Do Corporate Standards of Business Conduct Apply to Planners?

KI-0616By Kevin Iwamoto, Senior Consultant

I just read about a promotion for all planners from a global hotel chain to enter a contest to win a bed. It brought back memories of an incident that I was pulled in to and needed to assist with when I was in global procurement and a new category lead for our corporate SMMP. I’ll explain why later but what happened as a direct result of one of my key intermediary partner planners winning a bed was something I will never forget.

Planner points, incentives and contests have been around forever but if you are planning meetings and work for a corporation, could entering these contests and winning prizes be a conflict of corporate ethics and guidelines? It depends on your employer but generally speaking I would venture to say yes there’s probably something in your company’s standards of business conduct policy that references your company’s position on prizes, incentives, points, trips and especially fam trips and lunches/dinners.

As a general guideline if you like and want to keep your job, you need to check, understand and adhere to your company policies about entering into contests, prize drawings, and yes even the industry standard fam trips, lunches, dinners and gifts from suppliers. Some folks I spoke to admitted to me that even though they were vaguely aware of such policies, they didn’t see the harm in participating in what is viewed as standard practice in our industry. My advice to them all the time is, that they are gambling with their jobs and reputations if they continue to operate that way without respecting their corporate policies.

I know of several individuals who have lost their jobs and suffered damage to their reputations because they accepted incentives that were specifically prohibited in their company policies. By the way, the “I didn’t know” position will not save you from potential termination especially if you take standards of business conduct training annually and have to sign off at the end of the training, that you fully understand and have completed the training.

So back to my experience with this situation. One day I got a call from a very good friend who was also a preferred supplier for my company, asking me for help with one of my intermediary partners. It turns out someone at my intermediary supplier had won one of these bed contests and was being unreasonable because the bed type they won wasn’t available so they were raising a ruckus and threatening to pull our business from this hotel supplier if they didn’t get their way.

To acquiesce them, the hotel supplier gave them two beds and thought the situation was resolved. When the beds were delivered, the winner of the incentive raised a ruckus again and started demanding the full bedding set for each of the beds including duvet, sheets, pillows, shams, etc. My poor hotel supplier friend was so distraught that their executive management suggested they call me to get assistance as they felt our intermediary representatives were being unreasonably difficult and was once again threatening to pull our corporate business.

Long story short, I got involved, made them drop their additional demands and instructed them that the next time they threaten one of my preferred hotel suppliers with my corporate business they will face serious consequences including possible termination of their services. I reminded them that they had no right to represent themselves in that way at any time. Internally I did the following things to insure this wouldn’t happen again:

  1. Worked with our legal department to create supplier policies and guidelines that aligned with our corporate standards of business conduct policies. These became standard language in our supplier contracts making it very clear of the behavior and parameters that were expected of our preferred supplier partners.
  2. Changed internal policy and guidelines to reinforce to all employees in their annual training for business conduct requirements and even provided a specific sample module to be used for the training to circumvent the “I didn’t know” excuses.
  3. Directed all preferred hotel suppliers to advise me of their marketing contests and incentives then communicated to all corporate planners and admins that points, prizes, incentives, etc. are company property and approvals are to be gained in advance of any participation.

The bottom line is this, ignorance is not bliss nor justification for actions. Check and familiarize yourselves with your company policies and guidelines around gifts, contests, trips, meals, etc. It’s not worth losing a job or position you love because of marketing promotions like this. The old rule, “better to be safe than sorry” applies to this type of situation and frankly, I’d rather buy my own bed and be able to sleep well at night vs. wondering if I will still have a job when I wake up.


This article originally appeared in Meetings & Conventions Magazine on July 1, 2016. For more information, click here.

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