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Date: Nov 28, 2018 @ 08:00 AM

By: Sue Bury, President & CEO, 1STWEST Background Due Diligence, LLC

There is a reason “Character” is the first on the list of the 5 C’s of credit; without character as a foundation all the other components of the popular measure used to gauge the integrity of your company’s borrowers, board members, investors, and equity sponsors – your company can go from a house of bricks to a house of cards literally overnight. In my previous column I explored the risks many companies still take by failing to do a comprehensive background check when vetting an executive level job candidate.

Those same standards apply to any relationship our company might enter into with a third party. Whether lending money to a borrower, orchestrating an influx of investment capital, or even choosing the right vendor to manage company processes, missing a lapse of character is like letting a virus into your business: you may not feel ill right away, but viruses don't stay dormant forever.

But what is character? Most of us may believe we know; but in reality character is not a personality trait, it’s the bricks upon which all other human traits are constructed. Start with a strong foundation, and chances are your business will have a solid structure. But if you don’t know what to look for it’s easier than ever to miss the hidden symptoms that could harm your company in the long run.  

So where to start? Well, honesty and integrity are fundamental aspects of good character. The bad news is it’s never been more tempting to skirt these important character builders. The social-media revolution has made it easier than ever to succumb to "embellishment syndrome" – the seemingly innocuous seed that gives root to a phenomenon I call "social fabrication."

Today, social fabrication is perhaps one of the most problematic and elusive threats to character, largely because it seems harmless to many people and more than often flies under the radar. But in reality it is a lapse of character that could lead to profound consequences. 

The embellishment landscape has amplified with the emergence of the social media global stage where each of us can craft a personal brand. Anything can happen and is available on the Internet. You can shape your world to fit your needs.

Personal branding is essential, especially as more young people enter the so-called “gig economy.” People take it very seriously, and many are participating. Fortunately many use it wisely, honestly and with integrity to expand their professional network. However, the root of most marketing involves highlighting good characteristics over bad ones.

By now consumers are adept at recognizing this aspect of product marketing and view advertising campaigns with an air of skepticism. But we still have an innate tendency to take individuals at face value. That's because for centuries we had the benefit of engaging people in actual face-to-face encounters, and we have become adept at discerning signs of dishonesty. 

Technology has made it easier than ever to fall prey to “embellishment syndrome.”  Telling a white lie just doesn't feel quite as bad when you're not looking the person you're lying to in eye. And like any virus, “embellishment syndrome” can easily morph into outright social fabrication with little more than a few keystrokes. The good news is, the very same technologies that make social fabrication endemic also make these lies more prone to collapse.

Twenty years ago, when the handshake sealed the deal, a lie had a longer shelf life. Technology-based background checks were not a routine part of the due diligence process and facts were not vetted the way they are today. Technology advancements in social media have created a domino effect in the discovery of the truth, the alteration of the truth and the vetting of the truth. Although it is now easier to create or embroider a false representation of accomplishments and credentials, it is also easier to uncover the truth about anyone if diligently searched out. Be aware, competitors surf the net too. When a lie or fabrication is put in the social realm, competitors can use that against a person or a company.

Remember, social fabrication isn’t the only type of "embellishment syndrome."

For instance, as I covered in my last column, resume fraud has been a prevailing albatross; and many professionals, who have made resume misrepresentations, have brought brands to their knees and crippled bottom lines. The same problems can arise in any area your company chooses to invest its time, money or reputation. Be sure the individual or organization you're going to bat for – whether it's approving them for a loan, or even accepting an investment from them (remember the old adage “guilt by association”) – passes through a regimented and comprehensive vetting process.

Fabrications can occur in the following areas:

  • Inflated past accomplishments & skills
  • Social media / blogs / Internet channels
  • Enhanced job titles and responsibilities
  • Enhanced/false education accomplishments or degrees
  • Unexplained time gaps in employment
  • Omitting past employment
  • Fake credentials
  • Fraudulent references
  • Misrepresented military record / accomplishments

In today's world, everybody has a story, a history. Your gut may be your litmus test in the early stages of a discussion, but the only way to cross all bridges in the search for truth is with a comprehensive background check.

Sue Bury
President/Chief Executive Officer | 1STWEST Background Due Diligence LLC
Sue Bury oversees the strategic direction, operations, vendor management and marketing of Denver-based 1STWEST Background Due Diligence. As a big picture visionary and business strategist, Ms. Bury and her team have engineered the most comprehensive Risk Intelligence Platform, providing leadership in risk mitigation solutions by uniting cutting-edge technology and advanced data intelligence with hands-on expertise.

Ms. Bury has over 25 years of experience in the background screening industry. She is a strong advocate for brand and bottom line protection by mitigating risk through enhanced background due diligence and routinely conducts webinars, frequently speaks as an industry expert on panels, and authors blogs/articles with numerous industry associations and publications.

Professional work history includes a proven track record as a successful entrepreneur in numerous ventures and she has held senior executive marketing positions with public and mid-market companies garnering award-winning achievements for prominent global brands. Ms. Bury is experienced in leading comprehensive business development, organic growth expansion, operation efficiencies, establishing and sustaining superior brand positioning, concept to market product innovations, investor development & relations and marketing communications. Sue has been an effective company spokesperson and an on-air lifestyle host with numerous cable and digital brands in diverse industries.

Ms. Bury actively networks within the following organizations: Commercial Finance Association, Association for Corporate Growth, Turnaround Management Association, Small Business Alliance Association, International Factoring Association, Society for Human Resource Management and the Women Business Enterprise National Council. She holds a B.S. Degree – University of Iowa.
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