Diamonds are Forever

Posted in : HR Updates on 9 July 2012
Nicola Shaw

Nicola Shaw writes:

With current press speculation about Barclay’s and the departure of Bob Diamond; our own closer to home Ulster Bank situation that has been ongoing for several weeks; and of course, not forgetting the News International fiasco, together with the ongoing Leveson enquiry into press reporting standards, it has got me thinking (I know, before you say it, it doesn’t happen very often!)...

  • Where do the boundaries lie when there is a scandal within an organisation?
  • Who is responsible?
  • Who should be responsible?
  • What is the role of HR?


Rebekah Brooks had a meteoric rise to the top of her profession and was a key business confidante and ally to Rupert Murdoch at News International. However, in recent times, she has had a very public and spectacular fall from grace:

  • She is no longer in employment at News International 
  • She has been charged with conspiring to pervert the cause of justice
  • She is awaiting her trial for the above


The questions I want answers to are:

  • Did she know what was going on within her newspaper regarding phone hacking?
  • Should she have known?
  • If she did know, when did she find out and what action did she take?
  • Did she authorise the phone-hacking?


Corrupt Versus Inept

What is worse in these two scenarios:

1. Knowing about the corruption and turning a blind eye to it in order to continue to be “successful”? OR

2. Being oblivious to the reality of what was happening, whether through ineptitude, or through Senior Officials protecting you? 

I can see both views, but I have to say that I think being oblivious is worse. 

At the top of your game, you should have an overview of all that is going on. I am not talking micro-management and being involved in all decision making, but I am thinking more of being briefed and informed of key decisions, particularly where risk management is concerned. If you are corrupt, you have taken the active decision to do so and are personally liable and accountable for the actions, or lack of actions, taken. 

Having someone at the top of your organisation that people shield and use as a puppet cannot be good for morale. The top person in an organisation should be dynamic, decisive and knowledgeable. They should also be astute enough to know what is really going on and respected by all levels.


Lines of Responsibility

If something happens that creates a real frenzy of speculation and gossip within your organisation, is it reasonable that the Chief Executive is culpable for this, or should any “kick-back” also include strategic and operational decision makers below? 

The Chef Executive gets paid the big bucks for a reason - right?!? The governance of an organisation would indicate (in layman’s terms) that the buck stops at the top – whether with the Board or with the Chief Executive. They can’t take their massive 6 figure salaries, bonuses, and associated lifestyles and then give out when they are found to be wanting in their role. Or can they?


The Role of HR 

Depending on the culture of the organisation and how involved HR is at a senior level, the role of HR will vary. Ideally, if HR can be heavily involved in the communications around the crisis, that would be ideal. They can then ensure that careful consideration is given to timing, what is said, how it is cascaded, by whom, etc. This is not a role in isolation, but one as part of a core team. The Senior HR person will also have to carefully manage communications within their own team – taking into account their dual role of managing queries from staff and others, as well as having the same queries themselves. Wearing two hats is never easy!


Final Thoughts

In no way am I suggesting that there is a right or wrong answer on this, but it is something that all of the recent controversy and scandals has triggered for me. On reflection, I think that it is the head of the organisation who has ultimate responsibility and therefore it is they who should be held liable. At least externally. Internally, it may play out very differently, which makes it key that HR is at the heart of the organisation and yet also able to take a step back and take a logical and pragmatic approach to trying to resolve the many difficulties that arise.

This article is correct at 09/11/2015
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Nicola Shaw

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