Conflicts of Interest in Consulting: An Expert's Perspective

Consultants are expected to provide impartial advice and services to their clients, but they may find themselves in a conflict of interest situation if it is reasonably concluded that their position in a company or their personal interests could unduly influence their judgment in the exercise of their functions. To ensure that they are not in a conflict of interest, members of the Association of Executive Search and Consulting (AESC) take steps to avoid conflicts with clients and candidates. When a potential conflict may exist, AESC members disclose and resolve those conflicts. This includes performing a rigorous conflict check before partnering with a customer for a particular task and rejecting a task when there are conflicts.

Additionally, members are experienced in setting parameters and building barriers to protect clients and themselves from potential conflicts of interest, and they do so through full disclosure. They also never accept gifts of a material nature that could influence their impartiality. If a conflict or the appearance of conflict arises throughout a task, members immediately disclose the circumstances and seek to resolve the problem. If resolution or resignation is not possible, members withdraw from the mission rather than compromise their integrity.

The European Federation of Engineering Consulting Associations (EFCA) has participated in negotiations with the European Commission on the issue of conflict of interest with respect to the contracting of consulting services. FIDIC is concerned that international measures may be applied in a generalized way to all sectors, attracting providers of consulting and engineering services, who may be forced to comply with a series of measures that are not adequate to carry out their businesses efficiently. When UDOT hires consultants to provide review services for the UDOT Structures Division, consultants performing these functions must represent UDOT in an equitable, ethical and impartial manner. If the UDOT project management team considers selecting a resident engineer employed by the same team of design consultants, it must submit the documentation with an explanation of the benefits to the Project Development Director or the Director of Preconstruction for approval before the consultant is selected.

The firm can hire consultants to carry out design and construction engineering (CEM) management on the same project, but if a consultant is selected to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a project, they must state that they have no financial or other interest in the outcome of the environmental project or that they have any agreement, enforceable promise, or guarantee to carry out future work on the project. Transparency is an essential element and this requires the consultant to disclose all the information at one or more points in the project formulation and execution process. When selecting a consulting resident engineer employed by the same team of design consultants, UDOT project management teams should consider and evaluate potential conflicts of interest. Consultants who perform any of these functions should investigate and disclose potential conflicts of interest between their company, the other consultants they manage, and the projects. A conflict of interest between consultants (COI) is a situation in which a consultant provides biased professional advice to a borrower in order to obtain from that borrower an undue benefit for himself or for his affiliates. Consultants who perform any task for a client cannot accept money from the client or ask for or accept favors since their main job is in the company that hired them. Executive search firms are very well positioned to provide leadership services before management consultants (who focus more on strategy than on talent) or human resources consultants (which focus more on programs than on evaluating executive talent).

By understanding the executive talent of an organization and discreetly comparing it with the information that a company obtains through other searches, executive search firms can help identify potential conflicts of interest.

Dominic Mccoard
Dominic Mccoard

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