How to avoid Priti fine messes (part 2) – how not to investigate

Graham Browning

24

November

2020

It is not easy being in HR, ER, Legal or Compliance when you are doing an investigation. You are doing your utmost to walk a tightrope in a gale, while pondering being fair to all, compliance and what the right thing to do is. As you inch forward, ‘helpful’ arrows fly in from people who don’t know the full picture, bear no responsibility yet still feel obliged to contribute.

Now that the Priti Patel investigation is over, there are calls for the ministerial investigation process to be looked into. The investigator has resigned in protest and I’m not going to fire arrows at a real life process I don’t understand. However, if there is going to be some form of review with a view to avoiding this situation in the future, BoJo Ltd can still help us. Following my blog from Friday – here’s the revised interview protocol I imagine you’d find in BoJo Ltd’s files.

  1. Prejudge the outcome – at BoJo Ltd it is good management practice to start with the end in mind. Therefore, the Chairman will make a stick with the accused or don’t stick with the accused decision at the start of each investigation. The purpose of the investigation is to build trust and confidence in BoJo Ltd by arriving at the correct conclusion in a fair and impartial way.
  2. Ensure that the investigator is sound, pragmatic and commercial – all investigators must sign up to this Code and agree to only make findings that are palatable to BoJo Ltd’s Chairman. If BoJo Ltd uses an external investigator, they must be biddable - ideally ex-BoJo Ltd’s management or a dependent supplier. Certainly not someone independent.
  3. Don’t interview important witnesses – some people should not be interviewed because they may say something unhelpful. The same applies to scapegoats: never give the person who will carry the can a fair chance to explain themselves.
  4. Ignore telling patterns of behaviour and other compelling evidence – the investigation must ignore consistent patterns of troubling behaviour as to do otherwise could be compelling evidence that there is a problem. Multiple allegations of bullying over the years from different people are irrelevant, as are previous breaches of policy and behaviour that undermines credibility. 
  5. Ensure that leadership is not bound by the outcome  the ultimate decision about what to do is an adult one that can only be taken by BoJo Ltd’s Chairman. He needs to be able to distinguish between bullying (for which there is no place) and a bullying management style (which is fine – see point 9 below). BoJo Ltd must be able to make these fine judgements without the distraction of being answerable to anyone.
  6. Transparency is not right or proper – reporting investigations or their outcomes is to be avoided at all costs. We hear that some organisations are starting to do this, but it is a fad that won’t catch on.
  7. If these magic words are spoken, there can be no sanctions – the following are irrefutable defences for anyone accused of breaching any BoJo Ltd policy:“
  8. It was not my intention.” This excuses any impact the behaviour may have had."
  9. I’m sorry that my behaviour inadvertently upset people.” This is in line with BoJo Ltd’s No Snowflakes policy.
  10. “My role is high pressure and demanding.” BoJo Ltd believes it is not realistic to expect leaders to cope with the demands of their roles without taking it out on subordinates.
  11.  “I was not given feedback at the time.” At BoJo Ltd we expect those who have been shouted and sworn at by powerful figures to experience no fear and give direct feedback at the time.
  12. Send mixed messages – at BoJo Ltd we’ve heard that being authentic shows a human side and builds trust. So we say whatever we need to at the time because that is a human thing to do. Recent BoJo Ltd examples include “Stick with Prit”, “There is no place for bullying” and “Form a square around the Prittster.”
  13. Above all, remember that “life is not an Enid Blyton novel” – BoJo Ltd has a deep conviction that ‘life is not an Enid Blyton novel’. For some, that means the rather Noddy point that workplaces should be inclusive. To BoJo Ltd, it means that shouting, swearing and perhaps even causing people to collapse is defendable. 
  14. Avoid the Famous Five good people management practices – At BoJo Ltd we don’t believe you can find any leaders or managers out there who do the Famous Five good practices of: (1) thinking about the impact of their behaviour; (2) seeking feedback; (3) learning from past mistakes; (4) getting help if they need it; and (5) apologising in a way that sounds genuine if they hurt people. We have no (blah blah) secret plans to start doing the Famous Five at BoJo Ltd. We have no interest in making our workplace kinder, fairer or more productive.