Crisis of conscience
During the worst moments of the health crisis, when hospitals were under siege, everyone tried to help in whatever way they could – medical staff were offered everything from pizzas to stays in holiday homes. But what should we think when a healthcare sales rep gives masks to a hospital, and then asks the communications manager to publish the donation story on LinkedIn?
The sales rep sincerely wanted to help his key account at a time when the hospital was short of everything. He started an in-house process to see what could be done, but gave up when he realized that the approval of five senior managers was required for any action. Instead, he took it upon himself to simply donate 20 boxes of masks, and then contacted the communications manager to have the good deed publicized on LinkedIn. Although his actions were undoubtedly well-intentioned, they contravened regulations and could have created difficulties for the biotech company for which he worked.
So how can companies help during a crisis without running ethical risks?
- Make sure you really are acting altruistically;
- Switch in-house processes over to a more streamlined “crisis” mode to avoid their being side-stepped;
- Be careful who you are giving aid to – it should be an entity, not a customer;
- Revise sales targets downwards to reassure staff and reduce temptation;
- Keep records of donations.
In short, help out, but make sure you’re not putting your company’s reputation on the line.
To go further: “Ethics or Compliance in a Crisis?” by N. Craig Smith and Piergiorgio Pepe (MIT Sloan Management Review, 29 September 2020).