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Quiz: are you independent?  Eight questions to ask yourself.

September 21, 2017 9:59:19 AM CDT / by Ricardo Pellafone

If you are a Chief Compliance Officer, what's your move if you:

- Are forced to lie or cover something up?

- Lose faith in your leadership?

- Will clearly never get the resources to be effective?

You quit. That's about it. 

And your ability to do that is what determines if you are independent.

Of course, everyone thinks they are prepared to do this in theory. But when you start looking at the specifics, things can get rather uncomfortable.

And that's what this quiz is about—the specifics.

Ready?

Here goes—eight questions to ask yourself:

#1:  Do I know what type of situation would cause me to immediately resign from my job?

#2:  Do I know what type of situation would cause me to commit to leaving my job within 6 months? 

#3:  Do I have a sense of how long it would take me to find a new job? (Are there similar positions commonly available in my geographic area? Am I willing to move if not?)

#4:  Could I afford to be out of work, with no income, for the amount of time it would take me to find a new job?

#5:  Do I have a network outside of the company that could help me find a new job?

#6:  Could I afford to walk away from all of my unvested stock options?

#7:  If I found myself in a position where I was opposed to my company, do I know which lawyer I’d ask to represent me—remembering that it almost certainly won't be any of the lawyers I worked with at this job?

#8:  Have I discussed this with my family, such that they know I may come home one day having quit with no notice—and are they on board with that?

Super fun, eh? Just like in Cosmo.

 

Why this matters.

Knowing how to answer these questions matters, because right now—when everything at your company is awesome and you do not have pressure to compromise your integrity—is when you set yourself up to stand strong or fall down.

That is, you lay the groundwork for the moment of truth in the way you arrange your finances and personal affairs. And how you do those things can make walking away very easy or virtually impossible.

For example, before I took my first in-house investigations job, my wife and I had a conversation about this type of thing.

We discussed how—unlike when I was at a law firm—I was now going to be basically dependent on one client, and if that client asked me to do something unethical, my only practical option was to quit. And that resulted in us arranging our affairs so that if I ever had to do that, I could.

And to be clear, this wasn’t because I didn’t trust my CCOs or CEOs. I did.

It’s because you don't know what you don't know. People are funny and weird and will surprise you, for good and bad.

The only thing you can know for sure is that people leave companies—so even if you have an awesome GC or CEO today, you might have an awful one tomorrow if the old one gets forced out in a merger.

And I was fortunate. I had a good in-house run; I never had to walk or even threaten to walk.

But I was always ready to do it, and I think that's a big part of where effectiveness comes from—being confident that you're in a position where you won't back down from doing your job because you're ready to bear the consequences. 

 

Independence is on you.

So, how'd you do on the quiz? Are you ready to walk?

If you don't have answers right now, that's OK. We don't discuss this type of thing in compliance a lot because it's a downer, and I know some folks reading this will have never thought this way before.

But get started on them—now. Don't wait any longer.

Because if you wait to think about this until your new CEO asks you to kill an investigation—and that's when you realize you're really counting on that next tranche of stock and you've never even discussed the possibility of quitting with your spouse—you're going to find all kinds of rationalizations for why the CEO's request is not really that bad.

That's how life works.

And ultimately, that means your independence is on you. 

So prepare now. Hopefully you'll never need the answers to those questions—but the very act of preparing will give you a freedom that will make you better at your job.

 

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PS: I realize this post was a bummer, so here are two cat videos I like.

Right? The flower. Every time, man.

 

I know you've probably seen the original of this, but I feel like the pumpkin hats add a lot to it.

Ricardo Pellafone

Written by

Ricardo Pellafone

Ricardo used to be in-house compliance, leading investigations for a sovereign wealth company in Abu Dhabi and a Fortune 500 tech company in California. He has degrees in psychology and law.