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Ask the dirty questions...Don't be ashamed!

An interesting title you’re probably thinking and I hope it got your attention – this blog is my own work & hasn’t been ghost written so I appreciate the style won’t be to everyone’s taste. The crux of the article however comes down to addressing the elephant in the room.

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 who knew little about the inner workings of a recruitment business day to day but knew all about making commercially savvy business decisions. He had little time for excuses and was never shy in getting to the heart of any perceived issues.

In operational or board meetings (he didn't attend every one thankfully), he took on every elephant available with poacher like ruthlessness! His mantra was that he would only ask the 'dirty questions' in meetings and whilst doing this made him few friends it always ensured any issues or even potential issues were addressed up front. It wasn't always fun and none of these were ever glorified back slapping exercises however they were all highly effective. 

If you’re wondering what a dirty question is, then quite simply it refers to those questions most of us are afraid to ask. One that sticks in my mind in this particular business, were discussions around a key commercial metric which was ‘Pay out rate’ i.e. all staffs gross salaries (inc. employer and employee NI and commissions) divided by gross profit. If this metric was ever above 40%, he would dissect it forensically and get to the core of the issue which often would relate to senior team members under-performing at the given time – he would happily work out an individual’s pay out rate and then take this out of the overall business as if to underline his point. As already mentioned, it was rarely pleasant but it got the right results and following those meetings I always sensed we had made progress.

In recruitment we are brilliant at talking up the positives and glossing over the rest. If you can identify somebody either internally or externally that revels in this role, that will be unashamed to ask those dirty questions, regardless of level (ideally a level of independence works here) then without doubt your business or your team will be all the better for it. 

Crucially, as MD, Director or Manager, you must be prepared to field those questions - the more you do it, the more you will be ready. Ultimately you will be asking those questions of yourself and have identified the solution before it arises - at least that is the aim.

Having re-read this I am now embarrassed that my first blog encourages people to talk dirty at work... However, if it makes you better then I have to endorse it! 

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David Jenkins

Managing Director

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