Should I remove my name from a project since I disagree with part of their approach?
October 15, 2009 8:05 AM   Subscribe

This is a question about politicized business relationships and whether I should remain connected with a company that's doing things differently from industry "best practices" as I understand them.

I used to work for Company A. They are a teeny tiny startup that is trying to figure out the industry. I worked there for my first six months out of school. I left as their funding faltered and went to work for big, well-established Company B. Company B is well connected and has a winning approach to the industry and the political relationships within it.

We're in a political industry that deals with the public. The public has a number of knee-jerk preconceptions that run counter to what our professionals consider to be the best way to do things. This common view makes it hard to do what needs to get done, so it's the subject of much eye rolling. (Don't worry, we're not a polluter or some corporate oppressor or anything. Our stance actually benefits the less wealthy. The smartest government agency officials and the public interest nonprofit groups side with us. Because of that, the prevailing regulatory trend is making our approach easier.) However, not all businesses take the same approach to this controversial issue. A solid 40% still take the old school stances that are more in line with the general public. In effect, they reinforce the harmful myths and preconceptions.

Recently, Company A hired me to advise them and help put together a publicly available strategic plan. About two weeks in, I was surprised to hear them take the Superstitious Stance, quite strongly.

Since then, I have tried to find different ways to shift them towards the other viewpoint. I'm not sure they see it the way we do, Old School vs. New School. I think they think that in this one unique situation, Old School is best. But the fact is that whenever some community member opposes the New School approach, they phrase it that way.

What I'd most like is for them to either reconsider their stance, or at least not say it in the plainest terms. Over the long run, I think this is better business and better politics. But my suggestions in this area have been sort of politely listened to and then set aside, with the draft remaining as it was. I have explained the facts, the reasons, and that I see this as the prevailing and up-and-coming view in the industry. I also tried setting aside the meta issue and instead just suggesting word edits that would present the same facts and the same calls to action, but in a less superstitious-sounding way. No dice. In the most recent draft, it is still written in the most extreme superstitious form.

I really like this group: they gave me my start, and they are good people, and well-meaning. Maybe in this one small instance, they're right? But after working for half a decade at a bigger, more established, more professional, and more connected group, I have knee-jerk reactions to the superstition (everything from "ignorant," "backwards," and "amateurish," to "over-privileged" and "almost immoral"). I'm to the point of wanting to say "I can't be affiliated with this new document if you're going to take that stance." This battle is all-pervasive in our industry, and all the allies and colleagues I've built over five years are on the non-superstitious side. I will feel embarrassed to be associated with it and am slightly worried about future political blowback (if anyone were to read this tiny document). Best case, people would give me joking hassles, worst case, those who don't know me would assume that my true views are the same as Company A's and not hire me.

What to do now? Part of me wants to stop trying to convince them and just get done with this work as soon as possible and not accept any work that might follow. I could even ask them to make sure my name isn't associated with the superstitious part of the report or the report altogether. On the other hand, am I missing something about being a consultant here? Ultimately, they have final say, and people must understand that, no? When asked, I could make clear that I lost that battle, and then focus the discussion on the parts that we did together that were good. This is a project that would have gone better if I'd had about four times as much time as I had to put into it, so that my influence on it would've been greater, but I did carry out the specific contribution I was asked to do well; I just didn't also manage to influence their political culture the way I had hoped I'd be able to.

I'm also not sure how strong a connection to keep with them over time. If there was the possibility for long-term internal change, it'd be great to stay involved. Right now, "consultant to Company A" is actually on my resume, and I'd like to use it to demonstrate that I am moving into a more managerial phase. Another question is referrals and introductions. As I meet others, sometimes I want to mention what's going on with Company B as an opportunity they might be interested in. But with this superstitious roadblock still in the way, I'm hesitant to refer anyone. But I'd otherwise like to: it's a cool sub-area that they're working on, and they could use the resources.

As you can see, my ability to analyze this situation is not at the level it needs to be at, so any thoughts you have will be much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total)
Consultants resign over philosophical differences all the time. If they are not taking your advice, then move on. Otherwise this is only about the money.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:51 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

They hired you to advise them, but are not listening to your advice. Not only that, but they are potentially damaging your good name by attaching it to a report that is going to be mocked by your peers.

If this company is going to publish a report that others in your industry will see as ignorant, immoral and amateurish, 1) Why would you even want them on your resume? and 2) who would thank you for a referral?

If you haven't been direct and blunt about this with them then now is the time. If you have directly told them they are wrong and they don't listen, then make sure your name is removed from everything, bill them for your time so far and bail.
posted by IanMorr at 8:53 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I were an employee, I might stick it out and start working on how I'd frame it to prospective employers. (My profession has a few of these topics as well, and we definitely all know where everyone stands on them.)

As a consultant? Bail. Really. If they're not listening, you need to get out and they can find a consultant who agrees with them on that point.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:58 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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