Humility as a Strategic Asset


By Meric Craig Bloch, Principal, Winter Investigations

I have been thinking lately about whether there was one personality feature that helped me become a good investigator.

Was it objectivity?

Was it respect for others?

Was it a willingness to seek assistance when needed?

Was it a forward-thinking mindset?

All important, but no. The one personality feature was humility.

Humility has nothing to do with meekness or weakness. And neither does it mean being submissive. Humility is an attitude of intellectual modesty that comes from not assuming you already know everything.

For an investigator, humility means ditching a pose of superiority and understanding that the colleagues you investigate are not bad guys but people who made poor choices.

It means having a willingness to see yourself truthfully. Knowing when it’s time to ask for help. Knowing when you should decline a case assignment because it’s not within your area of competence. Knowing when good enough is no longer good enough.

It means appreciating that the better you do casework the more others will feel its impact. This is not some harmless intellectual activity. There are winners and losers. Everyone is impacted by an investigation. Even you.

It means that the most hyped-up hotline means nothing if you haven’t given enough thought to how you will triage the reports to resolve them effectively.

It means that your hypothesis of the case is only a theory, not a fact. And you don’t look solely for evidence to support your preconceived notion.

It means that you have low self-focus. You are not a prosecutor or a cop. You’re someone who just protects the workplace.

It means that you have an ability to acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them. Making a mistake once is human. Making it twice is a choice.

It means that you know there is always more to learn. And you welcome the opportunities.

It means you plan your investigations and prepare for the interviews. You don’t just ask people about a report and have a chat with colleagues to learn their perspectives.

It means your five years of experience may just be one year five times. Humility means treating each case as a learning opportunity and a brick in your competence wall.

It means knowing that you were smart enough to get the job does not mean you will be smart enough to keep. And that being great at investigations may not be enough in the end.

It means that pretty charts and graphs cannot cover up poor investigation techniques. You can fool the leadership for a while, but the Potemkin village you created won’t stand once you get a significant matter.

It means you value substance over process. Your super-duper swim-lanes document is matrixed nonsense if the investigations are poorly done.

It means you respect and learn about existing processes before you rush and change them. The people before you were neither stupid nor negligent. Their work likely reflects what was possible with the resources and culture at the time. The world didn’t begin once you got there.

It means you follow the specifics of your compliance standards and not the “spirit” of the policy. You wrote the policy so your colleagues would have guidance as to the company’s expectations. If your policy doesn’t prohibit all you want to prohibit, change the policy. It is fundamentally unjust to do otherwise.

It means case management is more than just grading other people’s homework. Case management includes mentoring and coaching your investigators. And helping them become rock stars.

It means acknowledging that management runs the company, not you. Your post-investigations recommendations are just that. Management may decline to follow them. That’s okay.

Finally, it means appreciating that this is a specialized discipline requiring meaningful training. Assuming some other discipline qualified you to be an investigator is professional malpractice.

You know who you are.