How to avoid paralysis by probity

By Annabelle Davis - January 24, 2018

A common concern from procurement teams is that probity protocols limit their ability to do their jobs well. A feeling of paralysis driven by protocols that are too restrictive or by fear of breaching probity obligations can result in inefficient working conditions and cultures.

It is a misconception that adhering to probity requirements is only achievable by very strict measures, to the detriment of getting things done. The following tips will allow your organisation to conduct your business efficiently while adhering to probity requirements.

Establish probity protocols early

That way, you and your team will be clear on what conduct is acceptable and allow individuals to go about their work with confidence. While individuals must always take responsibility for maintaining probity, protocols will reduce individual decision making about activities and risks that are common to the team and arise regularly. This will also get the team thinking about probity issues and risks to watch out for.

Consider existing business as usual relationships

If a procurement process is looming, interactions with potential bidders should be reviewed. It is important that existing contracts continue to be managed appropriately and information continues to flow between the purchaser and supplier. However, great care should be taken to ensure only information required for the existing contract is shared and not additional information, particularly relating to the upcoming opportunity.

Identify information that will need to be shared with the market

What information will be provided to potential bidders and when that information will be shared should be considered early in the process. This will enable those communicating with market participants to feel more confident in what can be discussed. Fears of releasing confidential information will be reduced and allow for more effective communication between suppliers and purchasers.

Talk to the market during your tender period

Withholding information will not improve bids, so it is important to provide the right details. Do this in accordance with established communications protocols, but don’t be overly secretive. Decide what information is confidential upfront and revisit this if the market is asking questions – it may be important for them to know more in order to prepare a competitive bid. Sharing the same information with all participants is also important.

Be alert to perception risk, but continue building relationships

Organisations are more efficient when strong relationships have been built with contractors and suppliers. Probity does not mean you cannot speak to current or potential suppliers. Informal catch-ups are useful, but use caution when you are approaching a procurement. Adhere to your organisation’s gifts, benefits and hospitality policy and consider perception risks, such as the difference between accepting corporate hospitality at the tennis compared to having coffee with a supplier outside of a tender period.

What next?

If you are concerned about adhering to your probity obligations but are not sure how to proceed, speak to your internal advisor or seek external probity advice. Managers should make sure their team understands how to manage probity risks and not unnecessarily delay processes.  Spending time on training your team can reduce delays and lead to a more productive environment.  

Read: 'Probity: It is not just a task - it is a culture' by Chris Nash here

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