Scenario 5: A former employer

What is the situation?

A council is running a tender process to choose operators for its public transport services.

Rakesh, a staff member at the council, is involved in planning for the tender. He is a public transport expert who previously worked for one of the bus companies bidding for the contract.

Why is this a conflict?

Most people have had former employers.

Rakesh may still have close contacts working at the bus company. He might feel some loyalty or allegiance to his former employer, or, if he left on bad terms, he might feel antagonistic towards the company.

Rakesh will also likely have greater insight into, or views on, what his former employer can do well or less well.

Any of these reasons might mean that Rakesh has conscious or unconscious bias. He might treat the company differently to other suppliers during the procurement process.

Other suppliers might have negative perceptions about the council’s independence as a result of this.

Management plans that do not mitigate the conflict

The council identified some management plans to deal with this scenario. However, these plans do not fully mitigate the risk.

Proposed management plan Why it does not work
Rakesh will not score the tender from his previous employer during the tender evaluation. Although this removes the risk that Rakesh might (consciously or unconsciously) score his previous employer higher, it does not remove the possibility that he could score the competitors lower, which would have the same effect.
The council will let all suppliers bidding for the contract know that Rakesh had previously worked for one of the bus companies.
If they do not object, the council will consider the issue closed.

Just because a supplier does not object does not mean you have maintained its confidence. It also does not mean that your approach is fair. There are reasons why competing suppliers may not object in circumstances such as:

  • They are not fully informed so might not appreciate the seriousness of the situation.
  • They do not want to be seen as troublemakers in case it affects the likelihood of them winning a contract.

What might be a better plan?

Consider how long the person spent in their previous role, how senior they were, how long it has been since they left, and how influential they are in the procurement process.

If they are influential and have been in their new role for less than two years, it would be prudent to remove them from the procurement.

Time matters

Loyalties, knowledge, and working relationships tend to fade over time. A rule of thumb we suggest is that most of the risk of actual or perceived bias from previous employment has likely gone after two years.

However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Someone who was in a senior role at their previous employer for a long time might remain conflicted for longer.

Declare when you apply for another job

You don’t only need to consider former employers. Applying for a new job can also create a risk of conflict.

A person’s interest in their future might no longer align with their employer’s interests. Instead, their interest may be more closely aligned with another organisation. If they fail to get the job, they might feel disgruntled. Either way, this might influence their judgement.

They might also find themselves dealing on behalf of their current employer with a supplier that they later need to impress to secure the new position.

For all these reasons, it is important to declare a job application where there is a perceived, a potential, or, in some cases, an actual conflict.