Client Confidentiality in the Canadian Careers Sector
By Maureen Farmer.
Without a doubt, serving as a career professional is rewarding; helping people win a promotion, get a new job, or change careers is the pinnacle of success. In performing this vital work, you are trusted with important information, which you must keep confidential.
As a business owner and career professional, I have noticed a phenomenon that alarms me: breach of client information. The inappropriate disclosure of client information can derail your client’s career as well as your business. Even an innocent conversation in a coffee shop, restaurant, or other public place can compromise your client’s livelihood if someone hears the discussion.
Protecting your client’s information is your fiduciary duty. Even the fact that a client has engaged in your services needs to remain confidential. Many times, disclosure happens inadvertently; after all, you do not set out to deliberately harm a client.
As a career professional, you may be well-aware of the importance of client confidentiality. However, are your employees and suppliers aware? For example, it could be detrimental if an employee or supplier discloses your client’s name to a third party who could potentially be your client’s boss, colleague, spouse, or employee. It astounds me that confidentiality conversations seldom happen and that career service providers do not use confidentiality agreements with their suppliers or their own employees.
Advice from the experts
A business contact recently disclosed to me that the majority of corporate espionage takes place in public places, including airports and on airplanes. A competitive “seat mate” might see the strategic plan being created for a client. To eliminate the possibility of exposure, her firm does not permit employees to travel with sensitive information or to work on sensitive documents during travel.
And a wise former boss once warned me of speaking about confidential projects in public places. As a merger and acquisition expert, the mere thought of discussing confidential projects in public places made him uneasy. He remained stone-cold quiet in the elevator on our way to meetings.
How confidentiality can be breached in career services
Early in my business I needed to hire an expert to help me with a project. The search for this expert began with a coffee meeting. I was pleased to meet and plan how we might work together. Since she and I were in the same field, I was looking forward to working with her and I had the confidence that she would be able to help get the project done on time.
The conversation went well, until she disclosed to me that she was currently working on a similar type of project with someone just like me, “Elon at ABC Co.” My heart sank. Elon was my client. Not only was he my client, he was obviously shopping for her services after he had already contacted me. More importantly, this supplier had breached her prospective client’s confidentiality. You won’t be surprised to know that she did not get my business and I have not recommended her services to others.
Although Elon and I ended up working together, I had that uneasy feeling that he had shopped my firm and that mere fact impacted our relationship in a negative way. And although I realize that Elon had every right to shop around for services, the knowledge of it left me feeling uneasy.
Protecting yourself and your client
If you are hiring subcontractors and employees, there are a few simple tools that you can use to protect the confidentiality of your clients’ information, protect your brand, and instill clients’ trust.
- Non-disclosure agreements.
- Confidentiality agreements.
- Employment contracts.
- Supplier contracts.
These agreements do not need to be complex. The documents are simply a reminder of what is at stake.
Consult with a lawyer to prepare agreements that meet the needs of your organization. A legally reviewed agreement can deliver a significant return on investment in the unlikely event that you need to hold an employee or supplier to account for an indiscretion. The intention is not to transfer responsibility for this but to share it in the interest of your clients and your business.
A periodic review of confidentiality is necessary due diligence to protect your clients as well as your business or organization.
Remind your employees and suppliers that the confidentiality agreement lives beyond their employment or service contract.
When to have confidentiality conversations
Everyone in your business is accountable to protect your clients’ information. There are numerous opportunities to revisit this topic, including:
- Employee performance reviews.
- New client onboarding.
- Quarterly meetings with your suppliers and employees.
- When a tender has been awarded to your firm.
- During technology implementations.
Clients are the lifeblood of your business
Your clients trust you with some of their most treasured assets and expect you to protect their interests and their information. Establishing a due diligence process needs to be part of your business plan. Your clients will appreciate it and your brand will strengthen.