Dame Margaret Bazley's report on alleged sexual misconduct at Russell McVeagh made harrowing reading. The report not only looked into the issue of sexual misconduct but also identified the issue of bullying. A (let's hope) small number of people in authority in this firm potentially abused their power and behaved badly.
The report also pointed out that the structure, systems and culture of this firm contributed to this behaviour – it was potentially unchecked, over-looked and arguably rewarded.
These findings should be a wake-up call to leaders across the country. Many of our organisations are potentially at the same risk of allowing people in authority to misuse their position. This may be the tip of a large, hidden iceberg.
Ice that may now start to melt, revealing an uglier organisational underbelly. While only a small number of people may be behaving badly, the impact is often far reaching. And the way we run our organisations means we can all be complicit. Such behaviour usually thrives on our silence.
I have had the pleasure of working with a range of leaders who want to create a positive working environment. They are working hard to create inclusive working spaces, where everyone can bring themselves and their best to their job, free from bullying and harassment and bias.
Working with organisations to diagnose where the barriers and opportunities for change are, I have learnt some lessons about what will potentially trip up the leadership of Russell McVeagh.
Barriers to change will lie in the "hard wiring" of their organisation, that is the systems, processes, policies and structures — what is written down. Barriers will also lie in the "soft wiring" — the culture, behaviours, leadership style and leadership signals. These are the things passed on by word of mouth about "how things work around here".
The leadership of Russell McVeagh will need to address both if they are to turn their firm around. But there will be some obstacles to overcome.
Inertia is one. Organisations have an ingrained way of how things are done. This means organisations have a life well beyond any individuals that work in them at any one time.
For true change, this DNA needs to be changed and this will take tough, smart thinking to do so.
"You can't change what you can't see" is another barrier. The leaders who have helped create this culture are now going to have to change it. It is a culture that has selected them into leadership roles. Being able to understand what a different organisation could look like and providing staff with different experiences of work will be tough.
Sustainability will also be a barrier. Real change isn't going to happen overnight. It is going to have to be an on-going priority. Leaders of this firm will need to look over all aspects of how they run their firm, constantly checking their assumptions, and this will take sustained energy.
As the board, leadership team and partners of Russell McVeagh work through their change processes, I wonder if many other leaders across many other organisations should be doing the same.
Would your organisation permit or overlook such behaviour? Are you sure that your employees are safe from bullying and harassment? Have you put everything in place that you could make it so?
• Jo Cribb is a consultant who works with organisations to achieve their diversity goals.