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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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I would like to make it clear that your company policy has nothing to do with ethics. I mean, if your company allows accepting gifts, it doesn't mean that it is ethical to do so. the point is your behavior. Does it affect your behavior and change your decision/action? This is the most important thing. Policies and etc. are all only the guidelines. You may accept a 1$ gift and make a decision in favor of a third party. This is unethical, even though it may be allowed by policies.

What a great question Valerie. Thank you for this engaging discussion.
While cultural context, organizational norms, policies and guidelines have a role to play in giving and accepting gifts, PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct ( states in section 4.3 Fairness: Mandatory Standards:

"Conflict of Interest Situations
4.3.1 We proactively and fully disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest to the appropriate stakeholders.
4.3.2 When we realize that we have a real or potential conflict of interest, we refrain from engaging in the decision making process or otherwise attempting to influence outcomes, unless or until: we have made full disclosure to the affected stakeholders; we have an approved mitigation plan; and we have obtained the consent of the stakeholders to proceed.
Comment: A conflict of interest occurs when we are in a position to influence decisions or other outcomes on behalf of one party when such decisions or outcomes could affect one or more other parties with which we have competing loyalties. For example, when we are acting as an employee, we have a duty of loyalty to our employer. When we are acting as a PMI volunteer, we have a duty of loyalty to the Project Management Institute. We must recognize these divergent interests and refrain from influencing decisions when we have a conflict of interest.
Further, even if we believe that we can set aside our divided loyalties and make decisions impartially, we treat the appearance of a conflict of interest as a conflict of interest and follow the provisions described in the Code."

Hence, we avoid, remove and disclose. I always explain the reasons behind not accepting the gift, ensuring that impacted people understand that it's in everyone's best interest not to accept and hence not jeopardise anyone's position.

In a recent lecture I shared with "green" Master of Project Management students a survey question that was shared by PMI a couple of years ago, modifying it to suit Sydney.

"You are the chief technology officer in a firm that needs a major technology upgrade. A potential supplier has invited you to attend an all-expenses-paid, by invitation-only, seminar that his company is sponsoring on the latest business technology. The seminar will be held on board of a luxury cruise ship going around Sydney Harbor. You believe that many of your competitors will attend. You:
A) Accept, but determine not to favour this supplier in your decision when
B) Accept the offer, period.
C) Tell them that you would like to attend, but that you must be allowed to
assume all costs for your participation in the seminar.
D) Politely decline to attend the seminar.

The students were more concerned about missing out (as their competitors will be attending) rather than the Conflict of Interest!

Great question, Valerie, it triggered many thoughts ?? I think that we can find easy answers at the extremes (where things are really black and white): we can easily agree on the fact that taking an expensive "gift" compromises your integrity, while taking a small value giveaway at an event is fairly innocent. The debate starts when considering the in-between space (the grey areas). What is the value that makes us feel obligated to the person or company that gives the "gift" to us?! One of the best approaches for transforming the "grey shadows" in "white and black areas" is to have a clearly defined policy which marks the limit. I like the example which refers to our country’s president: he/she can keep gifts under 200 euro. If the gift is more expensive, either the president can pay the difference and keep it, or it becomes property of the state.

There are well defined policies in most organizations on this

In my opinion accepting any gifts from third parties who are outside your organisation will ultimately compromise your situation and your ability to act independently and outside the sphere of influence.

Great discussion. This is a place where simplicity reigns powerful. Leave out criteria and thresholds - either is or is not ethical. And certainly if one has to think if within reason, then probably not.
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