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It’s time to bring dirty talk into the office. Here’s why.

Dirty talk needn’t stay between the sheets. It’s also time to bring it into the boardroom.

Although, admittedly, the dirty talk I’m thinking of probably isn’t the type you’re thinking of. (That would be, uh, a recipe for a lawsuit, to say the least.)

No, my dirty talk is all about addressing the elephant in the room.

But first, some context.

In my previous role as MD of a private equity-backed business, I had the pleasure (and pain) of working with an incredibly astute Investment Director.

He knew little about the inner workings of a recruitment business day-to-day but was all over the commercially savvy business decisions.

He had little time for excuses and never held back when it came to cutting right to the core of any perceived issues.

In operational or board meetings (which, luckily, he didn't attend regularly), he felled those elephants in the room like a ruthless (but perhaps ethically-questionable) poacher.

He would ask the 'dirty questions' in meetings. He only dabbled in dirty talk, if you will.

While doing this made him few friends, it always ensured any issues--or even potential issues--were addressed up front.

Unlike the other kind of dirty talk, it wasn't always fun--no meeting he attended turned into a glorified back slapping exercises--but it was highly effective. 

That’s because boardroom ‘dirty talk’ involves asking the questions that others shy away from, the ones they’re afraid to ask.

One example that sticks in my mind from this particular dirty talking Investment Director were discussions around a key commercial metric: payout ratio.

In laywoman’s terms, a payout ratio is the entire staff’s gross salaries divided by the company’s gross profit.

Sounds boring, right? That’s because it is.

But if this metric was ever above 40%, our Investment Director would dissect it forensically and get right to the core of the issue.

Typically, a payout ratio above 40% meant that (broadly-speaking) senior team members were under-performing. The Investment Director had no problem with calculating an individual’s payout ratio, before deducting this from that of the overall business as if to underline his point about their slacking.

But what does this have to do with me?

Well, in recruitment we’re often brilliant at talking up the positives and glossing over the not-so-positives. It’s part of the job, right? It’s part of most people’s jobs, really.

But rarely does glossing over the tough stuff get you anywhere. It’s only when you tackle it head on that progress is made.

And following those meetings with the Investment Director, I always sensed we had made progress.

So, don’t be ashamed to talk dirty. Ask the tricky questions, because your business or team will be all the better for it. 

And if you’re the MD (or, generally speaking, hold any higher-up position)? Prepare to field those dirty questions. Ask yourself the dirty questions in preparation. That way, you’ve got a better chance of identifying the solution before the problem truly arises.

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David Jenkins

Managing Director

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