Assume the Fish Bowl in Business and at Work
During my tenure as the senior Human Resources (HR) leader at my company in charge of approving terminations nationally for gross / willful conduct reasons including but not limited to Loss Prevention violations (a.k.a. internal theft), I knew from my early career training that my personal house needed to be spotless, and be kept spotless.
Because as the chief enforcer of company policy, my conduct was constantly scrutinized, officially and unofficially. Like it or not, I was in the Fish Bowl.
My credit and criminal background checks needed to be (and continue to be) spotless, since the work I do routinely requires financial and asset controllership.
My college degree from the State University of New York at Albany was and is valid – I have not only the diploma, but the signed transcripts to prove it (and because I did not secure a full-time job until the January following my college graduation, I could not get my signed transcripts until I paid off my last tuition bill – it took 6 months, but I did it).
Occasionally, a new-hire Loss Prevention officer in the warehouse where my office was located wanted to wave me through as I exited the building for the day, without inspecting my bags for stolen merchandise, because of my role as senior HR policy enforcer. “Look in every pocket and crevice, and take your time,” I would instruct the new hire. “It’s important that as many employees as possible see that I’m subjected to the same scrutiny as they are.”
Not only is working in HR not the Miss Popularity job, it, like other organizational compliance roles, is also the job where you are working from the Fish Bowl of scrutiny on a minute-by-minute basis. Every move you make, every word you utter and write, is being watched to constantly reconfirm your personal and professional integrity.
I first learned about the Fish Bowl during my senior-semester internship with the New York state Assembly. The mantra was to do your own negative research first, before the press did it for you. (Given the recent issues with NYS legislators, it seems like a refresher on that mantra may be in order.) It’s how things that are omitted and fudged (a.k.a., lying) during the vetting of a hiring / onboarding process become big and embarrassing news headlines, like:
- Omitting key information about your cohabitant’s criminal background from a background check form issued by a department to prevent corruption (even if the information was provided verbally elsewhere);
- Claiming on your CV / job application to have earned a college degree when you’re actually a few credits short;
- Providing a fake address to meet a job’s residency requirement, when you actually live somewhere else;
- Failing to disclose an embezzlement conviction on your background check form, when you are about to be hired into a position of financial controllership (and you subsequently embezzle funds from your new organization).
And in the age of instantaneous information-sharing via the press, mobile communications apps and social media, the reputational damage to you and your organization can be swift, and live in Google results for years.
In order to support your career / business success as well as the success of your organization: how clean is your Fish Bowl, in business and at work?