned  firm and honest NO to a colleague or client.

To avoid  such practices spreading and muddying the waters of the consultancy world  like uncontrolled pollution, sometimes visible and sometimes not,  those consultancies that have ethical values should sign a joint commitment to ethical responsibility in which they clearly denounce this kind of deviation and in which they promise to hold up clear and transparent principles in their workings. The credibility of the sector depends on it.

We believe that the future belongs to the  consultancies that are responsible, transparent and have a strong social vocation. Let us return to the origins of consultancy, the giving of wise advice. Wisdom includes respect for others and forms part of the structural base of any society.

Without more ado I conclude with these words from Wikipedia which are a good summary of the responsibility of the consultant in society.

“Consultancy is the transmission of knowledge and experience from one person or team of experts to others for the purpose of more easily reaching a human goal. It is essentially the constant search of knowledge prepared for the benefit of others. In the words of Peter Becker  “Consulting at its best is an act of love: the desire to be really useful to others; to use what one knows, feels or suffers along the way to lighten the load of others.”

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