Speak Up dilemma: In a hole - the verdict

An invitation from a client to attend the Ryder Cup golf tournament appears to have unduly swayed a sales colleague to favour the firm. How would you react?

Hannah works for the sales team for ‘Max Bank’. Dylan also works in the sales team, and both Hannah and Dylan are at the same level and share the same line manager. Dylan has been at Max Bank two years longer than Hannah, and even though she started just over a year ago, she is still the newest member of the team.

The team is close-knit with staff tending to look out for one another, and this supportive culture and positive working attitude has been praised by senior management at Max Bank. Dylan is particularly popular, with his peers as well as senior management. When Hannah joined the firm, he took the time to help her learn the ropes and to make her feel included. As a result, Hannah and Dylan formed a close friendship and she looks up to him and values his advice. The sales team socialises together frequently, and Hannah and Dylan also regularly spend time together outside of work hours without the rest of their colleagues.

Extravagant hospitalityOne evening, Hannah is invited to a dinner party at Dylan’s house. There are about 15 people there, but she is the only person from Max Bank to have been invited. After dinner, the guests are talking around the table and Dylan brags to everyone that he has been invited to attend the Ryder Cup golf tournament at the invitation of a potential client. Dylan and a couple of his friends are keen golfers, and start talking excitedly about his trip. Hannah hears a few snippets of the details which sound fairly extravagant – including an opportunity to meet some of the professionals who will be playing at the tournament at a dinner which will be laid on by the client - but she is not a fan of the sport and drifts away from conversation to talk to some of the other guests.

Hannah overhears Dylan promising to pay large commissions to a new client
A couple of weeks pass, during which Hannah does not give any more thought to the conversation at the dinner party. Dylan has a day out of the office, which Hannah assumes is to attend the event, but he doesn’t bring it up again and Hannah doesn’t think to ask him about it as, not being a golf enthusiast, she isn’t that interested in hearing how it went.

However, one day Hannah passes Dylan’s office, and overhears him on the phone promising to pay large commissions to a new client. Her thoughts immediately turn to the client who organised the Ryder Cup event, and she becomes even more concerned when Dylan says: “Don’t worry, I took the day as holiday, so my boss won’t even know where I was”.  

Hannah makes a hasty retreat before Dylan’s conversation ends as she doesn’t want him to think she was eavesdropping, but as the day goes on Hannah starts to feel more and more worried about what she overheard and reflects on the options available to her.

The CISI verdictThis dilemma was published in the Review digital edition, with members invited to register their favoured response from four options and leave supporting comments in a survey on the CISI website.

Of the 85 respondents, most were sensitive to the fact that the dilemma for Hannah is that her friendship with Dylan has exposed her to a conflict of interest and loyalty. Although many (27%) of respondents recommended that Hannah confront Dylan directly, a majority agreed that Hannah should report her concerns, either to her manager (27%) or through the company’s whistleblowing hotline (28%). 

This scenario demonstrates that taking action requires moral courage, especially when personal friendships and team relationships are at stake. So it is encouraging that no one felt that it was acceptable for Hannah simply to ignore the matter.

Some respondents commented that they felt that Dylan was “clearly up to something” and that loyalty to the firm must surpass friendship in such situations. Indeed, if Hannah’s suspicions are correct, Dylan has been influenced by the hospitality offered by a potential client. And he may also have failed to declare the hospitality to Max Bank. Allegations of bribery could have serious implications for Dylan and the firm, and Hannah needs to have the courage to take action at this stage and allow management to rectify the problem.

Respondents commented that reporting to line management was appropriate in the first instance. But, if Hannah did not feel comfortable doing this, it was suggested that she “confide in another manager that she feels able to discuss this subject with”. For many, whistleblowing was seen as the “next step” in the process, which is in line with the CISI four-stage ‘Speak Up’ process.

The Institute’s view is that Hannah should give her manager the opportunity to take action, and to call the whistleblowing hotline only in the event that her manager does nothing.

At this stage, there is only a suspicion of wrongdoing and further investigation by management followed up by appropriate corrective, possibly disciplinary, action would be proportionate.

Nevertheless, if Dylan’s popularity in the team and good relationship with his line manager means that management don’t take any action, calling the whistleblowing hotline is an appropriate next step for Hannah.


Published: 13 Nov 2014
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • The Review
  • Insight
  • Speak Up
  • dilemma

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