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Hiring government officials and competitor employees

We never use someone else’s confidential information to gain an unfair competitive advantage

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What it's all about

When colleagues come to work for us directly from the governments we work with or from clients or competitors, they may well have in-depth understanding and knowledge of their previous employer’s strategy, business and commercial operations, practices, and systems. 

That information is confidential, and we should never turn it into an unfair competitive advantage by asking for it or using it.

Whether it’s ours or someone else’s, confidential information should always stay confidential.

“After we’d hired Hamid from a competitor I could see him being pressured to tell the team things about his previous employer. So I just held up my hand and said, Stop! We don’t do this. We can’t do this, this is confidential information.”

What we all need to know and do

  • We have many government contracts and must comply with the often very strict rules about the hiring of former government officials, especially those who have been in senior or sensitive positions. In some countries these can include one-year, two-year or even permanent bans on communicating with, or appearing before, their former government colleagues.

  • There are fewer formal guidelines for colleagues who come to work for Serco from a competitor. However, no former employee should disclose, or ever be asked to disclose, confidential information from or about their former employer.

  • Never divulge any confidential information to us about your previous employer.

  • We must never coerce a former employee to disclose any confidential information about their previous employer.

  • We should always be sure that in any bid, proposal or contract there is no danger that anyone on the team could be in a position of conflict because of their past employment, or accused of giving Serco an unfair advantage, or of disclosing confidential information about a former employer.

  • And we must always declare any conflict of interest we think there may be. 

  • If we’re at all uncertain about what activities we can or cannot undertake, or what information we can or cannot disclose, we always ask.

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It was a big opportunity and we had just three days to complete the bid. The big threat was a competitor - we knew they were after the busines too. But Ajay, our manager, said he had it covered. 

So we went ahead - the usual thing, everyone working all hours to get things done. And finally we got the bid in just before the midnight deadline. It was really good too - I was certain we’d win. 

It must have been around 12:30, and I was just about to shut things down when I got an email from Rishi. He was new to the team and because we’d all mostly been working from home, I’d not met him before. So I was quite surprised by the email.  It said, ‘Can you call me. NOW! Please - it’s urgent!’

My first thought was to leave it and call him in the morning. But then I decided I’d better just see what it was about. So I rang his number. 

He was in such a state. He said that his previous employer had been the same competitor that we were bidding against. And that Ajay had been putting real pressure on him to disclose anything he knew that might help us win the bid. 

He told me that Ajay had tried to persuade him that it was fine. When Rishi said he felt uncomfortable and tried to quote mycode, Ajay had got more and more aggressive. Apparently he’d said something like, ‘What do you think this is? The school playground? The rules here are about winning, and everyone knows no code of conduct gets in the way of that. It’s just there to look good - nobody means it.’ 

When Rishi suggested they discuss this with someone else, Ajay told him that if he felt he couldn’t be on our side in this bid, then he’d better look for another job. ‘So yes,’ Rishi said, ‘In the end I told him what I knew. And that information has shaped how we’ve quoted in the bid.’  

That left us with no alternative. We had to withdraw.  A brilliant contract that I’m certain we would have won - lost because someone thought they could just dismiss what is clear as daylight in competition law and mycode.

How does the story end? Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t Rishi who ended up looking for another job. 

We must never coerce a former employee to disclose any confidential information
about their previous employer. 

Having won a new contract for the government, it was all systems go. We needed a break during yet another exhaustive planning meeting and took a walk outside. 

Anita was new to the team and started talking about how kicking off projects was the best part of one of her old jobs. She then went quiet and changed the subject. No one else noticed, but when we were together later, I picked her up on it. As her manager and because she was new in role, I wanted to make sure she was ok.

It then came tumbling out. Anita had worked as a government employee when the project we were working on had first come to light. As part of her induction, she’d read our Code of Conduct - and seen that confidential information she had been aware of in her government role could not be shared in her role at Serco. 

‘I realise it’s so no one can accuse me of disclosing confidential information that could give Serco an unfair advantage,’ she said. ‘But it says in some countries that can include one-year, two-year or even permanent bans on communicating with my former government colleagues. Some are good friends!’ 

She was getting upset and confused, so it needed to be addressed. 

I admit it crossed my mind that it might just be best keep quiet and not cause a load of fuss. But that was just stupid - and could cause a lot more trouble if anyone found out.  

So I went straight to HR with her to log the situation and ask what to do next. Of course we had to declare it and we prepared a presentation to our government client that showed how we would manage the situation. 

As Anita had held a senior position, we would ensure her role would not interact with the government’s team. 

We also made it clear that we would not ask her to disclose any information learned while she was employed by them, but use her expertise to enhance the project, off-line.  

It was the right thing to do and by taking control of the situation, having a plan and being open and honest about it, our government contacts were comfortable with how we would proceed.

We should always be sure that in any bid, proposal or contract there is no danger that anyone on the team could be in a position of conflict because of their past employment.

And we must always declare any conflict of interest we think there may be.

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