Jim McGraw is the President and CEO KMK Consulting, a firm that specializes in economic development and business consulting. KMK Consulting has worked in more than 100 markets across the nation helping economic development organizations and business enterprises from privately owned firms to Fortune 100 companies in the area of site selection, relocation and expansion initiatives. KMK Consulting also advises clients on cost efficiency management with a special emphasis on utilities, energy and “green” strategies. One of the KMK Consulting principles that I love is: “We match the client to not just a site that meets immediate needs, but the site located in the best business environment for continuing operational and employee success”. Jim and his Company are all about ensuring long-term success for their clients. It is with this spirit Jim shares his thoughts on the critical importance of confidentiality in economic development.
Don’t Forget the Importance of Confidentiality
Witnessing three mistakes within the last few months, I find it timely to touch on the importance of confidentiality.
I am not a psychologist, but there is something about the human spirit that urges us to talk about good news. I suppose this is especially true if the news is not known publicly and if it makes the speaker look or feel more important than usual.
In one case, with one of our major clients in the southeast, a young and talented project manager of a terrific, high-powered EDC disclosed the name of a confidential project to the media. Not only did he lose his job, but our firm had to drop him from our list of terrific candidates for a global business development senior position for one of our EDC executive search clients. This was a harsh reminder to this young man who was on the fast track in his economic development career. I am sure we will not lose him from our profession, but this was a real setback for him. And one that was very unnecessary.
In another case with which we were directly involved, the EDC president, a very accomplished and knowledgeable professional, broke confidentiality twice–once just before the public announcement by the company and the governor, and another time right before groundbreaking of the project, where the EDC president announced the event details, the release of which the client company wanted to control.
In this case, the EDC president was forgiven, twice, and everything is moving ahead beautifully. However, the damage was incurred and still remains in the minds and hearts of this professional’s state economic development group and, more importantly, in the minds and hearts of the client company who is now one of the county’s largest employers. The reputation of this otherwise strong professional is damaged in the client’s mind which will be harmful over the long-term since the new company will be a significant life-long member of that community.
The rule to live by is simple, just hard to follow. Confidentiality means never talk, never reveal a client identity until you are certain that it is acceptable to all concerned. Always err on the side of “no comment”. Never assume it is okay to talk about a project. Always assume the client prefers confidentiality, often times even after the project is announced, as was the case above. If you always look at everything through the client’s eyes, you will be much more successful.