A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity. Dalai Lama

I was recently accused of not being transparent – quite a shocking moment as ethical behaviour and trust are tremendously important to me in everything I do. The context of this situation was a perceived conflict of interest. Perceived conflicts are virtually impossible to refute without sounding defensive, they are based on rumour or hearsay and even ignorance.

Conflicts real or perceived?

Conflicts are an interesting and complex one, at a recent board meeting when reviewing our conflicts register we discussed how far we take this – just directorships and shareholdings? or parties with whom we hold contracts in other businesses? other Directors we sit on boards with? our non-business relationships (dearly beloved employers, siblings companies)? It rapidly spiralled into a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string discussion and was resolved by reminding ourselves of our Professional Code of Conduct and need to act in the best interests of the Company AND it’s Investors.

the_dress_viral_phenomenonI have been trying to think of a good analogy for perceived conflicts, so stick with me for a minute. The characteristics of perceived conflicts are a little bit like “The Dress” viral phenomenon – an apparently irrelevant photo on the internet became important to some people, who had differing perspectives on it’s actual colour and some asserted their perception as “truth” very loudly. To summarise the similarities:

  • your perspective and level of interest determine whether you actually give a sh*t; then
  • interpretation of what constitutes a conflict might come in – is it blue? black? gold?; before
  • hearsay becomes truth the more a story spreads.
What and when to declare

My personal policy is declare everything and be transparent.  I don’t start a conversation with a list or anything like that, rather when the subject moves to a area I hold a conflict in I do this very overt thing – put my hand up and say “just need to let you know I…..”. For example when discussing a challenge with a NZ owned business owner, and the conversation moves to how the multinationals impact our experiences I will put my hand up and say “just need to let you know my dearly beloved works for one of those multinationals” and carry on potential conflict declared.

Rule of thumb here is – what if the other party found out about your conflict at a later time? how would they react knowing you had not disclosed it? Always err on the side of caution as business relationships can be destroyed over trust, conflicts (real or perceived) can erode trust and a customer who doesn’t trust you won’t buy.

Three Tips on how to declare conflicts

Even though I do take this seriously situations like the one I am writing about still arise. When they do having evidence is helpful and also helpfully acts as a means of telling the world what you are up to:

  1. Ensure Companies Office records are kept up to date for Shareholder and Directorship information
  2. Keep LinkedIN updated with everything you are involved with – volunteering, advisory, jobs etc
  3. Err on the side of caution – over communicating what else you are involved with

Things like undisclosed Inter-related companies, companies subcontracting others into engagements to circumvent procurement rules, partnership agreements can all be warning bells in business relationships when discovered.

One of our three values is “Don’t be Dodgy” I work hard to live and breathe this value. My Conflicts are listed below – for transparency. Vic.

Victoria MacLennan, Conflicts list:

Oh and I live with a fabulous man who happens to work for IBM.