Gifts come from the heart. Really? If you have always been giving your friend a nice gift on their birthday for the past three years and they routinely forget your birthday then how long will you go on? If you never bring a present when you visit somewhere for dinner, and never invite the host to your house either then the invitations will soon start dwindling. Hence, ‘quid pro quo’ is neither socially abnormal nor necessarily morally reprehensible.

In many cultures, the provision of services and the giving of gifts also act as a form of buying protection. The offer of hospitality to strangers is a case in point. If it is customary in your culture to fee uninvited guests well then you can also expect that at some point (when you need it) a healthy meal will be waiting for you along the way. These are gestures that are given with a smile and without obligation but are repaid in the long run and thus provide a form of security. ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’.

In the world of good governance, ‘quid pro quo’ is out of the question. An obvious solution seems to be transparency. Hence, you see long lists on the website of the House of Representatives in the Netherlands. I consulted the list of September 22, 2022. There are many thousands of items on it. Gifts that MPs received in the performance of their duties. A ‘Grote Bosatlas’ given to Thierry Aartsen (VVD), a CO2 canary (?) given to Fleur Agema (PVV), a bar of chocolate given to Joba van den Berg (CDA), and so on. Utterly ridiculous. This has no material meaning whatsoever. The same applies to most codes of conduct and whistle-blowing regulations in organizations. As long as you do not delve deeply into the mechanisms and culture that govern the behavior that you want to bring under control, you always miss the mark completely. In fact, the less visible ‘services’ do not appear on the lists of the House of Representatives. So those lists are a form of fake integrity. They disguise an accurate picture of what is actually going on. Arrangements, for example, where approval of the one person in respect of a certain file implies the approval of the other in respect of their file. This remains invisible. One hand washes the other.

Also in another respect, the real ‘quid pro quo’ in organizations takes place on a much less visible plane. In any organization, the creation of a mutual group feeling is particularly important. A certain degree of mutual understanding and sympathy is a necessary condition for wanting to do business with each other. You do not buy something from a person whom you do not trust. There has to be some sort of minimal ‘click’. You should be able to laugh about things together. You need to feel a certain conviction together in order to get committed to each other professionally. And yes, a lunch is great for that. Or a nice gesture. And that in turn requires a counter gesture. Without it having to be gifts, you nonetheless create a sense of dependence. Which is necessary for everything to run smoothly.

Hence, we are all in a split together. It is precisely the behavior that appears to be undesirable (‘quid pro quo’) that seems necessary for normal human but also business transactions.

Supervisory directors are in the same split. If they do not trust the executive board then everything is guaranteed to go wrong. Hence, trust is necessary, but if it is just comradery then you cannot fulfil your supervisory function either. How do we solve that? Have a conversation about it. A good lunch does wonders.