Ethics are a touchy subject and in the events industry, with the GSA scandal in the news recently, it’s an important topic.  Even in the sports and academic worlds, ethics has been in the news with the inaction at Penn State resulting in a terrible situation there.

Joan Eisenstodt presented at both MPINCC and ISES-NCC and she starts off with this question (from Can Ethics be Taught? by Harvard Business School Press): “How should an individual… confronted with an ethical dilemma, reach a decision that is competitively, organizationally, economically and ethically sound?”

It’s a great question but ethics goes from the big issues to the small and should be something every company evaluates.   One example she presents has to do with taking home post-it notes, paperclips or using the office copier.  Is that considered unethical?  Always?  Sometimes?  Or does it depend?

In the US $72Billion in office supplies was taken from the workplace. It’s officially considered theft, but ethically what’s your stance?  We work hard, we work at home, and so maybe taking a pen home isn’t that big a deal – or is it?

The best scenario is for your company to have a policy on these things.

Big pharma has done this for their industry because when they could give so many perks to docs, the doctors would then prescribe the drugs from the companies that gave them the big perks – definitely not ethical!

Timing, intent and value are important criteria for gifts – you need to have guidelines that outline this.  Legally in the US the limit for a gift is either $25 or $50 for most government agencies. However, there is no specification on the timing of that gift.  So it could be a gift valued at $50/hour for an entire year (which comes to $438,290.50!).

Ethics goes on both sides of the planner/supplier relationship too.  If someone asks for a kickback, a gift, etc. it’s important to refuse it.  The key metric for this is: if you do something with an expectation of receiving something in return – that’s when ethics get squirrely.

Ultimately ethics are a personal thing so consider that the next time you face an ethically ambiguous situation.

As Jiminy Cricket said: “Let your conscience be your guide.”

When you’re next faced with a gift situation, ask if there’s an expectation of something in return?

Eisenstodt is a great speaker and we’d definitely recommend her for your organization or association.  She also recommends the NBES website, and the book Extraordinary Circumstances as additional resources.

At the ISES-NCC Program today, she left us with this quote: “the reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.” – Japanese proverb…