Covering for the organization rarely works. Neither does the belief that an organization is so strong and respected that it exits on a level all its own.PennStateofficials found that out recently and now the BBC is suffering from the same ill-advised mentality. Whistle-blowing is a separate but related topic but the concerted effort of many in positions of power at an organization to hide something or sweep it under the rug deserves special attention.
For many years a popular, long-time host at BBC, Jimmy Savile, was suspected of sexually abusing young people, sometimes even at the premises of the BBC. The Company recently came under blistering attack when it was learned that an investigation of Savile had been cancelled by the editor of BBC’s Newsnight program last year. Newsnight is an important current affairs program of the BBC. Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director General until last month (and who is destined to join the New York Times shortly) claims to have had no knowledge of the accusations against Savile although there were many opportunities to delve into the matter if he chose to do so.
Within the last week and in a matter of weeks since Thompson’s departure, his successor, George Entwistle, resigned because of another flap, again involving Newsnight, which wrongly implicated a Conservative Party politician in a pedophile scandal inWales. And just yesterday the BBC’s Director of News, Helen Boaden and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell announced that they have “stepped aside”.
The upshot is that there is turmoil at the BBC. There is a lack of control and the Chairman of the BBC Trust has acknowledged that the organization is in a ghastly mess and in need of a thorough overhaul.
How does any organization get itself into this type of crisis and what types of crisis management are called for? First, hubris plays a significant role. When an organization attains a stratospheric reputation such as that of the BBC, those who personify it not only begin to believe in its infallibility but also in their own. Heightened reputations beget dizzying overconfidence. Secondly, there is a tendency of employees, whether they be worker bees or top management to put their employer above all else. Not many people want to be held responsible for the decline or unraveling of an organization. Most want to be team players, no matter what they know and no matter what they really think about their place of work.
Crisis management calls for continual checks and balances. An organization cannot continue to coast, as many do, on old and outdated reputations. It is incumbent on top management, and lower levels in turn, to clarify lines of responsibility and authority, to define the values of the organization, to impose clear lines of accountability and to review regularly issues that arise. Often, top management wishes to be insulated from bad decisions already made, and hard decisions that need to be made, even with the knowledge that, more often than not, the buck stops with them and they may be the sacrificial lambs regardless.
Crisis management does not just mean planning to avoid a crisis if possible. Nor does it just mean managing a crisis once it hits. It also means taking steps to mitigate a crisis in the works. A CEO and his/her lieutenants are charged with monitoring the ship as a captain of a vessel or plane would. Rectifying what is wrong is a vital part of the job. Time does not absorb and dissolve a bad decision. It only heightens the culpability of the parties who either made no attempt to rectify it or tried to white-wash it. This is a hard lesson for people such as the former President of Penn State and the late Joe Paterno. It is a hard lesson for the former and current management of the BBC.