Truth to Power (#162)

Olivia Bland, a recent university graduate, made it to the final round of Web Applications UK’s interview process: a sit-down with the company’s CEO, Craig Dean. When she met with him, Bland was surprised when Dean began scrolling through her Spotify account and mocking her music tastes. The situation grew even more bizarre when he started asking her a lot of personal questions (“are your parents still together?”) and then tearing apart the information she had submitted in her application.

According to Bland, towards the end of the interview, Dean asked her how she thought it went. He then proceeded to answer his own question by saying, “I’ll tell you how it went” and pointed out all her flaws in the interview.

She writes that the entire two-hour process, which nearly brought her to tears, was comparable to “being forced to sit in a room with a vindictive ex-partner.”

Perhaps the most amazing part of the story is that she was offered the job.

Appalled by the experience and treatment she received, Bland decided to decline the company’s offer—and do so publicly on Twitter. The email she penned to the company after the interview and posted in a tweet has since been shared over 41,000 times.

Company leaders should take note. From Yelp, TripAdvisor and Glassdoor to Medium, Twitter and Facebook, today’s technology and social media engagement has make it easier for people to hold businesses and individuals accountable for their practices and behavior.

Before these online platforms existed, people like Ms. Bland had little recourse or power to combat the behavior of an overly-aggressive company CEO or business leader. Now, they can do so publicly—and there are real repercussions for these actions, especially for smaller businesses. A few bad reviews are all it takes to drive prospective employees and customers elsewhere.

Of course, review fraud is certainly a reality. Twitter mobs have become more common, as have presumptions of guilt until someone can prove their innocence online. That said, more often than not, when there is smoke there’s likely to be a fire, even a small one.

What I find fascinating about Ms. Bland’s experience and the many others that are shared online is that holding people accountable via a public forum seems to have more impact than if the obligation is left to internal stakeholders.

Shortly after Bland’s tweet went viral, the company’s board of directors issued a statement that it had conducted an internal investigation and found that “no bullying or intimidation occurred.” I find this conclusion lacking– for a few reasons.

First, from what Ms. Bland has reported, it does not appear that the board reached out to or spoke with her about her experience before drawing their conclusions. Second, based on how quickly the board issued its response, their “investigation” seems to have been conducted in haste. And third, a scan of Web Application UK’s Glassdoor page describes almost identical behavior by their CEO from others who interviewed with the company.

I am sure some inquisitive reporter will be digging into the company’s board and its objectivity. Absolute power has a way of corrupting, as demonstrated by recent downfalls of several prominent CEOs.

Here’s a good rule of thumb that someone very wise once shared with me: If your actions, behaviors or decisions were posted publicly on the cover of the Sunday paper, how would you feel about it? Would you feel comfortable defending what was written, even if it was true?

This “Sunday paper test” is worth careful consideration. Would you ever want your Sunday morning paper to describe your interviewing process – involving your CEO, no less – as “humiliating,” “bizarre,” “brutal” or “demeaning?”

If not, think about what you or your organization’s leadership should do differently to ensure you’re proud to back up what’s said about you – online or offline.

 

Quote of The Week

“To be accountable means that we are willing to be responsible to another person for our behavior and it implies a level of submission to another’s opinions and viewpoints.”

 

Wayde Goodall

 

 

 

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