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Deborah Hartung

Personify Change

SPARKFluencer: Sparking Ideas Influencing Change

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Post Office Horizon scandal: How to ensure your organisation isn’t in the next ITV drama series

The Post Office Horizon scandal continues to make headlines. What can HR professionals learn from this deeply unethical corporate history? Culture expert Deborah Hartung shares practical lessons on how to avoid your organisation being the plotline of the next ITV drama.
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The recent ITV drama ‘Mr. Bates vs the Post Office’ has thrust the Post Office Horizon scandal back into the spotlight, underscoring the catastrophic consequences of corporate misconduct.

One would have hoped that corporate leaders would have learned by now that ‘ethical lapses’ end up not only damaging their brands (and share prices) but also eclipse any achievements or advances they might make. Throughout history, the narrative of human progress has been interwoven with tales of both remarkable achievement and profound ethical failures.

From the haunting echoes of the Titanic’s tragic demise to the egregious environmental transgressions of Exxon’s oil spills and the deceptive emissions practices at the heart of the Volkswagen CO2 scandal, the annals of business are replete with instances where ego and profits have compromised empathy and ethics. 

In this age of unprecedented technological advancements and global connectivity, a focus on ethical conduct and cultivating a culture grounded in integrity, transparency, empathy and continuous improvement, is imperative.

So, as HR professionals, what are the takeaways from these scandals and how can we ensure that our organisations don’t feature in television dramas? 

Listening to employees: The silent sentries

One of the glaring revelations from the Post Office Horizon scandal is the catastrophic fallout when organisations fail to listen to their employees. It was not a lack of warning signs that led to this disaster; rather, it was a refusal to acknowledge the concerns raised by those on the front lines.

HR must champion a culture where employees feel empowered to voice their apprehensions without fear of retribution. By actively listening and responding to employee feedback, organisations can identify and address issues before they escalate into crises.

People professionals should actively foster an environment where empathy is not just a buzzword but a lived reality.

Accountability: The cornerstone of trust

In the aftermath of the scandal, accountability emerges as a critical factor in maintaining trust. Organisations must hold individuals responsible for their actions, regardless of their position within the hierarchy.

This extends beyond the obvious perpetrators to include those who turned a blind eye or were complicit through inaction. By establishing a culture of accountability, HR can help create an environment where ethical conduct is non-negotiable.

Transparency and ethics: A fragile pact

The scandal brings to the forefront the fragility of the pact between transparency and ethics. Fujitsu’s apparent knowledge of system problems, deliberately obscured for financial gain, showcases the dangers of compromising ethical principles for short-term gains.

HR leaders need to continue to advocate for transparent communication at all levels, ensuring that ethical considerations are woven into the fabric of decision-making processes.

Empathy: Beyond the bottom line

In the pursuit of profit, the human toll often takes a back seat. The Post Office Horizon scandal is a stark reminder that empathy must be an integral part of organisational culture.

People professionals should actively foster an environment where empathy is not just a buzzword but a lived reality. Understanding the impact of decisions on individuals and communities can prevent callous actions that prioritise financial gains over human wellbeing.

People over profits: A paradigm shift

700 people were prosecuted by the Post Office as a result of the problems with the Fujitsu Horizon system. Even if we were to estimate that 25% of those people were actually guilty or some kind of wrongdoing, there’s over 500 people who lost their livelihoods, their reputations and, in some instances, their lives as a result of greed.

This once again underscores the need for a paradigm shift – placing people over profits. HR leaders must advocate for policies and practices that prioritise employee wellbeing and positive societal impact.

By recalibrating the focus from short-term financial gains to sustainable, people-centric practices, we can build resilience against the allure of unethical shortcuts.

HR can actively contribute to the creation of an ethical and transparent workplace.

Five practical steps for ethical and transparent workplace practices

1. Implement anonymous reporting mechanisms

Establish confidential channels for employees to report concerns or wrongdoing, encouraging a culture of openness and trust.

2. Regular ethics training and workshops

Make ethics a cornerstone of organisational culture through interactive training sessions and games that equip employees to navigate ethical dilemmas.

3. Create a culture of continuous improvement

Foster an environment where leaders share information about failures and encourage feedback and recommendations on improvements, openly.

People need to know that sometimes companies make costly mistakes, but it’s better to abandon a bad idea or course-correct than to doggedly continue down a path for the sake of ego.

4. Establish cross-functional ethics committees

Form committees comprising representatives from various departments to ensure decisions align with ethical standards and promote accountability.

5. Integrate ethical considerations into performance metrics 

Align performance metrics with ethical behavior, reinforcing the message that ethical conduct is a valued key performance indicator.

Avoid the Post Office pitfalls

By implementing these practical steps, HR can actively contribute to the creation of an ethical and transparent workplace. These measures go beyond rhetoric, providing tangible frameworks that guide employees and leaders toward practices that prioritise integrity and accountability.

As organisations adopt these steps, they fortify themselves against the pitfalls that befell those entangled in the Post Office Horizon scandal, paving the way for a more ethical and sustainable future.

Interested in this topic? Read Avoiding Network Rail’s prolonged industrial standoff

Author Profile Picture
Deborah Hartung

SPARKFluencer: Sparking Ideas Influencing Change

Read more from Deborah Hartung
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