Perspectives On Providing Feedback On Client Staff To Client Management As A Consultant

Dustin Thostenson raises an interesting (and dicey) question in his Twitter log as to "how honest should your feedback be of full-timers to their mgr when it is requested?"

My general rule of thumb on this topic is to:

  • tread very carefully
  • try to avoid commenting on staff, but
  • if you must comment, be *clinical* and precise on the context and the limitations of your observation or interaction with staff (make sure you think through both positives and negatives of client staff performance)

Here's are some reasons for my thinking:

  • a consultant is usually an outsider and does not have to live with the implications of giving positive or negative feedback
  • observation periods are often short (since limited to a subset of the engagement period, which may be days or weeks)
  • consultants are often hired to address a particular problem statement for the client, and unless the charter was to evaluate employees (which in most cases it is not except for niche practices or statements of work) then your perspectives may not be grounded enough
  • consulting engagements often require working up and down the chain of organizational structure, and your reputation and effectiveness as a consultant could be damaged if people think that you are talking about them or evaluating them "behind their backs"
  • you must be extra careful that you have not been unduly biased (e.g., prior to the evaluation request) by either the client sponsor or other significant players in the client organization.

That said, a fear may be that the client sponsor will not look to you as a trusted adviser if you do not provide your perspectives. Many consultants would argue that the client is paying you good money and that you need to provide your perspectives. The ground can be tough here. Be clinical, think through pros and cons, and couch your caveats. Above all, act responsibly and ethically.


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