Monday, 14 October 2013

You'll never walk alone - learning from Hillsborough

[Originally published on the Aspley Consultants website]

The publication of the findings of an independent inquiry into the events at Hillsborough in 1989 throws up several issues of note to those of us interested in organisational learning.  I shall give just a brief commentary here and intend to return to some of the issues in greater depth in due course.  For what it is worth, I come at this not from any moral or legal viewpoint but purely from a desire for others to learn.
  • Tampering with, or withholding, potential evidence is a rather obvious, if clumsy, attempt to prevent others from knowing ‘what happened’ and then learning therefrom;
  • Diverting attention from one’s own responsibilities by blaming others is a classic example of defensive behaviour and again, prevents people from learning for the future;
  • The events of that day in 1989 and the responses to it were the perfect opportunity for those in positions to do so to lead by example and offer up their own shortcomings for scrutiny to encourage others to do the same; they did not and so their lead ensured that no-one below them did either;
That such anti-learning actions took place is, I suggest, partly due to the likelihood of potentially serious punishments for errors of judgement; punishments that would most likely have far outweighed the scant, grudging appreciation that might have followed any attempts at honesty from those involved.

If there are any lessons that might yet be identified from this, one is that most people will usually behave in ways that suit their own interests (i.e. lie, obscure and divert from the truth when that truth may well harm them).  If we do not look for more imaginative and sensitive ways in which to investigate events in the future, we must not be surprised if anti-learning behaviour continues to prevail in the police, our other institutions and elsewhere.

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