Project Management

The Traps of a Conflict of Interest

From the Ethics Bistro Blog
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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

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Catherine lives in a small city, where everyone knows everyone, they are childhood friend, school mates, sports mates, colleagues who worked together at one point in time in their careers, neighbors, relatives, or connected with almost no degrees of separation!

Simon, one of Catherine’s direct reports has been extremely busy; running an operational arm, establishing a new line of business, while at the same time driving the establishment of new service centers to expand the business and extend the reach to other geographical areas.  

Catherine could easily see that Simon needs support in establishing these new centers. The level of complexity and engagement with internal and external stakeholders require a dedicated Project Manager, rather than an Operational Manager whose time is split in between running the business and driving the establishment of new centers. Each center is a project on its own right that has a complex of level of consultation, communication, compliance, and a focus on driving a large number of interdependent activities and tasks.    

Catherine suggested that Simon creates the new project manager role and advertises it as soon as possible.

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The role drew a lot of interest, as it offers a sense of purpose - serving the community, a rich experience in driving a set of projects end to end, including engagement with a variety of stakeholders.

The candidate list contained a large number of people, most of which would have crossed paths with both Catherine and Simon at one stage in their lives.  However, the candidate’s name that raised red flags was Emma, a well-known close relative of Catherine.  Catherine was planning to take part in the interview panel. However, seeing Emma’s name not only as an applicant, but also as a strong  candidate, she opted out, demonstrating honesty and citing her conflict of interest. She asked Simon to formulate an interview panel.

Simon, being aware of the situation, formulates the interview panel asking each to declare any conflicts of interest. The interviews proceed, with mixed feelings.

Every member of the interview panel is aware of the relationship between Catherine and Emma. While each doesn’t have the conflict of interest that Catherine has, Catherine is ultimately their boss.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay 

The panel discussed openly how they do feel a little bit of pressure, as they understand the relationship between Catherine and Emma. They are also aware of how they are going to be judged by their recommendation. They also understand the need for the new role and how critical it is to select the most suitable candidate. Taking their responsibility seriously, they go about interviewing, giving each candidate their fair share of time, the opportunity to respond to interview questions as well as ask their own.  Following a marathon of interviews, they pick the top two most suitable candidates to be lined up for a second interview.  All agreed that while Emma was a good candidate, she is not one of the top two – as a matter of fact she comes third.

The inner thoughts of the panel were:  

  • Will Catherine over-rule the short-list?
  • Will she ask and challenge the outcome? Or
  • Will she trust and respect the judgement of the panel and go ahead accepting their recommendation?
  • If Catherine is to pick Emma, she still needs to step down and not be on the second interview panel!

The panel asks Simon as he conveys the shortlist to Catherine, to give Catherine the context and the reasoning that supports the top two shortlisted candidates.

The panel members await the results of Simon’s conversation with Catherine.  Their anxiety and worries turn into delight, they are relieved to hear that Catherine not only accepted their recommendation of the top two, but also was happy to offer the job to the top candidate waiving the need for second interview. How wonderful it is to see Catherine’s words reinforced by actions, distancing herself from the situation, declaring her conflict of interest and trusting her team’s judgement and recommendations! 

Reflecting on your own experience, if you were in Catherine’s shoes, what would you have done?

Posted by Amany Nuseibeh on: August 12, 2020 07:24 AM | Permalink

Comments (16)

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I feel that Catherine demonstrated her best interest by declaring her COI and remain away from the Emma's interview, I think she will honor the shortlist and let Simon take the lead to decide. Thanks for sharing, Amany!

Catherine's declaration of COI is proof of her adherence to sound ethics... Thanks for sharing

Thanks for sharing

Thanks Amany for this wonderful story, and actually I'll do the same like Catherine.
I'm trying all the time to be away form any conflict of interest

Thank you @Alankar.

Thank you @Kwiyuh.

Thank you @Eduin.

Thank you @Rami.

Thank you @Jean-Claude

Thank you @Mohamed.

Will do the same thing done by Catherine.

Great post, and more common than you would think. #Ethics need to be part of every business decision (and personal ones too!)

Thank you @Shaddy.

Thank you @Joanna. I agree with you.

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