What Mark McInnes Can Teach Us.

Mark McInnes is a man with a lot of problems. The courts of law and the ultimate judge will sort fact from fiction and determine guilt and punishment. But what has many people concerned about this high profile case are the ramifications from both the media and legal fallout of this episode regardless of guilt or innocence. We live in an age hamstrung by risk aversion and political correctness.

No one with a moral compass is ever going to defend harassment of any kind – let alone sexual harassment from a boss. But the way things work today is that the ‘rule of law’ is dumbed down to black and white and lowest common denominator. If 1 person did or could have done it, then we must set the rules to protect everybody from that possibility. That means risk aversion within businesses will then dial that up to eleven (to quote ‘Spinal Tap’) and we’ll have little room to move on the everyday interactions and liberties that 99.99% of the workforce operate within and apply integrity to.

Think no male and female colleagues flying together or staying in the same hotel. Social occasions overseen by chaperones, if they are permitted to happen at all. Water fountain conversations stilted at best.

Research internationally shows that 6 out of 10 couples today meet through work. My wife and I met 15 years ago when I was her boss. As soon as a romantic relationship had developed I declared it to the CEO and he gave it his blessing. It turned out the CEO had met his wife at the same business in the same way. My wife decided that she didn’t want the stress that came from the peer group judgement of colleagues and so she resigned. Life moved on. We are still very much in love and enjoy a wonderful family life together with our daughter.

But if the fun police have their way and the policies and procedures become as draconian as they may, the chances of people like my wife and I having the remotest possibility of establishing a relationship beyond business become miniscule. Worse still is the strain this puts on normal interpersonal office communication, travel and the conduct of general business between heterosexual or homosexual men and women.

In any retail organisation values should be more important than competency. Competency can be trained. Values cannot. And I am not talking about what a person says or how they answer the psych test. I’m talking about their actions and the behaviours that are driven by their innermost values. Most people are good people. Most people want to do the right thing. A minute few are completely self-centred and see everything as an opportunity for them to take what they want. Their psychological drivers are not the norm and hard to comprehend.

The lesson here is that every retail business needs to be very clear on the values of the people it employs. We need recruitment to focus far more heavily on values than competency. We need performance appraisals to reinforce them and we need remuneration to reward them. We need transparency in process and leadership that is open and embodies integrity. The retail workplace should be the most stimulating and enjoyable part of people’s lives.

We cannot take for granted that it will remain the best industry to work in unless we create and defend demonstrable standards of the values we cherish before draconian measures arrive.