Finger pointing is not the answer

When things go wrong in large public organisations, it can get very messy. Finger pointing, party politics, hot-headedness... it all starts to unravel.

There is a particularly strong desire to justify and explain, especially when the money spent to prevent such crises has come from the public purse, as has been the case with Haringey Council and the BBC.

At such moments, true leadership comes into its own. Public bodies have to look to those at the top to take the flak, accept that mistakes were made, ensure lessons are learned, and move the organisation on.

Actions then need to be communicated, especially internally, or uncertainty and unrest cascade through staff tiers. Anyone with the organisation's name on their pay slip feels vulnerable.

It is only natural that those employed by large public sector bodies feel more insecure. They are more likely to be remote from the decisions and actions at the heart of the organisation.

And people who feel insecure also feel the need to be territorial. They have to carve out and protect their territory because it's the only way they feel in control.

So when something goes wrong, their instinct is to protect, to ensure defences are in place... and direct blame elsewhere.

Blame culture creates a downward spiral of defensiveness, secrecy, territorial behaviour, and ultimately isolation from the better aims and aspirations of the organisation.

Communications can play a role in helping staff understand the bigger picture, cut through the blame and finger pointing, focus on what needs to be done, and keep everyone aligned to collective goals.

Looking in at a crisis from the outside, it's all too easy to say: 'What a cock-up! They should have done it like this... ' It's a little bit harder to say: 'I understand why they made those mistakes and why they responded that way.'

Finger pointing at an organisation from the outside simply encourages more finger pointing on the inside. But good communication starts with understanding, not blame.

Luke Blair is a director at the London Communications Agency.

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