Ethical beaviour in consultancies – A contradiction in terms?

Since the current scandal surrounding the McKinsey management consultancy erupted, which has made negative headlines due to its cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the subject of ethics in consultations has once again become the focus of public debate. This type of scandal generally leads to a negative perception of management consultancies. We would therefore like to take this topic as an opportunity to raise awareness of ethics and value systems in our industry.

In a globalised competition where companies grow beyond their regional and national borders, different moral codes collide. This raises the question of how companies deal with divergent sets of rules in the right way. Do own ethical values prevail or do you accept other moral value systems for lucrative contracts?

The fact is that companies are increasingly under moral scrutiny. Value commissions, ethics consultants and ethical principles are increasingly being integrated into companies. (Source: Zeit Online, 2014)

Back in 2015, Dr Annette Kleinfeld, expert for Corporate Social Responsibility and speaker at the PM Days 2016, told Tiba in an interview that, due to the massive competition, companies can rarely afford to refuse contracts on ethical grounds. However, she mentioned even then first meta-studies that prove that in the long run those companies that strive for a corporate ethical balance will prevail.

For this reason, corporate activity is increasingly moving away from pure market requirements. Furthermore, public opinion and the corporate image have become more important: companies not only invest in social and cultural projects to improve their reputation and recognition from outside. According to Dr Annette Kleinfeld, a company that wants to act in an exemplary manner and with integrity will include moral principles in its fundamental decision to expand the market.

As management consultants, we consider it our duty to act morally and ethically correct within our company but also to act with integrity outside – in our assignments.

Ethics play a particularly important role for management consultants: often own value systems can deviate from those of the project. In order to be able to act in a project it is therefore of utmost importance that consulting firms clearly communicate their principles internally and externally. Without clear ethical positioning of the company itself, the operational levels then lack the basis for arguing a case and the backing for presenting their moral concerns and doubts with regard to certain activities. (source: Kleinfeld, 2015)

Therefore, as an internationally active consulting company, we have adhered to the ethics code of GPM (Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement e.V.) and the consulting principles of the BDU (Bundesverband Deutscher Unternehmensberater e.V.) for decades.

The principles of GPM “responsibility, competence, integrity” and our guidelines form the basis of ethical action for us, both for internal and external projects (source: GPM, 2015). For us as a management consultancy this means that the welfare of every person is at the core of our daily activities: we also pay attention to our social values and standards in international projects.

The Bundesverband Deutscher Volks- und Betriebswirte e.V. (Federal Association of German Economists and Business Economists) neatly summarises the issues in its 10 theorems on ethics in economy:


Source: Own graphic according to bdvb, 2010

In the end, however, one thing becomes clear: every company must decide for itself to what extent it positions itself ethically. As an internationally active management consultancy, we made this decision when we founded the company and described it in our guidelines.

We distinguish ourselves through respect, openness and tolerance – and have been doing so for nearly 30 years. (if you would like to learn more about our principles, please take a look at our company profile).


Author: Marina Mergen, Tiba Managementberatung GmbH

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