Integrity in projects: offering gifts

– I would buy that painting for the minister. She seemed to have liked it when she visited our office.
– Would you buy it if she was NOT a minister?, asked our Ethics Officer.
That conversation in the conference room of an international organisation stayed with me for years.

We are often tempted to offer something to projects’ partners – a small gift, a token of appreciation, an invitation to an event… .

Then comes the WHY. Why would we offer gifts and things, in addition to the services/products delivered? The reasons might be multiple. “Why not?”, “What harm would it do?”, “It’s just a gesture”, we can hear in response. Still, would you offer the gift to X if he/she was not a decision-maker or a gate-keeper? Most probably not.

Offering gifts carries an intention of some sort, even in the most selfless among us. From a gesture of attention on a birthday or an anniversary of some sort to the implicit or explicit intention of getting advantages and influencing the decision-making for a project’s or personal gain.

Paying bribes is outright illegal and unethical and that is cut in stone for any project manager committed to integrity and accountability, respective of the sector he/she operates in. Projects are often unpredictable beasts and even more so in environments where bribery is a fact of life for making things happen. Taming the beast requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of the local laws and practices, as well as legal preparatory work in forms of incentives, which could be provided in a safe legal arrangement. U.S.A. government contracts sometimes include incentive payments for early project completion, for example.

Project performance depends on people behaviour. And human behaviour can be incentivised provided people health/safety, environment protection and/or laws and regulations are not being infringed.

Many years ago, to ensure presence at meetings, which could only take place outside business hours due to the client’s work programme, I provided tea and snacks to all who came. The offering was for all and all could benefit from it. This way we managed to decide on project’s milestones and move forward. In today’s remote projects environments, decisions can be taken on-line and at each individual’s pace, within an agreed timeframe.

Finding and applying the right and ethical incentives is both an art and technique in a project. What worked in your project environment?

To sum up/Do:
– abide by laws and your Code of Ethics and professional conduct;
– use incentives for performance motivation within legal and social norms;
– check your ‘why’ behind the impulse / desire to offer a gift.

Drawing by Sofia.

From the series “Integrity in project management”. To be continued.

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