Tag Archives: ethics

‘Tis the Season: Ethics of Gifting & Entertaining

Originally published Meeting Today Blog

'Tis the Season: Ethics of Gifting & Entertaining

Prologue: Picture this … it’s the season of gift giving and of year-end hotel contract deadlines. I’m working feverishly to finish a number of complex hotel contracts for clients before everyone takes time off for the Christmas holidays. My spouse brings a box from our mail room to my home office.

I ask, as I continue to write contract provisions, from whom the box was sent, thinking it must be from a family member or friend. When the sender is mentioned—a salesperson with whom we are in difficult (politely said!) negotiations—I loudly say “DROP IT!”*

In one of my favorite films, Defending Your Life, we see that after death, one’s ‘first stop” is a place that looks remarkably like Epcot Center. There, we are tasked with watching videos of our lives and “defending” our every action. It has a wonderfully funny tie-in to our industry with scenes about who gets the “better” hotels with the “better” turn-down amenities as a result of what appears from our lives. Chuckling as I write this—thinking not unlike who gets the upgrades in real life, huh?

The film is amusing, down-right funny (think whether you want to be seen by important people as you slurp your linguini in a restaurant) thoughtful and insightful.

Differently staged and with similar intent, is The Good Life, a TV production that so fascinated me, I now have a desire to recommend viewing episodes in preparation for ethics discussions in classes I teach and programs I facilitate. Is there a “good” place or a “bad” place after we die? Is it like Epcot Center? I don’t know. I do know that my actions after receiving the box would have to be defended.

The point? Many of you will give or receive gifts or entertain or be entertained by those with whom you are doing business, have done business, referred business or one day may do business. What goes into your thinking as you chose to whom to give or entertain, and for the recipients, to accept a gift or invitation or not?

How much would the potential of “defending” your actions—now, to an ethics committee or an HR or other officials in your company or professional organization—play in your choice of what and how much you gift to, or accept from, someone?

Research: In preparation to write the initial blog post in the October 2018 newsletter and for this post you’re reading, I did extensive new research: conversations with current and former hotel executives, industry attorneys, and EIC and EIC-member organizations’ representatives; reading articles about our industry’s and others’ ethics practices; reading hotel companies’ ethics policies [highly recommend and easily found with a search**]; and asking, via social media for those interested in responding to questions about industry ethics to contact me. A compilation of those responses can be found here.

I also asked questions of three industry recruiters—MeetingJobs, Searchwide, and Vetted Solutions. The responses from their CEOs are in this section of the December 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Preview: I was … well, read it and you might figure out my response after reading on.

And once read, please answer the Friday With Joan poll questions.

Analysis: EIC, our industry’s umbrella organization, was unable to tell me which of its members has an enforceable code of ethics and/or conduct. In my research I learned that of those who do, two are NSA and NACE. I know that MPI, PCMA, and ASAE do not have enforceable codes, although MPI did at one time. ASAE has a separate, enforceable code for those who have achieved their CAE—Certified Association Executive—designation; the code for all other members is aspirational.

Those who have achieved their CMP—Certified Meeting Professional—are bound by this code, which is worded much like the codes of many of the EIC organizations that have codes of conduct or ethics.

(Use this link to EIC members; go to their sites to read the codes. Even if you are not a member of one of these organizations, it is likely you will do business with someone who is).

I verified with colleagues with whom I served on the then-CLC Board some years ago that our umbrella organization formerly required an enforceable code of ethics to be an EIC member. Now, it is asked that a code be submitted with the membership application, but it is not required for membership.

I confirmed that HSMAI, for example, does not have a code of conduct or ethics.

I imagine others do not as well.

Of those with enforceable codes, I was told the main charge of an ethics violation is the use of a certification when it has not been earned or renewed.

This was believed, by those with whom I spoke, to be a belief that few are violating the codes.

And now, ‘tis the season of gifts and entertainment. Many feel valued if they receive a gift or an invitation. Those on the receiving end believe it is perhaps their due for the hard work they have performed. Perhaps the invitation to an event is viewed as an opportunity to network even if they have no business to offer; the receipt of a gift, seen as one of friendship beyond the business relationship.

How do we decide when it’s appropriate to offer and accept gifts or invitations? And more, when is it appropriate to flaunt these gifts and entertainment on social media for all to see and perhaps question if a code of ethics—that of an employer or industry association—has been violated?

During this season of giving, it is also the season of year-end business and for some independent meeting planners and others who work for commissions, a season of meeting a deadline before commissions are lowered by some hotel companies. To that, many are posting that they are going around the “system” and finding ways to receive what they believe is their “due”—a commission amount that is greater than that announced by hotel companies. More details here and here.

In my research again, I was told by many current and former hoteliers and others that this practice will face consequences. This was stated to me, and I’ve agreed to, as I do with many, keep the confidence of the person who provided this input:

“By encouraging hotels to breach the requirement that they adhere to brand standards, or to hide the payment in some fashion to deceive, planners need to evaluate whether they could potentially be liable for interfering with the contract or if they are perpetrating some kind of fraud. Even more disturbing however is that this takes the profession back not just a step, but a mile.

“It seems a lot like the concepts that planners finally overcame when some were asking for blind commissions. If the planners are handling the commission in this fashion, they need to be mindful that are acting on behalf of the group [for whom they are doing business].

“They need to be concerned about this being a potential violation of the group’s code of ethics.”

And as noted above, it may also be a violation of the brand’s code of ethics.

From everything I see and hear, from the justifications in classes and other conversations and those in social media, and from the many reports in the news and the investigation of us by the U.S. Congress, I think we are moving into even more dangerous territory in and outside of our industry. Many find ways to justify their actions in the request for and acceptance of gifts, perks, and entertainment: we’re underpaid, under-appreciated, work long hours, need to network to find a new job, etc.

Suggested Actions to Help Avoid Unethical Gifting Situations:

  1. Read your employer’s or client’s or business partners’ code of ethics.
  2. Share your code with those with whom you are doing business.
  3. Agree at the start of a business relationship, even one that has a long-friendship behind it or becomes a friendship, by what ethics you will together abide.
  4. Determine how your codes guide you for tradeshow drawings, invitations to events, giving and receiving gifts and attending hosted-buyer events. If the codes are not that specific, discuss how they can be.
  5. Provide examples in the comments or to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com for posting without attribution examples of how we, as an industry, are ethical or how we can be more so. Share the ways we can improve together.

May the light of this season and the hope of the new year bring our industry and us individually to new thinking about how we do business and how we want to be seen.

*You wanted to know what happened, right? I called the client immediately and was told that they too had received a box.

Neither of us had opened it. I asked what we should do.

It was agreed I’d call the salesperson and say that we could not accept the gifts.

I was told that these were not practical to return. The client agreed that they would use them in an office gifting event and that I could dispose of the gift by donating it. 

**You will find, in your search, codes for how hotel companies deal with their own vendors, customers and staff. The codes are enlightening.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the December 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 12.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings in Troubling Times

The last few weeks have been especially difficult.

It’s not just client deadlines, illnesses of those I love, and the normal stress of a year coming to an end. It’s the horrific acts of hate in the United States and around the world.

You, before reading on, want to know what this has to do with our industry and your work?

Stay with me, please. I’ll show you.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with what has caused so many of us to grieve and to, as one colleague said, know how to direct sadness and rage.

I am so grateful to so many people who have reached out to me because I am Jewish in the belief that the terrorism at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had caused me the most pain.

It was one of the many “final straws” in the last few weeks. It piled on to the items that follow and the many that preceded that, in my lifetime and long before, known because history taught us.

In these last weeks, we’ve experienced or heard more about:

The starvation in Yemen, reported as potentially the worst incidence of starvation in history.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi and the demand for knowledge of what happened echoed from many corners of the world, its implications weighing greatly on relationships among countries and on the need for a free press.

Pipe bombs targeting people because of their views. Though a suspect was in custody, one more pipe bomb was found. One can hope there are no more from him and that “copycat” acts will not follow. I fear they will.

Murdered—two African American grandparents, out shopping with their grandson in Kentucky because someone who had expressed hate on social media couldn’t get into a church to murder more. It might have been more like the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the victims for whom I still mourn.

The caravan of people—a caravan for safety in numbers, reminiscent of the scenes from “Fiddler on the Roof” of those escaping pogroms in Russia, escaping hate and violence in Central America leaving all they know and family and friends continued on to the United States where they hoped we might understand their needs and ours and accept their pleas for asylum.

The U.S. Government spoke of “erasing” people who are transgender, throwing many, including some of our friends and families, into panic and many of us into action because we must support those we love.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a place that is far from his parents’ Wyoming home but safe from haters who, like those who killed him because of his sexual orientation, might cause harm to any memorial there to honor his life.

Then, on Saturday, October 27, 2018, the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, during Shabbat services, committed in the name of hatred of Jewish people and of HIAS, an organization that, since the 1800s, has helped refugees of all kinds settle in the United States where they hoped to be safe.

Quoted in The New York Times and other news sources, “The suspect in Pittsburgh posted a message on social media about the [Central American] caravan shortly before the massacre, accusing Jews of bringing in ‘invaders’ that were killing his people.”

Interestingly, the congregation at Tree of Life were preparing to read from the Torah that morning how Abraham and Sarah opened their tent and welcomed strangers, just as the Jewish community has done for millennia since and for which George Soros, a target of a pipe bomb, himself a Holocaust Survivor, has been criticized for funding (he hasn’t) the caravan. [Check snopes.com for more].

There’s much more and there is much that isn’t new news—African Americans and Latinos are being targeted for being. Literally. This story from Detroit about a man and his garden is indicative of hate and distrust of others.

Muslims and Sikhs have been targeted for years and ever-more after 9/11 and after the 2016 election when a “Muslim ban” has kept people from traveling to be with their families.

This Guardian article, from 2012, is as true today as it was then.

Maybe among your colleagues, friends and family none of these instances had any impact.

Not so for me or my family and friends. My Facebook pages were filled with memorials, notices of how to sit shiva to mourn and honor the Tree of Life victims.

What does this all have to do with the hospitality industry?

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings and Events

I’ve written and spoken often that as a child I believed that—because my maternal grandfather (z”l), a Russian immigrant, resembled Nikita Khrushchev—I was sure if I, at 12, could only talk with Mr. Khrushchev, we could make world peace.

I was called a “Christ-killer” on the playground of the Ohio public school I attended. In my adult years, I heard “Jew you down,” a bigoted slur as horrific as using the “N” word, in too-many-to-name negotiations with hotel salespeople.

I’ve heard asked by others “why do ‘they’ (African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ and others) need their own organizations” in our industry with no understanding of what it’s like to not be accepted and included by the majority of the “mainstream” industry organizations.

I’ve repeatedly called out industry organizations and supplier partners who hold events over some of the holiest days in Judaism and other non-Christian religions believing it’s perfectly appropriate though they would never hold events on Easter or Christmas.

In the codes of ethics of many EIC member organizations for those that have them or sometimes in their mission statements if an ethics code does not exist, is language similar to that in MPI’s Principles of Professionalism: “Embrace and foster an inclusive business climate of respect for all peoples regardless of national origin, race, religion, sex, marital status, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairment.” [I’d prefer that the word “impairment” be changed; it is inappropriate].

Read more on the use of impairment, disability and handicap here.

Diversity and inclusion are again topics of interest in the hospitality industry and should be in the companies and organizations for whom you work and are your clients.

1. Consider the demographics of those who will participate in or exhibit at your meetings and what days may be important to them and those in their lives, and over what dates having a meeting may pose a religious or other similar conflict. (Read more here in a previous Friday With Joan article).

2. Advise clients, after consulting calendars, of holidays—religious, federal, local—that fall over those great dates with great rates you are offering. Ensure there is knowledge of the times being booked.

3. Be aware of laws that are being considered and the impact they may have on groups considering your destination. We’ve written about that here and here.

4. If you must have meetings over holidays that impact travel, meals, or entertainment, consider the impact on those who will attend and the accommodations you can make.

Or consider how to expose others to the practices of others. In our November 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar, Jordan Rudner provides a great idea for meetings often held in the Spring.

5. Choose images carefully to market meetings. Show the diversity you have and want to attract.

Inclusion Tips When Convening and Educating

I still believe “if we all could just talk or learn about each other—we could perhaps figure this out” is not necessarily realistic. A colleague with a different point of view of a candidate went to a rally to engage with those who didn’t believe as she did. She is not sure anyone’s mind was changed.

She at least attempted to understand the different points of view. I do believe education and exposure to people unlike us can help with well-facilitated conversations.

Here are some questions to consider when planning or hosting your next meeting or event.

  1. In what ways will you build your diverse audiences to ensure appropriate engagement?
  2. In selecting speakers and entertainers, in what ways will you influence a diverse representation of people and ideas to expose those who participate to people who may be unlike them in some ways and have information from which they can learn?
  3. In selecting cities or states for your meetings, how will you try to ensure that those attending your meeting feel and are safe from attacks by authorities?
  4. What are your organization’s values or the values they wish to convey and how are they expressed in what people see?
  5. Will you, when you hear a “joke” or comment made that objectifies women, slurs others, and is harmful or hurtful or hateful, speak up and express that it is inappropriate?

I promised a second part of our discussion on ethics and it will be posted either later this month, or the first of December 2018—the season of giving and receiving gifts—just in time for you to consider what you will give and accept from those with whom you do business.

This blog post you are reading right now does tie into ethics. The quote I use on one of my email signatures is indicative of ethics and inclusion: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.” – Albert Schweitzer.

Thus, we’ll call this part 1A of my ongoing ethics posts with part 2 to come. For now, be kind, be safe, VOTE [heeding these words from before the 2016 U.S. election from industry leaders] and pay attention to what you can do to create a more accepting, peaceful world.

I add this NPR article Six Words ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught’ Intolerance about a song from “South Pacific” that expresses what we can do. If you’re not familiar with it, please read the article and then the lyrics.

In the additional article included with the November 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter you will read words from Jordan Rudner who works in Anchorage at Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, helping victims of domestic violence and abuse, and from Sherrif Karamat, CEO of PCMA. Of the many wonderful posts of hope, these two, because of who wrote them and what they said, made the most impact on me to send.

There are so many more. If you’ve not seen them and want to, ask and I’ll post. If you have seen good words, please post in the comments. And be sure to take the poll and write to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with thoughts you might want posted anonymously.

I’m glad to post in the comments for you without your name and to hold your comments in complete confidence.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the November 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 11.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Are You on the Right Side of Ethics?

Originally posted The Meeting Magazines

Let These Meetings Industry Pros — and Your Conscience — Be Your Guide By 

Every industry faces ethics challenges, and meeting planning certainly is no exception. Something that looks like an incentive can be intended as a bribe. Planners are offered so many things so often that the right thing to do can be confusing, especially for novices.

Experts say several factors contribute to ethical lapses and quandaries including: not enough ethics education opportunities; industry guidelines are unclear about specific, ethically ambiguous situations; some planners, particularly those who are independent, have tighter budgets and may count on FAM trips, frequent flyer miles, hotel-stay points and other perks to defray expenses.

No wonder planners face ethics challenges as a routine part of their jobs.

According to Joan Eisenstodt, founder of Washington, DC-based Eisenstodt Associates LLC, a meetings consulting and training firm focusing on ethics issues, “I think our industry is far less ethical than it ever was because of high turnover, the complicity of vendors, younger and newer people who aren’t members of industry organizations, and because many people believe they are underpaid and overworked and are ‘due’ the perks offered.”

Sometimes the right ethical choice is clear, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the decision is ethically correct but gives the appearance of being unethical or at least inappropriate.

Ethics Education

Eisenstodt believes that more ethics education is needed to make planners aware of potential issues, especially those that fall into gray areas. “We need far more education now than ever,” she says. “I think ethics needs to be on the agenda of every industry organization at every national, international and chapter meeting. If a national organization or chapter does one ethics program every few years, they believe it is okay.”

Karen Kotowski, CEO of the Events Industry Council (EIC), offers a different assessment. “I think we do a fairly good job, particularly for the CMP community,” she says. “Our Events Industry Council Manual 9th Edition is the primary study resource (for the EIC’s CMP certification) and covers professionalism, ethical behavior, best practices, and how to develop and implement a code of ethics for your own organization.”

The EIC has an enforceable CMP Code of Ethics, which says that planners shouldn’t use their “position for undue personal gain and to promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.” In addition, the code says planners should “actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”

Questions about the EIC standards are included on the organization’s CMP exam. According to Kotowski, “CMPs are required to read and agree to abide by the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct on their initial certification application, as well as every time they recertify.”

The EIC can remove certification from planners who violate the standards. “The process ensures a CMP receives due process and the procedures are consistently enforced if a complaint is made,” says Kotowski.

Ethics Violations

Kotowski adds that the most frequent violations involve people who use the CMP designation after they fail to recertify. “A more infrequent, but equally serious occurrence, has been occasions where someone uses the credential who never earned it,” says Kotowski. “We can’t ensure ethical behavior. We can encourage, educate and enforce it if need be.”

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has its Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct, which asks members to “avoid any and all conflicts of interest and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.”

The PCMA principles also ask professionals to “refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.”

Some industry ethics experts say that industry standards provide general guidelines but aren’t uniform, are infrequently enforced and don’t cover many specific ethics challenges that planners commonly face.

According to Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM, CEO and master strategist at Bernardsville, New Jersey-based Strategic Meetings & Events, “If the industry were more strategic in how we planned and came together to form unilateral goals, standards and practices, we would be seen differently, treated differently, and better behavior on all sides would result.”

Knowing Ethics Codes

But many planners aren’t familiar with industry standards. According to Eisenstodt, “I think if you asked members of the various industry organizations when they last read the code for the organization for which they are a member or hold a certification, you’d find that few have.”

Unfamiliarity with ethics standards is especially common among numerous people who plan meetings but aren’t trained planners. “I think that the gap in awareness, if any exists, may be with those non-professional/part-time planners who are asked to plan a meeting, but it is not their day-to-day job,” says Kotowski.

Kotowski believes that untrained, part-time planners are even less aware than professional planners of potential ethical pitfalls. “I would urge those non-full-time planners to use our EIC manual as a desk reference for these practices and to become more professional in performing these activities that may not be their full-time job,” says Kotowski.

Lamagna agrees: “Those who plan meetings aside from their full-time responsibilities often make the wrong decisions as they are not exposed to guidelines and ethics codes. The bigger problem is that the industry is too segmented. If we had a universal platform to stand on or required a licensing procedure for this role, then we’d eliminate enormous amounts of unethical behavior.”

It’s also difficult to curb unethical behavior because suppliers and vendors may have inadequate ethics standards or none at all. Suppliers may not be clear to planners up front about the intention of their perks and gifts.

According to Eisenstodt, “The piece of this that is not addressed is whether the vendor or supplier is complicit in any unethical behavior and, if so, how should it be addressed. Having seen clients fire planners who violated ethics codes with the complicity of vendors, and seeing the vendors continue working for their companies, means we have no real standards across the industry.”

FAM Trips

Knotty ethics issues can result from FAM trips — expense-paid trips that hotels, venues and CVBs offer planners to acquaint them with properties and destinations.

Some planners accept FAM trips with no intention of ever considering the destination for a meeting. That’s not ethical, says Lamagna. “If you know your client base will never go to a destination, don’t accept the invite. These trips cost money and are investments in future business. Be respectful of that. If you don’t have business to share at that moment, but believe you may in the future, then consider going,” says Lamagna.

How can planners who want to do the right thing ensure that personal biases don’t influence their recommendations?

Lamagna offers the following advice: “I always repeat the mantra, ‘it’s not about me’ with every component of a program from menus to gifts, flowers or wine selection. I remind myself that I am not the audience. I base my recommendations on the group’s goals for the meeting, personality of executives and guests, budget, tolerance for travel, etc.”

While FAM trips are a problem, some experts believe that other ethical problems are more common.

Perks and Gifts

Says Eisenstodt: “I think FAM trips are the least of our concerns. They happen less frequently. I think the issue of prizes at trade shows/hosted buyer events and even the hosted buyer events themselves are of far greater concern as are the gifts given, the undisclosed commissions, the hidden fees and so much more.”

Indeed, many ethical issues stem from perks, rewards, points and gifts offered to planners or that they rarely request. Suppliers such as hotels and venues as well as CVBs bombard planners with perks such as hotel nights, airfare points, spa treatments, five-star dinners, limo rides, tickets to sporting events and concerts, and trips for family and friends.

It can be difficult for planners, especially novices, to decide when it’s ethical to accept freebies. A perk may also be a bribe, or at least give the appearance of one.

Organizations, corporations and event stakeholders know that planners are offered perks. Still, not revealing the acceptance of the gifts could be unethical if the offerings favorably impact a planner’s recommendation or decision about a property or destination. Even if a reward doesn’t influence the decision, non-disclosure could give the appearance of being unethical if the perk is revealed later.

Lamagna offers the following advice for dealing with perks, points, rewards and gifts. “We give any gifts we receive to the client,” she says. “For instance, a property awarded us a watch after the event. We had them send it to our client’s CEO. If you are upfront with the client and they are okay with you accepting points, use them as a perk for employees.”

Gray Areas

Many planners perceive some perks as gray areas. Here are two examples:

A hotel, vendor or other supplier offers an expensive dinner at a swanky restaurant: “Five-star dinners should not be the norm,” says Lamagna. “That said, if a relationship has developed with a vendor who takes you out to celebrate or as a thank you, and you can separate that from ‘owing’ them something in the form of business in the future, then that may be okay. Nothing should ever be expected, done in excess or abused.”

A hotel offers a room upgrade: “Accepting upgrades while on a site visit is not unethical but it is inappropriate,” says Lamagna. “Upgrades offered onsite during a program should also be declined because the meeting is not about you. You are staff, not a guest. We put into our preshow notes that no one from our team is ever to be upgraded so there is a clear path for everyone to follow.”

Should a planner who has accepted points and perks not recommend the hotel even if it is a good match for the meeting? Why? “When you have to start asking yourself these questions you are blurring a line,” says Lamagna. “Focus on the client’s goals and best interests, and be transparent in your behavior. That eliminates most challenges.”

Eisenstodt agrees that transparency is the best course. “Destination, venue and vendor salespeople have quotas to make, and we all have been begged to get contracts signed,” says Eisenstodt. “We have an obligation to know and disclose the criteria on which we base decisions. Discussing with an internal or external stakeholder the selection criteria means that one can be more objective, and show the objectivity in the decision-making.”

The need for ethical behavior among meeting planners grows as more join the events industry. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of meeting and convention planners will continue to grow 16 percent through 2018 — faster than the average for all occupations.

Expert Advice

Planners can take the following steps to increase awareness about ethics:

  • Experienced planners should serve as ethics mentors to new planners, and newcomers should seek advice from experienced peers.
  • Talk to a boss or coworker about a situation when the course of action isn’t clear.
  • Put the best interests of stakeholders and clients first.
  • Be aware of how actions might be perceived and interpreted even if they are technically ethical.
  • Planners facing an ethical dilemma should ask themselves how they would feel if their actions were posted on social media.
  • Corporations that lack their own codes of ethics should create such standards.

Corporate Ethics Codes

According to Eisenstodt, “Most corporations, if not all, have codes of conduct/ethics.  Of the corporate planners I know, all have said they are asked once a year to do an online evaluation of ethics issues. I have helped clients write specifics, using their overall codes, for their meetings departments so that individuals knew, for example, the value of gifts or meals or entertainment they could accept.”

Kotowski offers advice on what the corporate codes should cover. “It would include their own specific practices and standards regarding how they interact with their clients and conduct their business,” says Kotowski.

The codes also would cover company-specific “financial practices, how they report their activities to the client, transparency in billing practices and expectation of employee interactions with vendors and suppliers,” says Kotowski.

Hold Peers Accountable

Planners should know and abide by ethics codes and hold their peers accountable for doing the same. Suppose a corporate planner finds out that a peer within the same company has acted unethically. What steps should the planner take?

Eisenstodt offers the following advice: “It is generally thought that one should approach (not report) the person thought to have acted unethically based on the company’s code and say something like, ‘I think you did X and it seems like it might be in opposition to the company’s code of conduct in section Y,” says Eisenstodt. “Please tell me a bit more so I can understand how to apply the code to my own work.”

Eisenstodt advises that planners talk to human resources when in doubt about what to do, or use the company’s anonymous reporting system. “Use what works best and most comfortably for you. If the person believed to have acted unethically holds a certification, determine what you need to do and how to report the information to (the certifying organization). Do that only when certain of the information.”

According to Lamagna, corporate planners have a duty to report ethics violations. “There is no middle ground with ethics,” says Lamagna. “Once you know something is happening that is unethical, it is incumbent on you to share the information. If you are unsure and it is not your responsibility to follow up, share the concern, not an accusation, with the appropriate person and then step aside.”

The right ethical decision isn’t always clear, and planners may see the same situations differently. However, it’s crucial that planners approach issues with a knowledge of ethics standards and a willingness to make the best efforts to apply them.  C&IT

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

'Ethical Negotiation' - An Oxymoron?

Psst… did you hear the one about the hotel salesperson and the customer who didn’t disclose their policies and history? OK, maybe that’s not a common setup for a punchline.

But everyone says it: there must be “hidden charges” that involve a financial risk to meetings that hotels never disclose, seemingly in order to protect themselves from major catastrophe. This causes meeting organizers to believe they’ve been “caught” by someone unscrupulous because if they were really our partners, wouldn’t all the information be disclosed at the start of the relationship?

Conversely, hoteliers and other vendors, working with a wide range of customers say they are frustrated that RFPs (Requests for Proposals)—whether written, electronically completed or phoned in—don’t describe an entire meeting, its needs or its history.

Those with many years of planning, sometimes for the same organization, where year-to-year meetings are pretty much the same; those with little experience; or the well-meaning person who, based on a social media group’s interest, wants to convene face-to-face gatherings, all sometimes take short cuts.

Without all the facts, hotels and other vendors may take for granted that what they get is enough and the person from whom it is received knows enough to ask the right questions. Neither party wants to lose money. In fact, the expectation for each side is that a profit be made, or for the group, at least a break-even financial outcome. Each party wants to believe the other is not withholding information.

I’ve written and taught about contracts*, ethics, and negotiations for years, most recently in the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan and again in the article “7 Keys to Hotel Contract Success” and spoke on a webinar about contracts for Meetings Today, and for UNCC in a class (for which you can enroll for the spring semester). I’ve spoken at chapter programs for MPI, PCMA, SGMP and others. Yet, emails and calls tell me that disclosure and transparency are still not how we operate as an industry.

I speculated that it’s perhaps because:

  • Hospitality is still a “relationship industry” and with that is implied there is a belief in the honesty and integrity of those with who we partner on meetings and events.
  • It is also implied there is sufficient experience to be able to know the lingocontract terms and when to say “I don’t know” and then find out versus bluffing one’s way through a negotiation to a contract that may not make sense to you or that you may not even be able to defend if need be.
  • We want to believe in the honesty of the party with whom we are working and we don’t want to “play our hand”—that is, show what we may not know so, we believe, we can avoid being taken advantage of.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • We’re busy and don’t want to take time to ask questions or questions are discouraged, or when asked, a standard “it’s out corporate contract” (or addendum) is the response, without digging deeper.
  • Sellers put pressure on buyers to “sign now” or lose the deal, partly because many sellers and some third-parties are incented on the number of room nights booked by quarter or year-end and have quotas they must reach.

Just as I hear from colleagues, friends and strangers about ethics issues, I receive questions about contracts, often when there is a potential crisis. A recent incident led me to write this blog and to invite comments** from others in the industry.

One request for help was from a non-industry social media group moderator who, with the encouragement of the group, agreed to organize a multi-day, face-to-face meeting. Based on the expression of interest—not a much different experience than that of a corporate planner whose CEO says “Let’s put on a show,” or an association planner whose Board says, “There’s a great need for a new program on this great new idea”—the person or “meeting convener”—found and booked a hotel.

The meeting convener (not a planner, professionally) signed a hotel contract that, if you read or listened to any of the above linked information or that of others like Tyra Hilliard, was not favorable at all to the individual or group.

The convener, even though it appears the hotel may be sold out by transient and other rooms over the dates booked, may still be on the hook for upwards of $40,000. Even for an association or corporation, $40k is a huge hit!

For an individual, it could be devastating.

Here’s what I think could have been done to prevent or mitigate the outcomes and what can be done going forward by us all. Add your suggestions in the comments section of other ideas for those whose knowledge of the industry is less than yours, or for those who may have never planned an event. (If you prefer to have a comment posted anonymously, email me and I promise to keep what you say confidential and post the comment anonymously. Just please identify yourself to me).

By the hotel

  • Ask more questions about why the convener thought the number of room nights contracted was accurate.
  • Check history … though for this group there was none but still, what happened to the practice of checking, which I’ve found has gone out the window for expediency? … but I digress slightly…
  • Explain how hotels operate, how they make money, and what the financial risks were to the convener of the number of guest rooms and other provisions.
  • Provide a sliding scale of guest rooms, and based on reservations and registrations, increase as needed at a negotiated group rate.
  • Be transparent in all you say and do.
  • Negotiate an audit clause so that those who made reservations outside the group block, perhaps at a greater discounted rate, would be counted toward group pick up.

By the convener

  • Research to learn more about how meetings are held and how hotels operate, what contract provisions will be fair to both parties and what risks may be involved.
  • Charge a non-refundable pre-registration fee.
  • Explain to the group—once research has been conducted and the hotel had explained to the convener—the risks for the individual so that the burden would be shared.
  • Ask more questions to understand the clauses, financial obligations and the risk.
  • Be transparent in the information you provide and the negotiations you conduct.

I want to believe our industry is ethical and honorable. I’ve always said there are no hidden fees, just fees that we planners forget to ask about and cover contractually.

I also want to believe these points from the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct Statement and Policy—“Maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct at all times,” and “Actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”—guide even those who are not CMPs, and that we all want to conduct business transparently.

Although I cannot provide exact language, I recommend negotiating something like “all terms and conditions that impact the financial and operational aspects of the event have been disclosed in the Agreement or they will not be in effect” into your contracts.

But don’t take my word—talk with an industry attorney, preferably a member of AHIA – the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys.

I really do believe that ethical negotiation is not an oxymoron. Tell me I’m not delusional!

*As always, my disclaimer in reference to any contract issues: Although I am an expert witness in industry disputes, these materials are provided with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or professional services through the distribution of the materials. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be contracted.

**I’m grateful to those who were willing to respond—although I was surprised by some of the responses—and help further the conversation. I hope you’ll join in with your comments below.

 

When the Political Becomes the Practical, Part II

Originally published Meetings Today

It’s tough to separate the political from the professional whether in last week’s Friday With Joan blog post on professional development, the linked Q&A with Sekeno Aldred, Charles Massey and Jean Riley, or in this previous blog post “When the Political Becomes The Practical.”

While many are many speaking out—including these legal opinions—I look to our industry for a voice against what Donald Trump has said about restricting Muslims from entering the United States for any reason including as tourists. Can you imagine being a Muslim who works for a Trump property?

Or can you imagine being invited to attend a meeting at a Trump property … especially if you are a Muslim or someone thinks you are? Will activities or discussions of those attending your meetings have to be reported if this new law goes through?

Will we or will we not be as inclusive as the policies of all our industry associations say? Even The Washington Business Journal is asking the question about boycotting Trump properties, services and products with, to me, surprising results.

Where are the voices in our industry speaking out against hate? Even if it means using the “business case” as has been done to promote multiculturalism and diversity and inclusiveness.

 

4 Ways to Express Thanks and Thanks-giving

Originally published Meetings Today

This week, I offer a professional and personal blog written for a variety of reasons, one of which is the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday (or this); another is because this week my family buried my uncle, my father’s (of blessed memory) only sibling.

The time with family allowed me to learn more about where we came from, when and why pogroms and the Holocaust, cast us out of many lands bringing us to the United States.

Another reason is because the Thanksgiving holiday as celebrated is—or can be—an act of hospitality in a time when the world is inhospitable to so many in so many places. Stay with me please and allow me some personal reflections on hospitality, Thanksgiving and thanks-giving.

What are children today taught about the U.S. Thanksgiving? What is discussed at home and in school or in home schooling, about the meaning of giving thanks as well as the holiday? (In grade school, I remember drawing photos of turkeys using a hand to outline a turkey. Do they still do that? Now, with greater awareness, what do they do to help children who don’t have all their fingers or two hands or the use of their hands?).

I wonder too, more this year than others of recent memory, if the meaning of being refugees—and acceptance and rejection by those who are native to a land in which a refugee finds her or himself—is discussed. Do families and groups of friends, gathered around a table, discuss the situation of refugees from wars and violence and thank each other for the gift of family and friendship? Are strangers welcomed to the neighborhood? To the table?

Or is this just another holiday on which retailers get ready to sell-sell-sell after a day of eating and football for many? And do we give to the many who have no table at which to eat or no food on which to put on a table?

(A friend posted this on Facebook. With humor, it is a perfect discussion-starter at your table … with humor. Also recommended, for the creative humor of the beginning of the United States, “Stan Freberg  Presents the United States of America,” portions of which you can listen to here.)

To this industry, into which I was destined to work and yet into which I fell because of Karen Mulhauser, who hired me into my first professional job in DC, I am grateful.

To Meetings Today and Stamats Communications [whose views may not always be reflected in what I write and speak and still allow me to do so.] To an industry to which I’ve devoted more than 45 years of my life, and in which I’ve been afforded and accepted opportunities to lead, teach, grow and help others grow, I am thankful.

Yet, I puzzle, especially on this holiday of hospitality and thanks-giving, at how those in charge of this industry—the staffs and Boards of Directors of the CIC member organizations—withhold hospitality by their lack of action, despite statements of diversity and inclusion, on issues such as inclusive housing, jobs, and other accommodations for people who are older, immigrants, LGBTQ, and/or have different abilities.

[See here the coalition http://houstonunites.org/about/, including the Houston DMO, United Airlines and a few other hospitality companies but no industry associations, who supported Houston’s badly defeated-by-misinformation-generated-fear Prop 1. The “crickets” from MPI (“Embrace and foster an inclusive climate of respect…”), PCMA (see number IX), ASAE (delve a bit deeper here), and others who say they are proponents of inclusion make me wonder to whom are we hospitable if we do not speak out and act on hospitality and inclusion.]

As you finish reading you may wonder why I’m posting something that some will perceive as political. Because it’s not. It’s about human rights and welcoming and accommodating, being hospitable, something about which I was taught the holiday of Thanksgiving—and our industry—was about. It is about how each of us determines to represent ourselves, our work, and our industry to others in what we do.

So to help you give thanks and show hospitality, you can:

  1. Say thank you. To the server or bus person who brings or takes away plates; to the setup staff who works an overnight shift to ensure your morning meeting is ready to go; to the person who holds the door open for you; to the many people who do small acts to ensure your safety and security. We can’t all be like young Zachary Becerra but we can emulate him.
  2. Express acceptance. Don’t repeat hate or rumor or support those who do. Become aware of another’s history and accept them for who they are. Help promote them in the workplace, your neighborhood, all places of your life.
  3. Reflect on times you were excluded from any group or neighborhood or club. Once you reflect, remember how it felt and then vow to include others. Which leads to…
  4. Take (inclusive) action. Don’t just say you support “diversity and inclusiveness,” live it and ask others to join you in doing so.

To each of you, my thanks, for reading and learning and taking action.

Is an Industry Veteran Also a Professional?

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

Professional Dictionary Definition

For years, our industry has struggled to develop programming for the “veterans” of the industry. When I served on the Meetings & Exposition (“M&E”) Council of ASAE, and on education committees for MPI and PCMA, we struggled with defining veteran.

Did it mean the number of years in the industry? One or multiple roles in one organization? Increasingly more responsible roles in one organization? Working in different areas (planner, hotel sales, DMC, exhibits) of the industry? Is a veteran someone who has done the same meetings or sold the same property or service the same way over and over and over? (Read again the definition of veteran, linked above).

And how would an organization determine, even with the CMP, what parts of the body of knowledge were needed, and if the body of knowledge then was still relevant and would be in the next year? Is a veteran also a “professional?” And what defines a professional? If you read the words below about what a professional is, does “have the highest standards” mean the person’s ethics are beyond reproach? Or just in line with industry practices?

In a Linkedin group that is not directly related to our industry, there is a discussion of what “professional” means. One of the participants posted this, which I offer for your consideration and parsing (Reposted below).

_____________

WHAT IS A PROFESSIONAL?
By Brian Rigsby.

“One definition might be getting paid to do something. Another might be a commitment to performing at the highest level, to give your best at all times. Yet another may be exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. While all of these are partially correct, there are many facets to being a true professional.

A professional has specialized skills and knowledge that required independent erudition and effort on their part to attain. They engage in a process of constant evaluation and improvement. A professional makes decisions based on their dedication to the craft and not the current circumstance. The characteristic that separates the professional from the dilettante is an uncompromising commitment to excellence – doing what is required to get the job done at its highest level, even when it is inconvenient. An amateur is capable of doing some things well under the right conditions, but a professional, as a matter of course, does it well regardless of the situation.

A professional is passionate, motivated and punctual. A professional respects the respectable, but admires the inspirational. A professional is a seeker of knowledge but also a teacher. A professional is disciplined, has the highest standards, and is engaged in the constant pursuit of unattainable perfection. A professional is restless and never satisfied, always evaluating and re-evaluating where they’ve come and finding ways to do what they are doing better now, today, moment to moment.”<<

Join me in trying to figure this out. It’s a bit philosophical perhaps or maybe not! Perhaps you’ve defined the words for yourself and within your own organization or about those you hire or with whom you contract. Please share your definitions and your thoughts. I really am puzzled.