The revelation that Jimmy Savile, formerly a popular DJ and charity fundraiser, was an industrial grade paedophile has shocked the UK.
But more disturbing is the revelation that what must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, knew or suspected his wrongdoing over periods said to be as long as decades - but did nothing. Accusations of 'turning a blind eye' or inaction have so far been levelled at the BBC, three hospitals, the UK's Crown Prosecution Service and the police among others.
Passive covering-up of important but unwelcome information is commonplace. Ask yourself what unwelcome news wasn't promptly passed on up to your organisation's leadership over the years. The reasons vary, but they are typically a combination of culture, power, incentives such as fear and a lack of leadership, particularly on ethos. Groupthink, particularly among the organisation's leaders often contributes too.
Sadly Jimmy Savile isn't the only cover-up in the news. It's alleged that a number of the UK's police forces have been involved in a massive cover-up following the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster in which 96 died. It's so bad that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating whether there was a concerted effort by two police forces to pervert the course of justice over more than 20 years. There are also investigations under way into whether the police should now be charged with manslaughter.
If proven, this goes far beyond passive covering-up and raises the question why multiple police forces set out systematically to cover up the truth. If proven it would be a small step for the IPCC to conclude that the police showed institutional dishnonesty that has a parallel in the institutional racism found in the Metropolitan Police following the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
Getting to the root of this kind of problem is difficult and can be painful. Unresolved, it exposes the organisations concerned to one of the most potent destroyers of reputations - that the organisation comes to be seen as dishonest or dysfunctional.
It will take courage to get to the root of these problems and leadership to solve them. The question is whether leaders are up to the task.
Reputability Partners LLP
Anthony Fitzsimmons is Chairman of Reputability LLP and author of “Rethinking Reputational Risk: How to Manage the Risks that can Ruin Your Business, Your Reputation and You”
- This blog carries a series of posts and articles, mostly written by Anthony Fitzsimmons under the aegis of Reputability LLP, a business that is no longer trading as such. Anthony is a thought leader in reputational risk and its root causes, behavioural, organisational and leadership risk. His book 'Rethinking Reputational Risk' was widely acclaimed. Led by Anthony, Reputability helped business leaders to find, understand and deal with these widespread but hidden risks that regularly cause reputational disasters. You can contact Anthony via anthony.fitzsimmons At cranfield dot ac dot uk