CEO’s Blog – Have I offended you yet?

Martin port

By Martin Port

13 November 2018

First, a warning: This post is going to be divisive.

Half the people who read on will think I’m talking sense, and the other half will think I’m completely wrong. It probably says quite a lot about me that I’m going to write it anyway.

I want to talk about political correctness, offence, and the modern workplace.

This all started when someone from an agency who works for BigChange came into the office. I meet everyone who works for BigChange, whether they’re on the payroll or external. I like to know who I’m dealing with.

I did what I always do. I asked about her background. What is your family like? Are you married? What have you been up to recently? She was shocked and complained to a colleague that I’d been asking about her private life. “What’s it got to do with him?” she asked. “Doesn’t he know it’s illegal to ask personal questions?”

I’m going to come out and ask what I’ve been thinking ever since that meeting: What is the big deal?

I’ve been in business all my life. I never went to university, so everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned my own way. When I’m employing someone, I want to know as much about them as I can. Every scrap of information they give me helps me build a picture of them as an individuals, their strengths and weaknesses, and how best to manage them. If someone is married with a stable family life, that tells me something about that individual. That’s not to say I wouldn’t give the job to someone who was struggling or had personal problems; on the contrary, that knowledge would help me understand and get the best out of that colleague.

I believe in creating a fair and fulfilling work environment. I would never discriminate against anyone. I don’t care about gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or disability, as long as you work hard and do a good job for me. But, these days, I’m starting to feel that I – and other company bosses like me – are instantly judged to be prejudiced dinosaurs. The revelations about Harvey Weinstein and now Philip Green haven’t helped. But we’re not all like that.

If I’m trusting a person I’ve never met before to join my business, why can’t I ask a few probing questions? We’re a family here, and I want to make sure that you’re going to mesh well with colleagues.

I’m sure that when we eventually take on a full-time HR person – we’re recruiting right now – they will have a quite a bit to say on this. But, for now, I stand by my interviewing style. Business is based on relationships and relationships are based on trust. How do you build trust without getting to know each other? If you want to ask me anything, go ahead. I won’t be offended.

Other companies go about this the long way round. They set psychometric tests and check people’s Facebook and Instagram pages for personal information. I don’t do that. I come straight out and ask what I want to know.

I feel we live in a time where political correctness is merging with the new culture of offence, which means that people are more likely to be upset and insulted than ever before. How can we live in a time where people are free to be whomever they want to be, yet as a society we aren’t allowed to notice or ask questions about it because that’s too personal or discriminatory? Surely openness should go both ways?

In business, the contradictions are coming thick and fast. We are told to aim for a diverse workforce but god forbid you say you’re looking to hire a woman for a role. If I’m emailing in a hurry, and send a one-word reply to an urgent email, suddenly I’m a tyrannical boss. If I don’t reply because I don’t have time to compose an essay, I’m negligent. Everyone wants laughter and banter in the office but if a joke isn’t to an individual’s taste, suddenly managers are forced to mediate, which is a total waste of everyone’s time.

Am I alone in finding all this slightly ridiculous? Do people have nothing better to do than become obsessed with small slights these days? What happened to giving others the benefit of the doubt?

Sometimes I feel like I can’t say anything without offending someone. Maybe I should say I’m offended that people find me offensive, and see where that gets me…

I’d love to know what my fellow business owners think. Please get in touch, whether you agree with me or, even better, if you don’t!

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

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