Integrity and power
Terms of engagement
Two months ago I wrote a blog about handing back a contract: I couldn’t live with the client’s terms of engagement and the values that were conveyed in their attitude and behaviours, because they transgressed my own deepest values, including integrity.
Integrity within associateships
I posted the blog on LinkedIn – and I’ve been intrigued by the response: 158 views, 130 reactions, 71 comments. In other words, 90% of those who viewed the blog were moved to react in some way, and 45% of those who viewed it took time and energy to craft a written response. I’m assuming that this may be because the blog content was meaningful to them in some way.
The responses conveyed that my message resonated: those who commented shared that they’d had similar experiences (especially around integrity being essential to wellbeing and capacity to think, and being forced or bullied into particular positions by consultancies for whom they were associates). People commented that they felt the points I raised were important, and many congratulated me for articulating my story, and shared their indignation. Most of those who reacted were people running small or micro-businesses, plus the occasional HR professional. No-one commented that I was being naïve, over-sensitive, unrealistic or idealistic. One comment I was given reflected that ‘all big companies behave like this’.
Imbalance of power
Apart from the fact that all these comments were affirming, the bigger issue is that this kind of behaviour on the part of consultancies seems widespread. Further, the attendant disservice to the ultimate end user stems from the enforced compromise of professional integrity, and the imbalance of power is experienced by many of their associates to be abusive. As I write these words, I’m aware of a sense of outrage that is hard to tolerate, and indignation that such practices persist and perpetuate themselves. I’m curious too as to whether the consultancies’ clients know or care about these practices. My recent direct experience of trying to engage with the client indicates that the answer is ‘no’.
Associates as commodities?
In my case the consultancy seemed to view its associates as commodities – cannon fodder for a contract in which they didn’t understand the nature of the service they were delivering – and they had no interest in understanding it. All these attitudes are dazzlingly at odds with both my values and the broad values of professional executive coaches.
Reflections as a community
As professionals, are we prepared to tolerate this kind of attitude, behaviour and lack of integrity inherent in the contracting from so many perspectives? Are we really powerless or can we find ways to bring our power respectfully to a rebalancing that will be in all our interests – consultancy, end user and ourselves? How can we initiate and engage in a community reflection – and reflections within our own sub-communities of coaches – that can take us to a healthier place?