Written by: Phil Sealy – The Pro Forum Community of Practice

In the realm of business ethics, probity stands as a beacon for ethical behaviour and integrity. But does simply adhering to ethical guidelines equate to getting it right every time? This article delves into the nuances of probity, suggesting that it’s more than just following a set of rules; it’s about understanding, training, and integrating ethical principles into organisational practices.

At its core, probity is often viewed as a procedural safeguard, ensuring that all necessary steps are followed in a process. However, merely completing a checklist doesn’t guarantee the right outcome. Experience teaches us that despite meticulous adherence to procedures, things can still go awry. Consequently, organisations often resort to rigid probity processes, which, instead of facilitating, sometimes hinder progress. Process for the sake of process so we never have that one event happen again.

Traditionally, probity briefings, typically conducted by legal entities, precede projects or procurements. While intended to provide guidance, these briefings can instill fear and stifle innovation. An alternative approach advocates for probity training over briefings. Unlike briefings that emphasise compliance, training focuses on understanding the ethical implications of actions, fostering discussions on potential scenarios, and developing strategies to mitigate risks.

Effective probity training should differentiate between ethical behaviour and the evidence thereof. It should encourage participants to ask probing questions: What if things don’t go as planned? How can we pre-emptively address potential issues? By integrating probity into the procurement process, organisations adopt a proactive, risk-aware mindset, striving to avoid negative publicity or legal entanglements.

When seeking a probity advisor, the knee-jerk reaction might be to hire a lawyer. However, while legal expertise is valuable, trust, experience, and a nuanced understanding of procurement are equally crucial. The advisor should be someone capable of providing candid advice based on complete information. This necessitates transparency and openness from the organisation, as withholding critical details can lead to flawed guidance.

Contrary to popular belief, probity advice need not come from high-priced law firms. What matters most is an external perspective coupled with practical knowledge of procurement and project management. This enables organisations to navigate complex ethical dilemmas while achieving desired outcomes effectively.

In essence, probity transcends mere procedural compliance. It’s about grappling with hypotheticals, anticipating challenges, and confidently navigating ethical landscapes. By embracing probity as a guiding principle rather than a regulatory burden, organisations can foster a culture of integrity and accountability, ensuring that they not only do things right but also do the right things.

Remember at the end of the day probity is the physical evidence of ethical behavour.

Is probity important to you and what you do? We would like to hear from you.

NOTE: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter, and specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The content must not be relied upon as legal, technical, financial or other professional advice.