Added value is the raison d’étre for management consultancy. But is the process of creating added value working against the idea of ethical behavior? And why should I as consultant concentrate on ethics? Isn’t the added value brought to the customer more important?

Ethics is a subject that society has been concerned with since ancient times and it kept being a constant on society’s agenda until now. Part of Plato’s Republic addresses the issues of ethics. The Bible – especially the New Testament – is a collection of case studies (examples) aimed at suggesting to the reader to engage in ethical behavior. Also, although I was a child during the communist period I can well remember the term “socialist ethics and equity” present in many of the period’s famous phrases.

What are ethics actually?

The dictionary defines ethics as ”an ensemble of rules to which a human group adapts its behavior in order to distinguish what is legitimate and acceptable in achieving certain goals; morals.” The German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals that ethics is based on answering the question “What do I do?” Aristotele defined it as a set of habits and behavior that a person must achieve in order to be considered a virtuous character, a character that represents the basic premise for obtaining happiness and well-being. It is already present in the writings of Plato. Even if Plato did not explicitly use the concept of ethics, we can consider Republic as one of the first works trying to provide answers to ethical dilemmas. Reading Plato’s Republic, I realize that most of the ethical dilemmas are unresolved nowadays and the solutions proposed by the Greek philosopher are, unfortunately, rarely applied.

The multiple faces of ethics

Is there an economic reason for ethics? Does it add value? It is most probably difficult to prove a link between consultancy performance and ethics through a mathematical formula. But I believe that ethics fosters a climate of confidence within the process of consulting, which is a fundamental premise for the success of a project. Research has already shown that in the long term ethics are one of the fundamental values appreciated by clients and stakeholders.

Beware however, in my experience ethics is an ambivalent consultant-client relationship or a multivalent consultant-client-stakeholders relationship. An ethical approach to a project does not imply solely an ethical behavior from the consultant, but also an ethical behavior from the client and the other entities involved in the project.

The ethics is also multivalent during all the consultancy process stages. Often consultancy projects fail not due to a wrong implementation of methods and actions or due to the wrong selection of a consultant but because of a non-ethical approach.

As consultants we are the ones who have to show customers how to properly establish the foundations and run a successful consulting project – also in terms of ethics. There are several tools and standards (e. g. AMCOR ethical code or EN16114 standard) that we use for professional and ethic management consulting Projects.

Ethics are the 20 % that account for 80 % success

I do not know a formula that expresses a direct relationship between an ethical approach to consultancy and performance. I think there is an inherent benefit of any intelligence infusions administered ethically ambivalent to an organization. Paraphrasing Paretto, I believe that ethics are 20 % accountable for 80 % of the success of a management consultancy process. And I think we have to tell this to our team of consultants, our customers and stakeholders and, generally, to the environment in which we operate.