"They denied that there had been a problem, or if there had been that it was as big as was said. If there was a problem they certainly were not told. They were no worse than anyone else. They had won awards. The media were out to get them".
They were more concerned with the reputation of the organisation than they were in discovering what was really going on. The leadership did not expect to be challenged or contradicted in public or private. They bullied and threatened to get their own way. They appointed and promoted weak individuals who were unable to stand up to them. Not wanting to be told what they didn't want to hear. Viewing whistleblowers as disloyal trouble makers. Accepting the findings of the inspection report would meaning recognising their own part in these serious failings. They had failed to ask the right questions, failed to listen to concerns, ignored or dismissed whistle blowers, adopted a siege mentality of us against the world and exhibited an arrogant overconfidence that they knew best. Surrounded themselves with yes men, chose only to listen to what they wanted to hear and were intolerant of dissent, you were either with them or against them. They prized loyalty above competence, discretion above transparency and spin over substance. There were some difficult personalities, some poor management, a failure to confront and a tendency for people to stay forever.
The quote is about one council but the description is about many organisations. Most schools, Hospitals or social service departments that end up in special measures would fit this description. The description is true to a greater or lesser extent of many NHS boards, local authority cabinets, Housing associations and police authorities. It is tempting to want to find a villain to blame, an over bearing leader of the council, a bullying chair of the board or a weak and ineffective chief executive but it's more likely to be an organisation that thinks it is way better than it is, suffering a collective lack of insight resulting in an unwillingness to accept criticism.
So how does an organisation gain insight?
An organisation learns about itself in the same way an individual does, instead of 360 degree feedback and executive coaching insights are provided by staff surveys and peer group reviews. Complaints and whistle blowers provide an alternative view of the organisation.
An organisation, a board or senior management team that dismisses criticism with “well they would say that wouldn't they" is the type of place were only good news is welcome so bad news comes as an unpleasant surprise.
Blair McPherson author and commentator on the public sector www.blairmcpherson.co.uk