Multivalent ethics - 80% of a consulting project success

Ethics is a subject that society is concerned with since ancient times and it kept being a constant in the society’s agenda until now.

Part of the Plato’s Republic addresses the issues of ethics in the Athenian "polis". The Bible, especially the New Testament, is a collection of parables aimed at suggesting the reader to engage an ethical behaviour. Also, although I was a child during the communist period, I can well remember the term "socialist ethics and equity" (”etica și echitatea socialistă”) present in many of the period’s famous phrases; I did not understand and I still do not understand fully the meaning of the syntagma, but I do think that this is proof that the subject was present even in the society from whose extinction we now count 25 years.

Along with the good spirits

Returning today, even in a society shaken up by a quasi-generalized phenomenon of corruption and a constant values reversal in rather materialistic and mercantile directions, there are voices, many voices, that warn us that we should return to the principles of ethics, towards an ethical behaviour.

But what ethics really is?

Romanian explanatory dictionary, 2009 edition, defines ethics as the „1. Rules ensemble to which a human group adapts its behaviour in order to distinguish what is legitimate and acceptable in achieving certain goals; morals. 2. Adj. Regarding ethics (1) ethics based on ethical and ethically; moral. "

Ethics (Ethos ἦθος = custom, habit) is, first of all, one of the main fields of philosophy; it deals with moral issues exploration, trying to deliver answers to questions such as: what is good and what is bad? How should we behave and how we discern good from evil?

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant in "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals" argues that ethics is based on answering the question "Was soll ich tun? / What shall I do?". When he formulates this question he is assuming that there is a defined genuine and pure ethics, universally accepted. But looking at today's global society, a very diverse cultural puzzle, we can say that Kant's premise is still a distant goal, almost utopian.

As the name of a study discipline, the concept of "ethics" was first used by Aristotle. By this word Aristotle defines the set of habits and behaviour that a person must achieve in order to be considered a virtuous character (ethikē aretē), a character that represents the basic premise for obtaining ”εὐδαιμονία” - happiness and well-being (eudaimonia = happiness, in an open translation: „along with good spirits”, along with the good demons).

But Aristotle is not the first to address this issue; ethics had been also moved to the centre of philosophical discussions in Socrate’s time - present in the writings of Plato, mentioned in our first paragraph - and even if Plato did not explicitly use the word ethics, we can consider The Republic (Πολιτεία / Politeia) as one of the first works trying to provide answers to ethical dilemmas. Reading Plato's Republic, I realised that most of the ethical dilemmas are still unresolved nowadays and the solutions proposed by the Greek philosopher are, unfortunately, rarely applied (although, in my view, they should be considered).

The multiple faces of ethics

Added value is raison d’étre for management consultancy, provided by interventions of the consultants in the organisation act of management, at all organizational levels.

But isn’t the process of creating added value working against the idea of ethical behaviour? And why, as consultant, should I concentrate on ethics? Perhaps more important might be the added value brought to the customer.

And is it me, the consultant, the one (and only) who should be concerned about ethics?

Our professional associations, national and international, are saying we should. In our polis, AMCOR CMC Romania – The Romanian Professional Association of Management Consultants - states the following: "AMCOR’s mission is to add value to its members by promoting a climate of professionalism and ethics in management consulting market in Romania"; moreover, in the 3rd article of the Statute, indent 3, it is stated as one of the Association goals: "promote and secure the implementation of the Code of Ethics for Management Consulting" which demonstrates that the concern for ethics is important in the Romanian Professional Association of Management Consultants. AMCOR’s Code of Ethics is adapted from ICMCI, International Council of Management Consulting Institute and meets the highest demands of present professional ethics on management consultancy.

But, is there an economic reason for ethics? Is there an added value of it? Difficult answer. It is, most probably, difficult to prove through a mathematical formula the link between consultancy performance and ethics, 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[1] has already shown that, on long-term, ethics is one of the fundamental values appreciated by the large clients and stakeholders.

However, from my experience, ethics is not a single-perspective attitude but a multivalent consultant-client-stakeholders relationship. An ethical approach to a project does not imply solely an ethical behaviour from the consultant, but also an ethical behaviour from the client and the other entities involved in the project.

You cannot ask a doctor to be ethical with a pacient who’s lying to him. He simply cannot be ethical. Probably the only ethical conduct of a doctor for a patient who is lying or acts spiteful or malicious, can be achieved if he acknowledges the incorrect behaviour of the patient and refuse to continue the administration of medical care.

For instance, does it have any importance the intervention of an ethical, experimented and competent doctor on a pacient with a lung affection who hides working in a toxic environment and smoking 2 packs of cigarettes daily?

Same goes for the management consultancy – ethical behaviour is multivalent and it must be followed by the consultant, client and stakeholders.

The ethics is multivalent during all the consultancy process stages; many times, consultancy projects fail not due to a wrong implementation of methods and actions, or due to the wrong selection of a consultant, but as a consequence to a non-ethical approach of the client-consultant relationship.

However, as doctors are those who have a duty to inform patients that they must live in a healthy environment and have healthy habits and a positive mental behaviour, as consultants we are the ones who have to show customers how to properly establish the foundations and run a successful consulting project, in terms of ethics. Thus, it is our duty to inform customers about the principles for the selection and use of consultants, about AMCOR/ICMCI ethical code and the quality standard EN 16114 - all these are tools used for professional and ethic management consulting projects.

Ethics is that 20% which provides 80% of success

I was stating before that no mathematical formula perfectly expresses a direct relationship between an ethical approach to the consultancy process and its performance; based on my experience I would however venture to say that a multivalent ethical consultancy process constitutes 80% of the premises for the successful consultancy intervention.

Through management consultancy we are delivering intelligence and science to the organisations and I believe there is an inherent benefit of any intelligence infusions administered multivalent ethically; paraphrasing Paretto, I believe that ethics is that 20% premise which provides 80% of the success of a management consultancy process. And I think we have to transmit this to our team of consultants, to our customers and stakeholders and generally, to the environment in which we work and live, in order to stay and to remain ”along with the good spirits”.

[1] AMCOR Surveys of Management Consulting Market, 2009 - 2013

Author: Mihai Svasta, Innovation & Change Consultant, Managing Partner of ICG Integrated Consulting Group