Consulting Honorably

There is an old saying that "There is honor among thieves". Honor connotes personal integrity and a belief in certain moral principles, and it can exist even among thieving bastards apparently.

Today I ask the question: Is there honor among emergency management consultants?

Obviously there are no absolutes in life; and, in my experience, in consulting there are honorable and not-so-honorable consulting companies and individuals.

My past experience with “partner firms” has been good and bad. I have some good partners and some soon-to-be-ex partners thanks to varying degrees of honor that they have exhibited.

If someone says there is honor among thieves, they usually mean that even corrupt criminals can have a sense of honor or integrity, or justice, even if it is skewed by disregard of the law. Teams of people (thieves or consultants) can accomplish more than individuals in almost any undertakings. Customs, mores and informal rules evolve in a group. It is not good to disrupt the team by treating each other unfairly.

"We must be able to trust each other in order to be maximally effective."

Why would a consultant want to make this comparison to thieves to his business? Good question, we do not think that consultants are thieves obviously but there is an important parallel to discuss.

First, some background is in order. If you are familiar with All Hands Consulting, you know that we are a large consortium of individual emergency management consultants and small firms. While we often work as a prime that builds teams of independent consultants to serve our client’s needs, we sometimes partner with larger firms to help meet their staffing requirements. While specific “no compete” language in contracts is often used to protect the various business relationships we each have, the issue of honor in the business relationship is not always clear in black and white. We rely to some degree on the integrity and loyalty of our associates but we also expect partner firms to treat our team members as “All Hands Consultants” and not work to use them independently of us.

We do not force our consultants to be exclusive to us as we want them to have the ability to work for others when they can but we do not want to do the work on the front end of the relationship only to be cut out of other projects.

We expect honor in business dealing and will avoid working with those that do not exhibit it.

By “honor in business” I mean that we each treat the other with respect and work toward “mutually beneficial” business ventures. But honor also means that we do not try to work outside of the established relationships that we have forged. For instance, I would expect that neither the client, nor the prime, would try to work with our team members independent of us. While this is clear in most contracts, it is a principal that is sometimes breeched. For example, we cooperate on a bid with another firm and we offer resumes to help staff the projects. We expect that the prime firm and other partners would not attempt to use our resumes on other jobs independent of All Hands. But, as you can guess, that does happen. Some consulting firms actually forge so called “strategic partnerships” only to work behind our backs to use our people against us without our knowledge.

In business, the “honor among thieves” rule becomes "we must treat each other with respect”. If we are to continue working together, it is certainly not good business to cheat your partner. So, treat “the other thieves” with honor or else find yourself on the outside looking in.

"Dance with the one what brung ya" in other words.'

Obviously, teams of people can form social groups and accomplish more than individuals. A team of thieves can be organized and cooperate; so can consultants. Thieves steal. It is good to steal if you are a thief. It is not good to disrupt steal from each other. Consultants work to earn their pay, it is not good to disrupt the working relationship along the way...

So here are some rules for you to consider if you are in the consulting business and you want to prosper as part of a “team of rivals”:

1. Treat each other with respect and honor.
2. Do not use the “letter of the law” to hide behind.
3. Do not steal resumes from a partner firm.
4. Do not try to steal a client.
5. Remember those that helped you on the way up.
6. Do not use resumes to win a job and then forget the person when you start the work.
7. Communicate, collaborate and cooperate with your partners.
8. Do not expect to build a bridge with broken promises.
9. Be fair in your business dealings.
10. Give credit to those that deserve it.

Obviously, All Hands Consulting lives by these rules and expects others to do so as well. We trust our consultants and will only work with other firms that we can trust as well.

Comments

  1. Obviously a little bit of venting going on there - but not to a BP scale.

    Many of us have been in the business long enough to have been "burnt and learnt" - but it is important to still stay vulnerable so I temper the learning. To remain open in our dealings in ways that trust others - and in so doing leave us open to being abused by them. In the washup, others may not say but they do know - and "future arrangements are adjusted".

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  2. Awesome Steve. We can only hope that other consulting organizations think as clearly (and ethically) as you do!

    Dale.

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  3. I appreciate that Steve and honored to be a consultant with All Hands. It is good to have a Ethics committment and most professionals do.

    I hope you get something soon for Alabama so we can proactively plan measures to support this before it get as bad as LA. I'm in Huntsville and nothing has been determined to date for volunteers or response planning.

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