A code of ethics for consultants, trainers, and coaches
In November of last year, Dan Mezick initiated a discussion about the need for a formal code of ethics for “agile” coaches. He was especially interested in the idea that coaches should explicitly avoid creating a dependent relationship with clients. After all, the main goal of a coach is to help the coachee become self-sufficient and independent. A subsequent article on InfoQ, “Should Agile Coaches Have a Code of Ethics?”, spurred further discussion by additional people.
I found the discussion compelling, and subsequently Dan and I had a few email exchanges about the topic. Although the original discussion centered just on coaching services, and specifically “agile” coaching services, it struck me that the prohibition on making clients dependent on their external helpers applied equally to consulting and training services.
I decided to revisit the code of ethics that I have been using. Although not a member, I learned about the code of ethics of the Institute of Management Consultants (USA) in the mid-1980s. It seemed to be relevant to the kind of work I was doing at the time, and have done most of the time since then. On re-reading the IMC code closely, I found it lacking in a few respects that I hadn’t noticed way back in the 1980s. For one thing, the sentences aren’t crafted very well. For another, some of the statements are redundant. Thirdly, the subdivisions in the list seem unnecessary. Finally, the list doesn’t address issues of social consciousness that have become important in our society since the time it was written.
I decided to come up with a new code of ethics to guide my own work, taking into consideration the good points in the IMC code, the insights generated in the online discussion and email exchanges, and a few additional points that I consider important. The result was a list of 15 standards and four preferences for client engagements. Standards are inviolate; preferences will inform some of the details of working agreements with clients. I’m curious to know what others think of the result.
We adhere rigorously to these ethical standards.
- We will accept assignments consistent with our experience and competence. We will not claim expertise we do not possess in order to win a contract. When we need the services of a partner or subcontractor to fulfill the responsibilities of an engagement, we will disclose this fact in advance to the client.
- When we discover in the course of an engagement that we cannot fulfill the agreed-upon responsibilities, we will offer to withdraw or to change the terms of the engagement such that the expectations and fees are commensurate with our abilities.
- We will exercise independent judgment and objectivity when offering recommendations or advice to clients.
- We will disclose in advance any relationships that might be perceived as a conflict of interest or that might raise questions about our independence or objectivity.
- We will not accept payments, gifts, or any other benefits in exchange for recommending a product or service to a client.
- We will agree in advance with clients the basis and terms for fees and expenses, the scope and objectives of the engagement, and the mechanisms and frequency for assessing and measuring progress.
- We will protect the privacy and integrity of client information, and exercise due diligence to prevent its disclosure to unauthorized persons, except as provided for in item 8 below.
- We will report illegal activity to the appropriate authorities if we discover such activity in the course of our work.
- We will not use proprietary materials or methods of other consultants without their prior written permission.
- We will not solicit any employee of a client to consider changing employment without the prior written permission of the client.
- We will strive to enable clients to carry new ideas and techniques forward independently, and avoid creating a dependent relationship with them.
- We will consider the environmental and social impact of business decisions and practice environmental stewardship to the extent our line of work affords the opportunity to do so.
- We will not work on behalf of a government, company, or other organization that supports or enables activities contrary to fundamental human rights.
- We will not work in or travel through locales where our personnel would be at risk of physical harm above and beyond the risks of normal life.
- We expect and require that any subcontractors who represent us adhere to the same code of ethics as our associates.
When we have an opportunity to work with a client who violates any of the provisions in this section, we will explore with them the possibility of using the engagement as a vehicle to effect positive change in their organization.
- We prefer to work with clients, partners, and suppliers who share our goal of leaving the world in better condition than we found it.
- We prefer to work with clients who agree to match our contribution of a portion of our fee to a mutually-agreeable charitable cause.
- We prefer to work with clients, partners, and suppliers who have not supported legislation, social initiatives, or business practices that restrict freedom or that treat people unjustly. We assess this based on behavior, not solely on formal, written policies.
- We prefer to avoid working with clients who have a history of late payment, partial payment, or non-payment of fees, expenses, or other monies due, whether to us or to any other consultants, contract workers, trainers, coaches, or striking, laid-off or retired employees.