Procurement professionals having lunch with a supplier which could be considered unethical
This post could apply to any department in any organization. I’m going to pick on IT because IT people at all levels have vendor interaction.

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Let’s say an IT person is offered an item of nominal value from a vendor – a logoed laptop bag, for example. Or is invited to lunch. Or is invited to a cultural event.

I would guess that most would accept the offers.

But should they?

Well, let’s explore this for a second…

Sure, most of us in the procurement field feel that accepting a gift of such high value from a vendor is not ethically proper. Maybe we’ve had procurement training that covered ethical matters. Or there’s a policy. Or we’ve just heard conversations in the procurement department about what’s inappropriate and what’s not.

But do you think IT professionals hear about ethics as much as procurement professionals do?

Based on my experience interfacing with IT professionals, I would say “no way!” Most have some degree of ethical understanding, but probably don’t concern themselves with the finer points of ethics.

Some have the attitude that, as long as accepting a gift from a vendor was not the reason a buying decision was made, everything is fine – no ethical line was crossed. And, in the spirit of things, that argument may sound logical.

But there are some things that this mindset doesn’t take into consideration:

  • The fact that we never really can control what influences us subconsciously
  • The fact that accepting gifts may create the perception that someone is being “bought” by a vendor
  • The fact that accepting gifts increases vendors’ overhead costs which, in some form, get factored into higher pricing to eventually be paid by the buying organization
  • The fact that accepting gifts contributes to a culture where everyone thinks it’s OK to accept gifts and the proliferation of such behavior will likely lead to some decisions being made with total disregard to ethics at some point

But IT professionals don’t learn that stuff in college. How, then, will they learn the finer points of ethics. Who is supposed to teach them?

In my opinion, it is the procurement department’s job to bring up the importance of ethics training to top management. And top management, in consultation with the procurement department, should take the lead in implementing enterprise-wide ethics policies and training.

That way, it’s a company initiative requiring compliance, not a procurement initiative. Ethics is a business matter, not just a procurement matter.

However, if top management doesn’t come through, a procurement department shouldn’t sit idly. The procurement department should step up and take the lead.

It will be more challenging without top management driving the initiative, but allowing a vendor gift free-for-all should not be considered an option in any environment. Even in IT.

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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