What is Ethics 101, in consulting? These are unwritten rules and norms, not taught in the academe or in training halls. But rather one gathered from socialization in the world of consulting.
Mind you, I am proud of what I do in business development. The writing and design of projects, really gets me going, a feeling I described to Mading Joey like ‘electricity pulsing through my fingertips'. In writing I live out my ideals. I am given free rein to design a 'perfect' glitch-free project. In that moment, I am Queen of my domain. It is a world cut off from harsh realities 'outside' of the business, the wheeling and dealing, the backhand deals, the favors that one has to grant, the occasional 'lutong-makaw' bids and the ever present brokers and commissioners from within us and those in the halls of the powers-that-be. With such outside forces, the industry poses the threat of corrupting not only young minds but even the oldest and most idealistic women and men holding their stake in consulting.
It is an industry where social cues guide the norm, a golden yet invisible thread that guard relationships and friendships forged in fragile bonds called trust, integrity, word of honor. These constitute the bedrock of Ethics 101. It does not need telling what ethics these constitute, they just are. It is until these norms are broken or eroded do we take notice.
Like for instance in simple associations to do a project. A and B form an association; first initiated by a call then meetings take place until an agreement is set. It is taboo for any of the firm to say offhand, ‘We’re partners here but no touching of billing rates, ok?’ When any company rep says that, he/she deserves a slap in the face! That statement is bristling and goes beyond the line. A social norm is broken. Because essentially in consulting, billing rates are a ‘no-touch zone' by any firm other than the one holding the experts. Any issue against the billing rates of a partner is taken out in the open. Either you change your experts, find relatively less expensive ones or re-negotiate the rates. That’s how it goes.
There is no manual, no written directive on this, that this is how it is done. It is well understood by the parties from the social cues; that one should show respect and not break the trust of the partner. So to change the billing rates of your partner behind her/ his back is tantamount to treachery, betrayal, breach of trust ---- name it, it cannot but go with something ‘evil’. It says a lot too about the company culture, the leadership, the management style, the people representing it, young and old alike. If this partner can play dirty as early as business development then what more when the project is won and ongoing? How dirty can they get? And that act of one company says a lot about the industry it revolves in. How dirty has the industry gotten?
Once upon a time, there was a consulting industry that was very clean. As in, competitively clean. Then suddenly, one firm dared to bribe the awards committee of a certain agency. Subok lang, try lang, if one can get away. And they did, they won the project! Pwede, it can be done on the sly, with this strategy. Then another firm takes note and looks the other way and does it also. Until majority of firms in the industry got ‘infected’ with the bribe virus to the point that bribing became normalized, became very very ordinary; became part of the game. This is the slippery slope. Go down and you go downhill.
So the example above of billing rates is a bad precedent. Especially for an industry where quality-cost based selection is applied. Among firms that compete, the one with the lowest financial bid gets the full financial score. That is say 20 points for an 80-20 split between technical and financial bids. Or 30 points for a 70-30 division. There may come a time when associating firms would submit bogus financial bids. Bogus, such as with very low billing rates just to get the project and to adjust these later on when the project is won. It’s like a ‘submit now and adjust later’ strategy. It is a downhill slide for that industry.
Ay, I really sound like moralizing. But say whatever you like, this is naman a personal blog, my space, so I can write whatever I want. Moralize na nga.
So Ethics 101 is fragile. And now it is being eroded. On a macro scale, it is like our mother Philippines where Ethics 101 in the government is all but a sigh. To me, our industry is just a microcosm of what is happening on a grander scale. Infection to the core.
So what does this tell us, my sisters and brothers in consulting? Do we need regulation? Can we self-regulate? Are we beyond saving?