Maintaining your integrity when a client goes in the wrong direction

I’ve been working with small businesses for many years now, and fortunately, they virtually always follow my advice. After all, as a small business they don’t have to have HR, so if they’ve chosen to work with an HR consultant it’s because they trust that person and believe they add value.

However there have been a couple of occasions where a client has decided they want to go in a different direction to the one advised. I remember one example where a client was determined to pursue a certain avenue that I thought would place the business at unnecessary risk – it was a shortcut they wanted to take. I also thought it was unfair morally on the employee affected. I simply couldn’t take part in their proposed route, leaving them in a situation where they had potentially no HR consultant participating. I think refusing to take part was the right thing to do – ultimately the client and I parted ways – but it is worth giving some thought to how you’d approach a similar situation.

In another example I felt something was morally wrong and I did help the client pursue that path, sometimes I still consider whether I should have done – but at the time I felt that was the best decision.

It does partially depend on the significance of the issue and what your concern is with their chosen path. It could be that you feel they would be placing the business at risk of a legal challenge, or it could be that ethically you believe the direction they are following isn’t something you are comfortable with, or it could be both, as it was for me.

I think there are three possible options if a client chooses not to take your advised way forward when dealing with an issue:

1. Help them with it anyway. This way you can minimise any legal risk as far as possible and get them through the issue, hopefully intact, and then going forward, seek to develop your relationship with them further, and educate them as to the benefits of your approach in the hope they’ll follow it next time. If they’re generally a client you do feel an affinity with, and you can rationalise their approach this time, that might be an option to consider. If you do decide to help them with an issue you believe is being dealt with wrongly, be sure to make your position and your advice absolutely clear so that if it does go wrong, you are on record as having advised a different course of action.

2. Refuse to participate but retain the client. This was the approach I took in my example above, after a bit of soul-searching. I advised them that I could not participate in this particular process, but would happily continue working with them on anything else, just ‘red ringing’ this issue from my working relationship with them. I’d been working with them years so didn’t want to just walk away from them out of principle over one thing. Ultimately, they decided this wasn’t good enough so the contract was terminated by them, which was a shame but probably best, if my position was unacceptable to them.

3. Walk away. If a client doesn’t follow your advice, particularly if it’s on a regular basis, or you have ethical concerns with their approach to managing people, the relationship is unlikely to flourish long-term and they are unlikely to be a client you enjoy working with anyway. One of the advantages of working with many small clients is that no one client forms such a huge part of your income that you cannot walk away. Sometimes life is too short to work with the wrong client!

Our ethical approach to HR, and to business, meaning we always, as far as possible, ‘do the right thing’, means that sometimes a client doesn’t fit, and that’s ok. Maintaining your integrity in business is an important thing to do, and working as an HR consultant you may well find that integrity challenged at times, and need to make the best decision for you as to how to move forward.

If you are interested in setting up as an HR consultant with loads of support and guidance on all aspects of your business, do get in touch.