Invariably I find myself examining the way in which large organisations seek to deceive us by using evasive and misleading language.
But there are occasions when senior executives speak directly and with clarity – and that, not least because it is so rare, can be just as revealing.
And it is particularly interesting when the senior figures of one organisation change the approach from the former to the latter.
Take what has happened this week at the Southern Health Authority when its chairman was questioned on the BBC about the decision to give a new job to the organisation’s chief executive Katrina Percy. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37288843
Ms Percy had been under pressure to resign since the publication of a highly critical report last December on Southern Health’s failure to investigate hundreds of death. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/09/southern-health-nhs-trust-failed-investigate-patient-deaths-inquiry
Initially Southern Health resorted to a long and evasive statement in which its lawyers and PR department used every trick in the book to evade responsibility. I highlighted this at the time – https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/southern-healths-integrity/
Eventually the trust’s chairman was replaced but, despite robust criticism from relatives of those who died and politicians, Ms Percy remained in her job until last week; then she was moved to a new £240,000 a year job which had been specifically created for her.
What is particularly interesting is the way Smart, who took over as chair four months ago, responded to questions on Ms Percy’s new job.
And I should say here that Smart has worked in senior positions in the public and private sector for many years so knows what he is doing when he appears before a television camera – and he also many lawyers and PR executives to provide him with evasive answers to every possible question.
Look at this exchange with a BBC interviewer.
- Did the new job exist before Katrina (Percy) took it?
Smart. The work needed to be done.
- That is not a yes or no. Did the new job exist before Katrina took it?
- Did you advertise that job so other people could apply?
- Was Katrina the only candidate?
Smart. She is uniquely qualified for it.
- Was she the only candidate?
- To many people that is not the case. The case is that over the next few months the work that we have asked Karina to do needed to be done in any event.
There is enough corporate evasion in some of these answers to demonstrate that he had been well rehearsed by his minders.
These answers include phrases such as “the work needed to be done” and also saying that Percy was “uniquely qualified.” The latter remark is meaningless as the job was not advertised – you only find out if someone is uniquely qualified by testing them against other candidates.
But most interesting is the way he only went through the motions of corporate evasion and gave direct answers after only the slightest pressure.
Those of us who have listened to politicians and business leaders answer difficult questions over the years know that even the clearest answer is submerged in enough verbiage to disguise its true intent.
It may be that Smart has decided on a new strategy of openness – probably not. Or that he panicked and blundered – unlikely.
Or it could be that his direct answers are designed reflect his unhappiness at what has been done. His intervention has certainly ensured that Ms Percy will be under much greater pressure that before he gave the interview.
So it is at least worth a sporting bet that there may have been a division of opinion about whether to give Ms Percy her new job.
And there may be some interesting revelations to come about this decision was eventually taken.