Tag Archives: Vetted Solutions

‘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.

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

Originally published Meetings Today blog

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

My number one “strength” is “connectedness.” And though I dislike networking in the traditional sense (the kind that is done at big events with too much noise and no time for deeper conversation—check out this video podcast for more), connecting with others, and learning more about their ideas and opinions and experiences, matters greatly.

After all, I learned great networking skills from Susan RoAne, the “Mingling Maven,” years ago at an industry meeting and I still follow her work and the principles learned because she understands the value of it, and knows how to network, beyond the superficial.

Years ago, serving on the board and then as president of the MPI Potomac Chapter, I remember using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other tools in a facilitated exercise to build a better board through our relationships. I confirmed that for me to work well with someone, I had to be connected in more than one way.

That is, I wanted to know who I was working with—and their specific interests—in order to be able to connect more than casually.

That has served me well in many years in the industry and business … until this summer. I recently was “taken in” during a critical negotiation when I thought someone really wanted to know me and have me know them. It turns out they didn’t. My involvement was merely a means to an end, and soon the honesty went straight out the window.

Some of what a client and I went through will form a backdrop for this upcoming Meetings Today webinar on Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, which Kelly Bagnall, Esq., a meetings industry attorney on the hotel side, and I will co-present. You’ll want to tune in for specific examples.

What happened this summer caused me to reflect back on more positive outcomes resulting from strong industry relationships. I thought about a dinner during a PCMA meeting, who was there and why, and what was said. At this dinner and at others, outside the bustle of the larger meeting and official (and invited) events, friends could catch up with each other, make connections and talk in a more intimate setting, my preferred way of networking and building relationships.

At one dinner of 30, it was suggested that introductions include “how I’m connected to Joan.” It was fascinating to hear: the planners said they’d learned from me in a class or from my writing; the suppliers said they’d experienced a tough but fair negotiation.

In another instance where connectedness paid off, I was working for a client at whose organization there had been some “irregular activity” [I can’t call it criminal because it was never prosecuted]: planners, including those at the most senior level, set up a side company (to their existing employment), and in the name of that company, inserted a commissionable page into contracts after the contracts were signed by their employer.

The planners then went further and booked bogus meetings using the insertion and the electronic signature of the CEO. All this was uncovered in an audit, they were fired, and I was brought in to fix the damage. A connection with an industry attorney—lawyers and hotel lawyers are not our enemies!—who represented the hotel owners knew enough about me and my integrity to know that I wanted to make the situation right for the client and for the hotel owner and management companies. Without the existing relationship and a reputation for ethical behavior, openness in dealing with the situation, and the connection made, the results for the association might have been very costly.

We don’t have to be “best” or even good friends. It simply helps for us to know about the other to understand what makes us tick and how we operate. Pretending you want to get to know each other when you are, instead, manipulating a situation, is not sincere and in the end, doesn’t enrich the trust that should be built in a complex negotiation.

In the sidebar you’ll see that more than one person mentions the ethics of how to work in this industry. There are varying guidelines at each of the industry association’s sites and none are exactly alike. For those who are CMPs, the Events Industry Council offers its own set of guidelines. Honor your employer’s or client’s code of conduct and others.

It all seems simple and yet, due to the bottom line- and date-focused nature of the industry, we tend to not play fairly. Below are some suggestions about how to build and keep relationships based on my own personal experience. Over the years I’ve worked and built relationships with people who work in sales, convention services and law.

Those relationships, and others this summer after the unpleasant one, allowed me to find solutions to sticky situations in which my clients’ dollars were at stake—situations where I would not benefit directly. (I am paid by fees from clients vs. commissions. That’s relevant because in each case where a relationship paid dividends, my pockets were not further enriched because of the relationships and work).

Here are five guidelines that I think we can all follow to ethically advance our work and build better relationships.

1. Play fairly. Groups should send full RFPs detailing all that’s important (including any non-negotiable items). Suppliers should send proposals that answer all the questions asked in the RFP and others anticipated based on research. Establish realistic deadlines and determine how you both can meet them.

2. Work honestly. Tell the truth in all aspects of your work. Don’t rush through a negotiation just to meet a deadline that involves bonuses for one party especially if it results in an incomplete contract or doesn’t allow time to re-read the contract to correct inconsistencies (See Tammi Runzler’s comments in the Friday With Joan sidebar).

3. Be sincere. Don’t fake interest in the other person if it’s not there. Still be polite and listen to what they have to say. You may be surprised at what you find in common that will enhance the relationship, even if you don’t become best friends, or friends at all.

4. Operate ethically. Become better acquainted with your company’s ethics policy and that of your clients and customers. Planners, stop expecting supplier partners to treat you with a gift or provide personal perks. Suppliers stop offering perks to planners to get a contract signed. In the end, it only furthers the perception about and actions of our industry that draw negative attention and can result in job losses—mostly for planners.

Planners, take a supplier to lunch instead of being expected to being treated (I confess to thinking about the brilliant late Stan Freberg and his “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.” One excerpt can be heard here, followed by the full recording).

5. Keep friendships and business relationships separate. If you’re negotiating with someone who has become a friend because you got to know each other through industry activities or you found something in common while doing business together, remember to take off your “friend hat” and put on your “business hat” and be explicit about doing so. It keeps the relationship and the outcomes cleaner.

And now here are some final words to consider.

A friend and cancer patient, Karen Francis, wrote the words quoted below as I was considering the content of this blog post. I share it with her permission:

“As I think about the value of the ‘seasoned nurse’ … I am reminded of the many ‘seasoned bankers’ that groomed my career and contributed to the tremendous success … We all knew how … to satisfy the client’s needs at any cost, and how to beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission in bending the rules. We were ‘client driven’ not ‘sales [driven]’ and we were all ‘old school,’ trained and developed within by each other’s career experiences.”

To help us become better—and more ethical—negotiators and connectors, I asked people who currently or have been in industry sales and those who help hire for their take on doing business. I think you’ll find their responses helpful, no matter if you’re new to the industry or an old dog learning new tricks.

See the Friday With Joan companion article for these responses.

And please add your tips in the comments. It is complicated, at times, when we form these friendships that may last (or not) after the “deal” is over. We are potentially going to do business together again. It is best to ensure an honest relationship from the start.

Click here to view additional content in the 08.04.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt