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Flower Cut

When I see the headlines in some tabloids I am often reminded of the children I knew at primary school who would say “Ummm! I’ll tell!” in sanctimonious tones if they thought you were doing something wrong. This week I have had a strong flashback to school.

The media has been examining the background of Mr (sometime Reverend) Paul Flowers whose public and private lives seem to conflict. It’s not pretty. He has presented himself as a pillar of society, diligent and social minded member of the community and upholder of societal standards.

This man has caused real and substantial damage but it would also appear that there has been colIusion on the part of a number of organisations to allow him to wreak this havoc. I’d suggest it was more incompetent or not-wanting-to-invade–personal-privacy in origin than deliberate, but it caused the same damage.

As Chairman of the Co-op bank you would expect Mr Flowers to have some depth of knowledge about banks and banking. Mr Flowers. Not a bit of it. His qualifications to hold the chairmanship are that after leaving school (40 years ago) he had worked for a bank for four years in a junior capacity. When the scandal broke Mr Flowers was asked basic questions about the Co-op Bank. He was unimpressive. He told the committee that the Co-op's balance sheet had £3bn of assets, when the actual figure was £47bn and he could not correctly answer questions about the amount of loans. His defence to charges of incompetence was that the banking regulators had approved his appointment.

There can be no doubt that the way banks have been run in recent times has been economically disastrous, but the Co-op has managed to carve out its very own little place in banking history. The incompetence and poor judgement was huge and ultimately disastrous. In May Mr Flowers was asked to stand down by the new group chief executive after the £1.5bn shortfall was discovered.

The “thick has been plottening” as my father says as further unsavoury facts emerge about Mr Flowers.

  • He resigned as a councillor in Bradford after adult material was found on his work computer.
  • In 1981 he was convicted of gross indecency.
  • In 2004 there were concerns that he fiddled his expenses when he was a trustee with a charity, the Lifeline Project.
  • Mr Flowers is also being investigated by the police for allegedly buying and using illegal drugs including crystal meth, crack cocaine and ketamine.

Mr Flowers is clearly of dubious morals and has no qualms about accepting roles for which he is neither qualified not competent. But we also have to look at the structure that allowed this to happen and learn the lessons. Don’t let it happen in your business.

If you recruit a problem, you’ll have a problem. If you have clearly defined rigorous data capture processes against which applicants competence is tested you are far less likely to land up in trouble.

  • If you don’t carry out audits into processes and delivery against KPIs you won’t discover a problem until it’s too late. You need to have rigorous checking processes to ensure that things are working as they should. Sometimes it’s incompetence, sometimes it’s dishonesty that causes things to go wrong. Don’t assume that all is going well.
  • Call people to account at an early stage. Ensure employees know the standards required and have help and support in reaching them. Do this as soon as you know there’s something wrong. Some people wait years – and then it’s too late.
  • Don’t put up with poor performance or misconduct if it impacts on your business. There is often a case for giving someone the benefit of the doubt but there’s a limit. In one company I know the owner found a rule had been breached. He gave guidance to the employee who assured him that she would abide by the rule in future. He specifically checked with her twice more that she was compliant and she replied she was. But when he carried out a check he found she had lied to him and she had continued to breach the rule. He dismissed her.

If you have someone who is not meeting your reasonable standards, tackle it today. We’ve seen what can happen to even such organisations as the Co-op bank.

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