Some of us are confident in our ability to assess an individual’s character when we’re interviewing and hiring employees, but the sad reality is that most of us are wrong as often as we’re right on this score. Some people always seem to find a way to surprise us. So will some companies. So, what steps can you take to ensure the integrity of the companies you hire to do your association’s work?
1) Model the kinds of behaviors you want to see
Honest, hardworking people are naturally drawn to one another. If it is important to you to work with suppliers whose integrity is beyond reproach, make sure your organization’s is as well. Are your board members and executive staff open and honest with one another, with staff and with members, or do they play power games? If you tolerate lapses of integrity at any level of your organization, you’re at greater risk for retaining a shady supplier. Make it a priority to weed out anyone who tends to withhold information, tends to be lazy, or is otherwise ethically-challenged. This will be hard, especially if they’re at the board level or you consider them friends. You can’t afford to have them leading your association or choosing suppliers on your association’s behalf.
2) Make values a regular part of the conversation
Establish your association’s vision, mission and values and put them in writing. Make them widely known to staff, suppliers, potential suppliers, members and volunteers. Talk about them on a regular basis. When the association is facing challenges either internally, or with its suppliers, consider these situations in the context of your values. This does two things. It promotes a climate in which making thoughtful, ethical decisions is encouraged and it gives all team members insight they can use when they make decisions on your behalf.
3) Set clear expectations
Right from the beginning of the relationship with a new supplier make it clear that your association expects them to follow all laws and regulations pertaining to both your industry and theirs. Further, let them know that you expect them to uphold any professional standards related to their field of endeavor. Don’t automatically assume all suppliers will do this. Pressure to compete on price can prompt some suppliers to turn a blind eye to such things. Also be specific about any routine documentation you will require, such as proof that the supplier has actually carried out certain functions on the organization’s behalf. Setting clear expectations right from the start is often enough to prompt less ethical suppliers to voluntarily shy away from working with you.
4) Monitor each supplier's client base
One slave cannot serve two masters. This is particularly true for suppliers working with associations that are involved in lobbying or advocacy. Doing business with a conflicted suppler is always a bad idea. Even if the work the supplier does for a competing association doesn’t seem as if it would undermine the work the supplier does for you and even if the supplier has
in place sufficient internal safeguards to prevent sensitive information from flowing back and forth between the two clients, ultimately, both things will happen. Even if they happen as a result of an innocent mistake, cleaning up the fall-out can be an extremely expensive and time-consuming process.
5) Don’t ever settle for less when it comes to ethics
Never imagine that in order to get specialized expertise, you have to compromise your values. There are ethical suppliers in all fields, at all price points and at all experience levels. Over time, any supplier’s competence level will improve as they get to know your organization’s work better. When in doubt, make your choice based on a supplier's character; it is much harder to change.
If your association is in conflict with a supplier and you need a confidential and practical plan to resolve the
situation, send a note to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll gladly send you some ideas.