Here is a standard 3-step process to resolve conflicts of interests:
- Disclose the conflict
- Remove the conflicted person from decision-making
- If 1 and 2 are not enough, follow company policy or the law.
Sometimes, the first two steps are enough. For example, if one of the suppliers bidding for work is the brother of a low-level employee, you can just make sure that this employee is not part of the selection committee.
Sometimes, step 1 is enough. If a nurse is selling jewelry at the mall on the weekends for extra income, it’s unlikely to affect decisions she will make at the hospital.
Sometimes, the conflict is self-evident and need not be disclosed. In the case of a joint venture, everyone understands that JV managers also have a loyalty to the organizations they came from (majority and minority JV partners).
And then you have cases where these 3 steps are simply not sufficient. Cases where the conflicted person has too much power and influence. Even when they are removed from decision-making and all the rules are followed, they can still influence outcomes that will benefit them (or their protégés) over the organization they serve.
In those cases, the powerful and influential must turn to their own sense of ethics and do what they know is right.