Interview On The Ethics Of Consulting

I was recently asked to do an interview at the consultant website, "Think Like A Consultant" on ethics & consulting. The full interview is posted here.

One question particularly of note was "What are the best ways to handle a client who appears to have unethical practices?" For that question, I responded as follows:

Fortunately, I have not been posed with many situations that are obviously troublesome. One area that comes to mind, however, is when a client asks a consultant to perform competitive intelligence, especially when soliciting for primary market information. Let’s say that a client has asked you to masquerade as customer and try to obtain information on a competitor (e.g., on pricing). Some company codes of ethics would strictly disallow this, as would many people’s personal ethical value system.

What I would try to do in these circumstances is to rework the problem statement and methods with the client. For example, perhaps the problem statement may be more about getting higher confidence in prospective pricing levels that the client is looking to put in the market as opposed to getting the exact pricing levels from the competitor. With the problem statement refined, you may find opportunities to solve the client’s problem in a more palatable way, such as through running focus groups with customers or industry distributors, conducting benchmarking studies, and other approaches.

Articulating and rearticulating problem statements are something fundamental to consulting and something which I've addressed before. For example, see here.

In any case, I'd be interested in feedback on the interview from folks. It is my third or fourth serious post in the blogpshere related to ethics, and I don't expect it to be my last.


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