With all the explosive power of a damp squib, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee came and went. Of course there was a lot of attention and a lot of talk and a lot of commentary, but the morning after are we really any better off or more informed? Are we really any closer to understanding what happened at the News of the World?
The reason that the committee was interviewing Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks is because of the serious actions that seemingly took place at the News of the World and a need and desire to understand what went wrong. Yet from a lot of the online commentary yesterday you would be forgiven for thinking that this was more about trying to get one over and humiliate an individual media mogul, than any exploration of truth. If you haven’t seen the witch’s scene (below) from Monty Python and the Holy Grail – it was pretty reminiscent.
In the end, what we got was a relative plausible story from the Murdoch family about how their business was run (personally I think Brooks was less convincing). I know saying this won’t make me the most popular with many, but anyone who has actually worked in a large multi national conglomerate will know that there is an absolute requirement to devolve power and responsibility to people within the organisational structure. It is also worth pausing for thought here at the number of HR commentators that talk about devolution of responsibility and empowerment as being positive attributes – until it involves someone who they politically or morally dislike when it becomes a character flaw.
What we didn’t get was any further insight into the events that took place or indeed any revelations that would help us to better understand. Apart from one shameful incident with an intruder and a foam pie, there was little to talk about. And in truth they were the only one to land a blow and the foam had more substance than anything else to come out of the MPs’ questioning (sorry all you Tom Watson fanboys – but he didn’t get anywhere).
As I’ve said many times before, organisations are complex and intricate. If we genuinely want to understand the reasons behind the issues at the News of the World – to then help us understand what is also probably going on at other newspapers too and how to prevent it – then we need to take off the blinkers of preconception and start to think about how large organisations work, how cultures develop and the balance between control and leadership. As a profession HR is perhaps best placed to lead some of this thinking. We should be talking about the issues that really matter and considering how the insight that we have from working in businesses, might shed some light on the goings on at the News of the World.
It might be helpful, it might be developmental and it would certainly be more productive than a peasant mass screaming for a hanging.