It can be hard to get it right all of the time. So much regulation, so many pressures in work – revenue to deliver, costs to trim, organisations to deal with, people to manage. Too often there can be pressures to cut corners, and in those grey areas, well they are a bit grey why not use that to your advantage?

A few years ago a junior colleague in an organisation I then worked for came to me to talk through a proposal. It would be improper to go into too much detail, but commission was due under an exclusive arrangement with a third party. It was an online deal and with a couple of minor technical changes there was a tenuous technical argument for saying that the commissions would not be due on some revenues. On this basis, the suggestion was we need not tell the third party, who may well not find out, and if they did there was an argument the commission was not payable. The young colleague had come for a steer.

Of course lots of contracts don’t consider every eventuality (that is one reason we often end up with litigation) and lots of situations have grey areas.

In these types of instance I find three questions really useful in ensuring you follow the right path.

  • How does it feel? Do you feel as if you are doing the right thing?
  • How would you feel if you were on the flipside? If you were on the flipside of the transaction would you feel as if you had been treated fairly and ethically?
  • Would you feel comfortable for all actions being public? Would you be happy for all of the facts to be in the public arena without selective presentation, partial redaction or a few selective lapses of memory?

For me if you are failing on any of these questions you are probably on the wrong path. I sent my colleague away with the questions. 24 hrs. later they returned “It’s not the right thing is it”. I hope the approach had left them with a new tool for life rather than an answer to one question.

Of course, in my example there would be no harm in picking up the phone to the partner to say “we have this opportunity, it seems a bit of a grey area, can we agree you get half or normal commission for this area of business as it involves little work by you – benefits us all”.

This brings us to the Fish Test of our title. Cooking is for me a great way to unwind, and without being too prosaic, the most universally practiced form of art. When cooking fish there is a very simple rule – whatever the packet or shop said – if it does not smell right then leave it. I would argue that all of the above can be summed up by applying that rule to business, to how you deal and to who you deal with. If it does not smell right, forget the small print just don’t do it.

Right just off to cook Sunday tea!

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