The Successful Consulting Series is a set of articles that are being written to both, help decisions on joining the consulting field and also, help existing consultants in their professional development initiatives. Please visit, “Successful Consulting Series” for a full listing of each part in this series.
Wikipedia states that work ethics is a set of values based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. An example would be the Protestant work ethic. A work ethic may include being reliable, having initiative, or pursuing new skills.
Work ethics can be a touchy topic to discuss, and with consulting, work ethics can be the difference success and failure. When we talk about work ethics as a consultant, the definition stated in the beginning of this article is very accurate. If you’ve been reading through the successful consulting series, you have already read about many defining work ethics that make a consultant successful. In presenting yourself – visually and respectfully, work ethics show how we draw a portrait of ourselves. This is directly reflected in our work. More recently, Consulting Career Paths came as close to how consultants should take work ethics to heart and the impact on overall career growth you can have from them.
Even knowing the series has built up several points that can be gained about work ethics, this post is going to discuss four areas in detail: Confidentiality, Reliability, Initiative, and Pursuit of new skills. Although there are many ethics in consulting we can discuss, these four can argumentatively be some of the most important to success as a consultant.
Confidentiality is the work ethic or code of conduct which is the most important aspect to working as a consultant. This isn’t restricted to clients but extends to employment by consulting companies. As a consultant, while working on many projects or clients, keeping what we are exposed to confidential, is a strict code we must always keep to. What is confidential can at times be a gray area and questionable topic for consultants. Are services such as intellect used in designing a system or process confidential? Is a line of code or a certain relational integrity method confidential? With most clients, these questions are clearly answered by signing nondisclosure agreements (NDA). Although some NDAs are not refined to the point to say a line of code or a precise method is confidential, we should always hold them as confidential between the client and the consultant.
What this does not mean: a consultant cannot take the design, coding style or configuration theory and utilize it in a non-mirrored way for other projects or clients. What it does indicate: taking code character for character, items, naming conventions and so on, and exposing it to others, is a violation of work ethics and the confidentiality we should maintain. For example, if we were to write three table design that held metadata for items and gave the columns certain names and then the data specific values, that should not be repeated exactly or shown outside of the relationship to that client. If that design functioned well for a future client, altering the table, naming, and data values would not expose the sensitive information about the earlier client, it would not be in violation. This would be the same for something like data synchronization. Setup, design and configuration may work optimally for many data sources and many clients. If that setup, design and configuration is made unique and specific for each client, as they own it, we are in line with our working ethics.
Something that will make a consultant more successful over time is retaining a high standard of confidentiality with clients. This should be in place even when NDAs are either vague or not in place at all. By doing this and making this a normal work ethic, client relations become stronger and these levels of security are seen by clients and remembered over time.
There are some exceptions to confidentiality with clients. One exception that is common is requests to share a brief overview of work performed or services rendered. This is often done in marketing terms or a show of skills on hand. For example, consulting company widget services fully designed and optimized an international warehousing and data reporting solution utilizing SQL Server Service Broker and other key features of the Microsoft Business Intelligence suite. This extremely high level overview is something that can be requested from consultants to the clients for an exception to share the view. Details should still never be released and the exception and request to the client should be clear, detailed on exposure and the client should always review the final documents or materials that will be exposed.
Reliability in consulting means much more than simply showing up to work, working 8 hours and heading home. Successful consultants make reliability show in meeting time estimations, meeting projects goals and deliverables, meeting team expectations, company growth, functional and well-designed and provided services or systems. All of these and others come down to how successful we are as consultants based on the reliability we can show in our work ethics and meeting them.
Showing true reliability by fully meeting project deliverables, designs as stated and functionally stable to specifications all play a key role in being successful. Developing a work ethic in reliability that holds a high standard in always meeting these key factors, flows into other areas of work. More importantly, client relationships are built to a level that can be extremely difficult to obtain otherwise. In many cases, consultants and clients have a hill to climb while building relationships. That hill can either be a long, steady incline or a short, steep incline. As much as it seems the long and slow moving building practice may be better, in consulting, we simply do not have this time or can be effective by letting relationships between clients move slowly. Now, some clients move at this rate and that is something we work with as consultants, but I fully work to meet the steep incline and rapid building of strong client relationships. This experience has been built over time and has been effective and successful. Reliability is one of the strongest means in which relationships can be made and strengthened. Without being completely reliable for all areas of consulting, slow inclines will start to feel like walking uphill on loose gravel – falling and failure will undoubtedly occur.
Having a full grasp on reliability and consulting does involve time, presence and manners as well. Consultants should be reliable when it comes to face-to-face relations in meeting, on-site functions or when needed, fulltime on-site work. Consulting takes many forms based on each client. This may be working remotely on many occasions, working on-site with clients for many hours and traveling long distances to meet client’s needs. Consultants must be reliable in these situations to be successful. If they cannot be met or terms agreed upon that situations simply cannot allow some form of reliability, re-evaluate based on the career path and make a decision that is best for you, the consultant and the client(s).
Many of the most successful consultants I know retain a high level of initiative that comes almost naturally. Consulting has initiative as a variable in which cannot be left empty. This is primarily due to initiative being a building block to all work ethics as consultants.
Consulting is successful by making goals, pushing to gain skills, keeping up to date, pushing to a limit to fully meet all the expectations consultants are held for. These skills can be extremely hard to meet without a high level of initiative to gain them. It can be said that a consulting career is successful if we’ve met all these goals by allowing them to fall in place over many years that make up a career. However, true success in consulting means to push on all goals whether client related or professional development related. Initiative is one of the single largest factors in doing just that, pushing to meet goals and growing rapidly in a career.
Imitative leads to a type of fulfillment in not only in consulting but after a day, week, month or year is complete. If a consultant loses a sense of initiative to meet everything we’ve gone over, whether it was due to lack of value in what they are doing, failure on part of the company they are working for or, simply a loss of appetite for the field, a career suffers drastically. If a consultant falls into this area, always push to find what is needed to regain the hunger and initiative to push forward again.
Pursuit of New Skills
Pursuit is closely related to initiative. Without initiative, pursuit can fall short of goals. When strong initiative is part of a consultant’s daily work ethics, pursuit for a high level of excellence should follow. Excellence encompasses skills, presentation, relationship building and methods in which we meet the goals set forth by initiatives.
Pursuit and initiative require a lot of energy. Consulting is a career path that will take a large rate of both. Even saying this and knowing the hard work and combination is part of success, the success that is inevitable from pursuit while retaining high initiative to meet them, will be as rewarding as any career.
Summary – Work on Your Work Ethics
Work ethics is a large and broad topic that can take many forms and involve many opinions. Confidentiality, Reliability, initiative and Pursuit, as we’ve discussed, are all crucial areas that can make consulting very successful, not only in professional development and career path growth, but also in client relationships and business growth. Being aware of these and other work ethics, holding them to a high standard and ensuring we meet them in all the hours we bill, breeds success.