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Topics: Leadership, Organizational Culture, Procurement Management
Accepting gifts.... Let's talk about it.

Sometimes we are faced with ethical dilemmas in the workplace. This forces us to stop, analyze and decide what to do. Here is today's topic: would you accept a gift from a potential vendor / supplier or current vendor / supplier if your company policy allows it?

On one hand, you risk compromising your reputation, particularly if you were to make a decision in favor of that vendor. On the other hand, you company policy allows it so it must be ok, right?

What to do? what to do? What to do?

Ethics.... let's talk about it. I'd love to hear many points of view.
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Jun 10, 2019 6:37 PM
Replying to Eric Isom
I completely agree with the comments above about it needing to be not only allowed by company policy (which needs to take cultural considerations into account), but also that it is inexpensive enough to not influence my decision. However, I would also add that we are often poor judges of what affects us, so I would consult with a trusted friend for their opinion as well for advice on specific gifts offered. If in doubt, I would err on the side of caution. I would also make sure that the potential vendor understands that I am doing all that I can to make ethical decisions, which should help to develop a relationship of trust.
Great answer, but what is "inexpensive enough not to influence". Erring on the side of caution is a tactic I use too.
I particularly like you comment about making sure the vendor understands your ethical principles. I would add that it is not just the relationship with the vendor alone that contributes to trust, but it is how other stakeholders perceive the action.

Jun 10, 2019 7:45 PM
Replying to Iwan Rasjid
I had the same experience, and I did the same as Eric. Avoiding to be culturally rude, as long as the package's value not exceeds certain small amount, I let the vendor send the package to office, so I can share it among the team. On top of that, I reported about the festive gift to HR or company function that ensures ethical business conduct, while I can still maintain professional and ethical decisions towards vendors.
Yes! Excellent- report the nominal festive gift to HR to compliance (or whatever it is called in your company). That is transparency!

Jun 10, 2019 8:03 PM
Replying to Stéphane Parent
I find it a little sardonic to think that gifts below a given monetary threshold are okay but not if they are above. At the end of the day, the gift is about influencing the receiver. Granted, it may not get you six-figure contracts. It will, however, have the person think well of you.

Last Christmas, I gave candy boxes to the executives I was working with as a contractor. Did I believe a candy box would get me a contract? Of course not! Did I believe the gift would have them think kindly of me? Absolutely.
I love this response! Many, many organizations set a monetary threshold. How did they come up with that number? What if it were to be set at 10% more, or 10% less? Would the influence be quantifiable? It is all about perception... not necessarily about the relationship between you and the contractor, but others not involved in the transaction. Transparency and consistency are the keys.

Jun 11, 2019 12:52 AM
I would make myself some questions before accepting any gifts from potential vendors.

Would this gift somehow influence my decision? How would this behaviour be perceived by others?

When Ethics is the topic, it’s better to stay at the safe side. As Project Manager we are in a leadership position, therefore we also need to do the right thing and be perceived to be doing the right thing.
This is a wonderful approach. Stop, think, and then respond. Are you familiar with the PMI Ethical Decision Making Framework-- it is a structured mechanism to ask these questions.

Jun 11, 2019 2:29 AM
Replying to Donna Bernabe
I think it is best not to accept any gifts from potential vendors as accepting gifts, rewards or benefits might compromise our integrity or the company's.

We need to consider the impact of gift receiving, if we feel exploited or manipulated then encouraging or accepting gifts would be unethical.

On the other hand, if there is a closing project party and there will be small gifts for the project team then I would think those gifts are purely an expression of gratitude. Receiving them and reporting them to your company should not be a problem
Absolutely! Consider the impact. I firmly believe that many situations can be effectively resolved if we stop, analyze and then act.... not in the reserve order.

Jun 11, 2019 5:01 AM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
In my years of working in companies around the world there was always a code of conduct that covered this type of situations.
Me too. I feel fortunate that our organizations gave guidance on how to handle situations.

Kiron is spot on, can’t agree with him more. Great feedback here.

Nowadays, traditional gifts aren't really the fashion (pencil, wine bottle...). Most of the time it is perceived as tendentious. Goodies on the other hand can be valuable in term of usefulness, coolness or even (if it comes from a fashionable brand) trendy (e.g. fashion USB key from Louis Vuitton if you are one of their big client or a provider, thematic informatic appliances...) . They usually are marketing tool, hence "valueless".
If you are in a Consumer Electronic roadshow, it isn't unsusual to see some software licences giveaway.

Thanks Valerie for posting this question. Its a great topic and very contemporary. While I would agree on the point of "gift influencing the decision", I would also check on the Ethical Decision Making Framework to find a clue for the right behavior and perception of the right behavior.

Accepting gifts is a culturally sensitive issue. I have known of scenarios where a token gift also makes a large difference.

At the end of the day like Donna mentions, expression of gratitude is important. It is also important to keep transparency around this so there is a chance to correct. Thx

Valerie: Thanks a million for posting a very topical and practical discussion question!

PMI's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct demands that we avoid all possible conflicts of interest, and indeed even potential conflicts of interest.

Many who answered this question have pointed out these points to ponder in this scenario:
1. If company policy doesn't explicitly allow gifts, the answer is clear: Politely refuse the gift, stating company policy.
2. Will it be considered culturally or socially rude to reject the gift? If there is no rudeness involved, I'd politiely reject the gift, even if company policy allowed it.
3. If the value of the gift is within limits prescribed in company policy, and it would be considered rude to refusem I'd use the win-win approach of accepting and distributing it among team members, or using it for project purposes.

I've seen occasions where some contractors adopt convenient workarounds by passing on a fairly expensive gift at Christmas with the phrase, "My spouse asked me to pass on this gift to your spouse!"

What was going on was obvious. When the PM accepted it, he might have gained in financial terms, but lost big in terms of respect from team members!
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