We recently reran a November 2000 survey that asked IT Consultant members about their firms’ ethics policies and procedures, the monitoring of everyday practices, and the consequences for unethical behavior. We wanted to see if attitudes toward ethics had changed in light of recent events like the collapse of Enron and its relationship with consulting giant Arthur Andersen. Had these events affected the entire industry’s approach to ethics?

This year’s results could suggest that consulting firms may have become more lax in their policies toward unethical or questionable behaviors during the past year. A lower percentage of respondents said their firms have mandatory ethical agreements and regulating bodies.

A smaller percentage also reported that a fellow employee had been accused or found “guilty” of unethical behavior. Could it be a sign that more employees are adhering to their ethics standards, or is it a result of poor policing by consulting firms?

Here’s a rundown of the results with comparisons to the November 2000 survey.

Have you signed a code of ethics?
Perhaps the greatest sign of a firm’s commitment to ethical behavior is whether it requires its employees to sign a code of ethics or an ethics-related pledge as a condition of employment. In the 2002 survey, 63 percent—a 10 percent increase over 2000—said they did not have to sign one. Half of the survey’s 84 respondents said their firm had a code of ethics, down 13 percent from the 2000 survey.

Who is watching?
The survey results also showed a decrease—from 38 percent to 21 percent—in respondents who said that their firms have an ethics committee or a body that oversees ethical issues.

The survey showed a decrease—from 41 percent of the 190 respondents in 2000 to 25 percent in 2002—of respondents who said a member of their firm had been accused of unethical behavior.

The survey also indicted that a smaller percentage of supervisors—from 46 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2002—were monitoring consultants for ethical issues (see Figures A and B). Not surprisingly, more respondents—from 15 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2002—indicated that they were policing one another and themselves.

Figure A
Results from the 2002 survey

Figure B
Results from the 2000 survey

Among those who said someone at their firm had been accused of unethical conduct, 57 percent said the person was found to be guilty. Sixty-six percent of respondents gave that answer in the 2000 survey.

Consequences for unethical actions
Among those reporting that a person in their firm had been accused or found to be guilty of unethical behavior, half said the consultant was fired as a consequence. The next highest percentage—18 percent—said the consultant suffered no consequences (see Figure C). Results from the 2000 survey followed a similar pattern, as shown in Figure D.

In 2000, 23 percent of respondents indicated that consultants who had violated their firms’ ethical guidelines were asked to resign; only 14 percent were asked to step down in 2002.

Figure C
Results from the 2002 survey

Figure D
Results from the 2000 survey

What do you think?
Does a formal “ethics watchdog” within an organization discourage unscrupulous acts or questionable behaviors? Are the changes from the 2000 survey insignificant, or do you think they reflect a changing ethical climate for consultants? Discuss this issue with your peers.