Client Obligations and Handling your Boss
By Jessica Silliman
Rosie Alexander had recently lost her job from the dot-com
bust when she decided to switch industries and join a medium-sized
consulting firm where she helped individual clients manage their
personal portfolios. Although the firm wasn't the top in the
market, the firm had several long-term clients who gave them
a good reputation amongst peers.
One long-term client, Betty Fitz, emailed Rosie's boss, Conor
Hall, asking a few questions about a recent acquisition of stock.
Conor forwarded the inquiries to Rosie, asking her for help.
Rosie, new to the job and not fully aware of Ms. Fitz's financial
background, wasn't able to answer all of Ms. Fitz's questions-they
needed to be put to someone with more expertise. So she wrote
an email back to Conor, letting him know that she needed more
information before she could fully evaluate Ms. Fitz's situation.
She explicitly stated in the email to Conor that her reply was
an inquiry for further information and was not meant to be forwarded
on to Ms. Fritz. Rosie felt her answer was still in an informal,
rough form and left many questions unanswered.
A few days later, Ms. Fitz emailed Conor again, asking if he
had gotten her questions answered. In a rush, Conor forwarded
Rosie's email to Ms. Fitz. Later, he told Rosie that he felt
her response was good enough and that he didn't have the time
to waste composing a whole new document. When Ms. Fitz complained
about the lack of detail in the response, Conor placed the blame
on Rosie, his "clearly incompetent assistant."
"He messed with my reputation," said Rosie. "I
don't normally like to create commotion, but I felt this was
a necessary battle I had to fight."
In Rosie's mind, Conor had not only lied to a client and implicated
her, he had also damaged her professional reputation with a
longstanding client. She looked unreliable.
Rosie approached Conor the following day and said that all
he needed to tell Ms. Fitz was that he had forgotten or hadn't
gotten a chance to look at it yet. Either way, each answer would
have made him appear busy-something completely justifiable to
the client. And even if Rosie had messed up, she told Conor
that she would expect him to either fire her or cover for her-not
damage her reputation and leave her unable to defend herself.
Surprisingly, Conor agreed and apologized to Rosie-and later
apologized to Ms. Fitz.
- Do you think Rosie was fair to her boss?
- How could Rosie have handled the initial problem of having
not enough information differently?
- What's the impact of Rosie and Conor's decisions on Ms.
Fitz, the customer?
- Is it best to be honest with customers, even if it shows
- What are three important ethical qualities to look for in
Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula
Center for Applied Ethics.