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The toxic culture of damage limitation

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

You have probably seen the Jim Carry comedy in which the main character , a lawyer, under goes a transformation from a compulsive liar to some one compelled always to tell the truth. The humour  is based on the awkward situations and difficulties that arise by only being able to tell the absolute truth. We lie or at least skirt around the truth to smooth social interactions and make life easier.

Organisations do the same, after all showing the organisation in the best possible light is not lying. However habitually focusing on the positives and blanking out the negatives when coupled with a defensiveness and reluctance to admit mistakes leads to cover ups and a culture more concerned with the organisations image than the safety and well-being of customers, employees and the wider community.

When things go wrong there is a tendency for organisations to be defensive, for officials to close ranks,  admit nothing, say as little as possible and make information hard to obtain. The board is more concerned with the organisation reputation than,
getting to the truth. “ Plenty of time to conduct an internal review , the priority now is damage limitation! “ Or maybe senior management think it’s more important to be seen to support the rank and file than undermining public confidence by admitting mistakes.

The tragedies of Hillsborough, the Grenfell fire, the Manchester Arena bombing have prompted calls for A Hillsborough Law that would establish the principle that public officials have a duty of candour. The need to establish this in law is in response to the experience of ordinary members of the public in getting information from public officials (including police officers) follow tragedies.

It’s about organisational transparency, openness and frankness from managers/officials,  establishing the facts, identifying  who made what decisions when and why. A duty of candour requires openness that is more than just answering questions honestly but offering information because too often the onus is on the client/public to ask the right questions.

But it’s not just Hospital Trusts, Police Forces or Local Authorities that need to be open and honest about mistakes, what about Oil Companies, the Banks, the Pharmaceutical Industry surly all organisations should embrace the principle of candour.   Because small coverups have a habit of developing into an unhealthy culture where reputation maintenance is more important than truth.

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