Sour grapes and transparency

Many psychological studies have emphasised the importance of fairness. We can all put up with considerable hardship however what makes it feel far worse is when our situation has arisen as a consequence of unfairness. In business all too often we are unaware of why a decision has not gone our way and therefore do not know whether it was our fault through not being as good as necessary or someone else who simply did a better job. We very rarely have insight into a patently unfair process.

One of the positive things happening with government procurement is the greater transparency into the decision making process. Far more data is published and therefore one has a better, albeit not perfect, insight.

Two things have happened this week that I have found very frustrating and I cannot get away from the feeling that I am suffering from a severe case of sour grapes! That having been stated, what has happened is still wrong and is very disappointing.

The Cabinet Office are sponsoring what is a great initiative. In an effort to benefit from the innovation that tends to come from smaller enterprises and to encourage government to do business with this type of company they have created the Innovation Launch Pad.  Here companies can submit ideas and the best ones get a higher profile and access to help in advancing their proposition to government. MyWorkSearch submitted two ideas (idea 1 and idea 2) and in the first, expert review stage, they both were scored 5 out of a maximum of 5, something achieved by only a handful of submissions. Whilst I am clearly biased, given these scores I think it reasonable to claim some merits for both proposals. The current stage of the competition is for those with civil servant email addresses to register and rate each idea, clicking on a thumbs-up for those they like and a thumbs-down for those they don’t. Our second idea has the distinction of – by some margin – receiving the most negative ratings of all the several hundred submitted proposals! Given that the idea clearly is not daft my only explanation for this level of antipathy is that civil servants are associating our idea with public sector redundancies and that a vote against us is a vote against redundancies. Absurd and unfair though this is, there is nothing I can do about it and it is therefore highly unlikely that what on the face of it is a good idea, will have a chance to progress to the next round.

The second occurrence this week was the announcement that The London Boroughs Recruitment Partnership, a consortium of twenty-five boroughs and three associated bodies, have appointed a firm as their sole supplier of recruitment advertising and strategic HR services.  The announcement includes the fact that the contract has been expanded to include additional services such as outplacement to help LBRP members during the current period of change. MyWorkSearch looked at bidding for this major contract however the published requirement was that whoever bid for outplacement also had to offer recruitment advertising. The two services have nothing in common and I can see no logic in requiring both from the same company, especially as there is only one large provider in the UK that within its range of business lines has both services. We knew we could not win and therefore decided not to bid. Several months later it is this one organisation that has both offerings that has secured the contract. They are are a reputable and professional company and will in all likelihood do a good job for their client. However they won a major piece of public sector work in what was superficially an open but in reality a shoddy process. This is not fair to the companies that would have liked to secure the work and it is not fair to the tax-payers and employees of the twenty eight organisations that procure through The London Boroughs Recruitment Partnership.

And this brings me full circle. Two instances of poor practice that have negatively impacted upon my company, an enterprise I care very much about. Ironically the transparency of the process has made the unfairness that much more obvious. But what to do? I could obsess over it and have it churn away. I could try and fight the process and bring about change. I think instead I’ll just write this cathartic blog and then move on! Sometimes life isn’t fair and in business this rough goes with the smooth.