Bulletin / Jimmy Savile –...

Jimmy Savile – Lessons learned

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

This week Charlie looks at the report into Jimmy Savile's activities at the BBC and highlights lessons learned.

The leading item on the news this week is the publishing of Dame Janet Smith’s report into Jimmy Savile’s activities at the BBC. The report looks at where they missed opportunities to stop his criminal behaviour. I have looked at one section of the report titled ‘Did the culture and practices within the BBC during the years of Savile’s employment enable Savile’s inappropriate conduct to continue unchecked?’, to see if there are any lessons learned for us as business continuity people. 

I am very aware that this is neither a business continuity incident, as it is dealing with the criminal behaviours of Savile and the reputation of the BBC, nor is it perhaps the most pleasant subject to read about and discuss. I do feel strongly that if terrible events take place, we in our roles as business continuity practitioners, should learn lessons which can hopefully prevent or mitigate harm in our community and areas of responsibility.

The report highlighted six issues within the culture of the BBC which prevented action being taken against Savile. If you read other incident reports of the disaster, the root cause of the incident was a culture within the organisation which lead nobody to effectively challenged poor practices or behaviours and which ultimately lead to a disaster. This report is no different.

The six poor practices which lead to no action being taken were:

1. The Culture of Not Complaining. BBC jobs are prestigious and hard to get and so once you were working in the organisation there was a culture of not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ and if you complained it could put your job in jeopardy. There was also pride in the programmes staff produced and so they would overlook events which may tarnish the popularity and reputation of a programme. 

Complaints, when made, were not passed up to senior managers as staff believed that sexual harassment by stars was normal behaviour. The culture was so toxic that when one woman complained about Savile’s behaviour the attitude of the staff member was “he would have been surprised if Savile had not tried to touch her”. 

Attitudes of an organisation are perhaps easy to see as an outsider or in retrospect, but more difficult to see if you are within the organisation. So perhaps take a moment to reflect on the culture and attitudes within your organisation. Are they appropriate or are people looking the other way or knowingly taking risks as it is “just the way things are done round here”.   

 2. The Culture of Not Complaining about the Talent. Savile was seen as untouchable and so staff and victims felt that they would not be believed or nothing would be done if they made a complaint. Does your organisation have untouchable managers who cannot be questioned or projects that most people know there is an issue with, but nobody dares to challenge them?

 3. The Lack of Any Suitable Route for the Making of Complaints. Organisations have got better at having complaints procedures and whistle blowing lines have been set up. I still have a major concern with them as you often see those that whistleblow end up losing their jobs and becoming the victim rather than just the messenger. 

 Along with your whistle blowing lines, has your organisation thought through how the person will be looked after and treated after they have provided information and how their position in the organisation will be managed in the long-term?

 4.The Culture of Separation and the Lack of Cross-dissemination about Concerns. The report highlights the issue within the BBC of silos and that many of the different areas didn’t speak to each other leading to patterns not being picked up. The report also states that there was no evidence that very senior managers within the BBC were aware of Savile’s activities. 

Senior managers need to be aware of what is happening in their organisations and they should come out of their penthouse offices and go and speak to their workers to understand what is really going. For me, ignorance of what was happening within an organisation, especially as many issues may be generally known at a staff level, is not an excuse.  If they didn’t know, they should have known. 

 5. The Macho Culture. Within the BBC, especially in the 60s, 70s, and 80s there was a strong macho culture with few women in the workplace and even fewer at a senior level.  This again added to the culture of “this is just the way things are done round here”, ignoring inappropriateness in the workplace and a reluctance for people to speak against it. Many of the most dangerous jobs are in male dominated industries and if a macho culture exists, are risks more likely to be taken and not reported leading to a disaster? 

 6. Lack of a Coordinated Approach to the Investigation of Complaints or Concerns. Patterns of wrongdoing or near misses need to be detected and put together to provide a full picture of what is happening within an organisation so that action can be taken before a disaster occurs. Does your organisation report in silos so that key indicators of an impending incident are identified?

The report makes difficult reading but I think in our roles we need a make a conscious effort to read reports from major incident and learn the lessons so that they are not repeated in our organisations! 

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