More than a few bad apples? | Fieldfisher
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More than a few bad apples?


United Kingdom

This article was originally created for Personnel Today, and was published on its site on 6th April 2023.

The Baroness Casey Review into the Metropolitan Police has resulted in a number of learning points for investigators asked to assess the barrel.

Baroness Louise Casey was commissioned to "undertake a review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police service and make recommendations". Her Review was recently published and brands the Met as institutionally racist, homophobic and misogynistic. This article, written by Fieldfisher employment lawyer Hannah Disselbeck looks at learning points for HR professionals faced with the daunting task of investigating organisational culture.

The Review presents a compelling view on what should trigger a review of culture. It is self-evident that this will be called for where HR sees patterns of issues, and the Review reflects that. More interesting are Baroness Casey's views on the impact of individual incidents. The position that the Met has taken repeatedly is to argue that issues are confined to a few "bad apples" (the corollary point of rotting a barrel generally gets lost). Baroness Casey rejects that, deploying a powerful analogy:

"If a plane fell out of the sky tomorrow, a whole industry would stop and ask itself why. It would be a catalyst for self-examination, and then root and branch reform."

The majority of HR professionals, thankfully, will never be faced with a Wayne Couzens or a David Carrick. However, any (apparently) one-off grievance that engages the organisation's core values should be cause for an investigation to ask itself whether anything in its culture or systems has allowed an issue to arise, or to go unnoticed. HR professionals will be at the front line, and should be watchful for issues that may call for a wider review.

Where HR professionals need to investigate an organisation's culture, the Review provides valuable learning points around methodology:

  • Prior investigations: the Met has attracted multiple inquiries over the years, and the Review builds on these. The review highlights that it is always worth beginning an inquiry by looking at what has gone before, including to consider the organisation's response to past issues or recommendations. It is important to be alive to (and prepared to see through) what Baroness Casey calls "initiativitis" – a "tick-box" response to recommendations and proliferation of short-term initiatives that fail to drive change.
  • Data and records: the Review carried out extensive data analysis, which is impressive in its depth, as well as an in-depth review of grievance and misconduct records and Tribunal claims. Private sector organisations in particular are unlikely to hold large, granular datasets, but any investigator should think carefully about what data and records may be available, and about how to interrogate them (looking beyond the surface). Examples include staff turnover figures, engagement surveys, pay gap data, records of internal grievances (including allegations and, where known, the identity of the complainer or complainant) and Tribunal and settlement records. Careful analysis of this data can help an investigator identify patterns, which can identify cultural issues and pinpoint where these lie and what groups are particularly impacted.
  • Engagement: the Review engaged with Met officers and staff in a number of ways, including face-to-face meetings and through a survey. Meeting with employees will be essential to any investigation. One (very practical) point to draw out is that findings could be skewed if an investigation relies on volunteers. A better approach is to speak to a selected representative sample, who are required to participate. In the case of the Met, witnesses testified to suffering overt and unambiguous racism, sexism or homophobia (examples are cited throughout). In many organisations, issues are likely to be less overt, so skilful questioning and listening will be needed to elicit and identify patterns and undercurrents where issues may not be obvious.

Surveys are used less commonly, but are worth considering, as the Review demonstrates the value of information gathered in this targeted way throughout. The feasibility of carrying out a staff survey (with support from a specialist provider, as necessary) should be considered at the outset and budget allocated where appropriate.

  • Organisational structure: looking at organisational structure, and at what importance is ascribed to HR and compliance functions (for example, in terms of budget and representation in senior leadership), can give an indication both of the priorities of an organisation, and the organisation's capacity to respond to cultural issues. The Review highlighted, for example, that the Met relies on outsourced HR support.
  • Systems: most investigations will include a review of policies and procedures. The Review highlights the importance of looking "beyond the handbook", to how they operate in practice. The best procedure is of little use if employees are not aware of it, or do not trust in the process, so staff engagement on these points is essential to an investigation.
  • Management: management is often reviewed in relation to specific decisions, or assessed in terms of its training to spot and resolve issues. It is less usual for an investigation to look at how effectively line management operates generally, and how managers are trained simply to be managers. The Review highlights that this can be essential because, absent competent management, individuals are left to copy behaviour they see around them, and the "how we do things round here" becomes paramount, inhibiting leadership's ability to project values throughout the organisation.
In conclusion, the Review does not reinvent the wheel, or revolutionise the practice of investigating cultural issues. It does, however, provide a rare public example of an investigation focused entirely on culture and behavioural standards, and therefore a rare learning opportunity for professionals practicing in this space.

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