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  • Bill Trueman

Post Office Scandal – Need for Governance?


People Challenges

 

Let’s focus on the ‘big stuff’ here, and put-to-one-side the shocks from the media, such as: ‘treat your colleagues with dignity’, question prosecution evidence, challenge assumptions of guilt, overturn unjust legal decisions, compensation for victims, find and take action against the culpable, etc. It is critical to address the valid emotions, for injustices to be reversed for postmasters, and compensation to be made. But let’s look at this through a governance lens and from a wider perspective than the one organisation.

 

Good Governance

 

‘Governance’ is the way that businesses are managed and operated – through the business leaders and owners who must:

 

  • Have clear accountability, objectives and policies.

  • Define the required culture and conduct that the business will adopt including for all partners – especially all engaged third-parties.

  • Ensure that the business and leadership have the skills for this and to consistently apply the governance and ethics desired.

  • Use technology and tools, services and data to do this and to monitor and measure performance, governance and culture.

  • Do things properly, manage the business appropriately and make the right decisions.

  • Identify when things go wrong, monitor and control change that is required, and continue to make appropriate decisions.

  • Recognise when the business has moral or people obligations that conflict with other objectives; and address them.


When we appoint people without strong governance experience onto our boards, or rely upon ‘colleagues, friends and family’ without the skills of independence, control and oversight: we ask for trouble.  When we fail to listen to our customers, our staff, our compliance and audit functions, we fail to understand the weaknesses within our proposition, our leaders and our controls.

 

Worse still, failure to comprehend and operate within the law or regulations, will draw attention to us; that will lead to challenge, scrutiny, enforcement and ultimate costs and fatal reputational damage and/or business restrictions or license removal. Possibly imprisonment for those in positions of authority.

 

To get things so wrong (often, but here in the Post Office), can only be about the leadership (the CEO, the Board, or major shareholders). Their leadership and decisions ‘set the culture’, appoint the team, set direction, strategy and business ethos.

 

From emerging detail in the Post Office Scandal, show us increasingly:

 

1. A ‘self-preservation mentality’ with an absence of accountability: this leads people to make inappropriate decisions, avoid decisions, selectively shared facts and data, and ignored consequences.

2. Failure to challenge and manage people around us and third-party service providers: which leads to poor governance and bad outcomes.

3. Without the right technical and people skills, individuals focus upon the wrong priorities and veer away from doing ‘what is right’ when things change; or become frightened to raise concerns.

4. In the absence of fully independent people with the right skills, and a mandate to challenge the board and the CEO and their decisions: wrong decisions get made, facts ignored, hidden problems remain, investigations never conclude – or worse still – lead to cover-ups.

5. Put all these things together: and respect for people, gathering evidence, articulating the truth and ‘doing the right thing’, all get lost.



Systems Problems and Fujitsu


Fujitsu UK is buried in this debacle, from seemingly poor product, deception and dishonesty, underhand dealings, incompetence, as well as nepotism and political pressures. But this is just symptomatic of the poor Governance issues above, and an indicator of a corrosive culture for managing its own affairs and its clients (the Post Office). At Fujitsu, again:

 

  • Accountability, objectives, policies internally; leadership and ethical standards are not there and no assessment and performance tracking present on either side.

  • The supplier seems to have been appointed and controlled poorly.

  • Transparency in general seems absent, which is bad; OR covered-up – which is worse.

  • Deliverables, dates, penalty clauses should have been contracted and measured against especially during prior to and after any phased roll-out with all-stakeholder buy-in.

  • And now it has all gone awry: there must be early disclosure, independent scrutiny.

 

Now is too late by 20 years as the fatal damage is done: too many lives destroyed. Not just the 700 postmasters; but so many more people connected to them.

 

And the lack of proper governance 20 years ago will still disrupt the lives of many more including those at the periphery of the problem; who did as they were instructed in fear of challenging others. The criminal cases and blame that will ensue and the costs are all consequences to the poor governance and controls too.

 

The business leaders, shareholders, independent directors, politicians involved and any other key people MUST now be held accountable – if not just to deter others and to stop the ‘career’ independent-directors or CEOs without the governance skills, being further passed around the market.  This must stop.

 

Kevin Smith and Bill Trueman are directors at Riskskill, and are payments and risk specialist, with over 25 years of experience. For more information about Riskskill visit website at www.riskskill.com

 

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