Dilemmas – A call to arms

Dilemmas - A call to arms

You may recall that the November issue’s Dilemmas column, entitled “Consultancy confessions”, reported Fortune magazine articles which were critical of management consultants, their blatant self-interest and their lack of service ethic. I hope you and your practice don’t fall into this category.

In the UK, membership of IMC and annual affirmation of your observance of the Professional Code of Conduct, can help to mute such criticism.

Why don’t you think about standing up with your peers of reputation, and join the IMC? The stronger the IMC is in representing high standards and the interests of your clients, the stronger your claim to a career in management consulting. You are showing your distaste for the sharp practices of some consultancies. Sharp practices which, when exposed in the media, as they frequently are, do damage to us all. The Fortune articles are only the latest in a long line of knocking articles.

Also in November, our fictional consultant Antonia read the Code of Conduct for the first time, and wondered what she should do with it, as a means of enhancing her consultancy offering positively. What would you do?

Could this help your practice? What about the large practices? If staff were made more aware of client expectations, as expressed in the IMC Code of Conduct and extended by the Ethical Guidelines, would this strengthen the consultancy marketplace? What do you think? I would be pleased to hear some reader views.

This month our fictional consultant Antonia experienced a situation which may not be unique, but which is startling in its result. She was working for a large practice, and nursing a special relationship with a potential client. She had become friendly with Bill, the director of a substantial undertaking, and over a period of six months had met him several times to discuss and develop his interest and understanding in a potential work programme, which she was convinced was the most suitable solution to the challenges his enterprise was facing.

So far so good!

At her fifth meeting, he confirmed his interest in proceeding along the lines they had discussed and asked what the next step should be. She advised Bill to make a formal enquiry to the partner in charge of that type of work (Jack, her boss), and this he did a few days later by means of a letter. When Jack received the letter, he called Antonia into his office and said he’d had an enquiry from Bill, and instructed her to prepare a formal proposal with timing, costs etc. Antonia drafted the proposal and took it to Jack for approval. He asked her to leave it with him and said he would get back to her soon.

Several weeks later, Jack told Antonia that the proposal had been accepted by the client and a contract signed for the work. He thanked her for her hard work in securing the assignment, since this was the first time Bill’s company had used their services. Jack said the project would be led by Tim, a senior partner, who would call on Antonia if he felt that her further input was required. Antonia was stunned. Jack was fully within his rights, and it was customary for a partner to lead projects.

The problem was that Tim did not know her or the client, and he had his own team with which he preferred to work. She had worked closely with Bill, the client, and understood his company’s unique business problem.

Bill was expecting something which required specialist skills which only Antonia possessed. While Tim and his team might talk credibly about the issues, they lacked sufficient depth of specialist knowledge to deliver what Bill was expecting. This specialist area was newly developing, and as yet, few understood the subtle differences which distinguished it from current consulting practice. Antonia gently suggested this to Jack, but clearly this shortfall was not recognised, for Tim did not ask for her input.para.

Three weeks later Antonia was offered a position by another consultancy which wanted to develop her specialist area. This competitor had close links with Bill’s firm and expected to tender for more work with Bill.

This would create an opportunity for Antonia to demonstrate the shortcomings of Tim’s project.

So far, no single decision in the chain of events could be faulted, but the outcome may be problematic. What obligations does Antonia have to the client? To Tim? To Jack? If she takes the new position, should there be limitations on her communication with Bill?

What do you think?

Some months ago, Antonia had been advising a client during a head-hunting exercise. The managing director had retained her to find a new deputy.

The deputy had hired her to find a new human resources director. And the chairman had hired her to find a new managing director! All of this was secret and unknown to each director. This had come about in a somewhat Byzantine fashion, (don’t they all come about this way?), and Antonia was sitting in the middle with her professional loyalties and sensibilities in disarray.

The situation then became even more bizarre when a suitable candidate for the deputy’s position was identified. The managing director, knowing the candidate was unemployed, instructed Antonia to offer just over half the agreed salary “since the candidate had nothing else to go to!”

The situation has now resolved itself. You will be pleased to know the internal workings had slowed up the decision-making process so much that the deputy’s contract ran out and was not renewed. So also with the human resources director. The candidate for deputy was offered the appointment at full salary and he has accepted.

As a result of these events, the chairman felt sufficiently renewed in his confidence in the the managing director’s judgement, and cancelled Antonia’s search for a new one. Antonia may now be asked to find a new human resources director. So all’s well that ends well! Well not quite!

Antonia has resolved never to allow such a conflict to arise again – this time she was lucky!

The cases described in this column are based on real situations, but names and other details are changed to respect individual’s confidentiality and to protect sources. Antonia is a fictional management consultant who represents the actual consultant involved. I would welcome your views on the cases described. Please write to me care of the editor or via e-mail on Compuserve 100445.434

Paul Lynch is a member of the IMC council.

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