rewarding failure

HR practices in NHS are embarrassing

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As a former NHS Trust HR Director I cringe with embarrassment every time I read about yet another recruitment cock-up in the NHS.

At the end of 2016 we had the case of Katrina Percy, CEO of Southern Health Trust,  who, after coming under severe criticism following the death by drowning of a vulnerable teenager, was seconded into a made-up job, for which there were no other candidates, on her existing salary. Public pressure eventually forced her to resign.

And her chairman Mike Potter resigned just before the publication of a damming report by the Care Quality Commission.

And then we had Mike Scott CEO of St George’s University NHS Trust which was put into special measures under his watch. Did he lose his job? No, he was seconded on his salary to the NHS Improvement team helping other Trusts (not to go into special measures presumably).

And his successor, Paula Vasco-Knight, had been the COO under him and you would think would bear some responsibility for the Trust’s deteriorating position. She only actually lasted two weeks in the CEO role before she was suspended after allegations of fraud by her previous employer Devon NHS Trust.

She’d already been severely criticised at an employment tribunal after the way she treated whistle-blowers who accused her of nepotism. She’d tried to play the race card at the tribunal but to no avail.

Interestingly at one time Mrs Vasco-Knight was NHS England’s national lead on equality and diversity matters, was the first female BME Chief Executive in the NHS, received an honorary doctorate in Law from Exeter University and a CBE in 2014 for her work on equality and diversity. So obviously ticking a lot of the right boxes.

And is that why people turned a blind eye and didn’t carry out proper checks before appointing herald then ignored her bullying behaviour?

I ask because this week it’s been revealed that a senior NHS boss built £1 million, 10-year career on a fake CV.

Jon Andrewes (photo on right from ITV) called himself a doctor and claimed to have two PhDs. One in ethics management from Plymouth University, and one in business administration from Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh.

He also  claimed a master’s degree from Edinburgh and a degree from Bristol University, plus a diploma from CIMA.

He actually had a diploma in social work and had worked as a builder and probation officer and not, as he claimed, for the Home Office.

He got a job as CEO at St Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset in 2004 and was later appointed to the job of Chairman of the NHS Torbay Care Trust in 2007. In 2015 he beat 117 others to become Chairman of the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust.

Andrewes, aged 63, admitted obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception (when applying for the Torbay and Cornwall jobs) and two counts of fraud (at St Margaret’s hospice). He was jailed for two years and an application has been made to seize his assets.

The Department of Health says it is examining how he came to be appointed to posts such as chairman of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust.

After he was convicted, NHS Improvement admitted that it had not checked his qualifications when it appointed Andrewes under its previous guide of the NHS Trust Development Authority. I wonder if anybody in HR is being disciplined for that oversight?

The Department of Health said:

Mr Andrewes held a significant position of responsibility and trust, and this sentence sends a clear message that fraud of any kind will not be tolerated in the NHS.

What about tolerating serial incompetence?

Some of the people I’ve referred to have probably done more damage to the NHS than Andrewes did but they were rewarded for their failures. It’s a pity we can’t send people to prison for incompetence.

As I said at the top of this post; I despair at the state of HR practices in the NHS. It seems not even the most rudimentary checks are being made. It seems senior people were blinded by his “qualifications”  – as, I suspect, with some of the others when it came to overlooking poor performance.
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I’ve said it before, the NHS can’t afford to go on rewarding failure like this

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Following the shambles surrounding the disgraced CEO Katrina Percy – who eventually resigned from her overpaid, invented position along with her previous chairman, we now have yet another example.

Again a failing Trust, and again the NHS don’t seem to have the determination to deal with a highly paid CEO  who is not delivering.

03cdc52Miles Scott, the former CEO of St George’s University Hospital Trust which has been put into special measures, has walked into a new job on a fixed term secondment to health regulator NHS Improvement on a £220k salary.

He’d been at St George’s for five years (and CEO at Bradford prior to that) so plenty of experience at board level. But he failed to stop the trust being put into special measures by the Quality Care Commission this week.

Sir Mike Richards the chief inspector of hospitals said “I am disappointed that we have found a marked deterioration in the safety and quality of some of the trust’s services since we inspected two years ago, as well as in its overall governance and leadership.”

Worryingly we found that areas in which children and young people with mental health conditions were cared for had not been checked for ligature points and that half the medical staff working with children and young people had not completed level three safeguarding training”

Scott is reported to be “undertaking specific change management projects and providing additional support to the executive team” On £220k a year! Rather overpaid for that remit I think.

Can no-one see the irony of someone who led a deteriorating (in terms of safety standards, governance and leadership) NHS Hospital Trust for two years advising other trusts on how to raise standards? The same with Katrina Percy. What are they thinking of when they make these appointments? Do they think people will really take advice from them in the circumstances?

4982778To make matters worse at St George’s, according to a report in the Times ,his successor, Paula Vasco-Knight, who was the Chief Operating Officer at St George’s before Scott left last month, was suspended after less than two weeks in the job.

This followed serious financial allegations by her previous employer, Devon NHS Trust, that she defrauded them by abusing her position to bypass normal procurement arrangements and essentially siphoned off money to her husband’s company – which she has denied in court.

A statement by St George’s said: “As a result of serious allegations being made against her, Dr Paula Vasco-Knight has been suspended from her role as acting chief executive at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The allegations are financial in nature and relate to her work at a previous employer.

At one time Mrs Vasco-Knight was NHS England’s national lead on equality and diversity matters, was the first female BME Chief Executive in the NHS, received an honorary doctorate in Law from Exeter University and a  CBE in 2014 for her work on equality and diversity. So obviously ticking a lot of the right boxes.

However that passion for equality obviously didn’t extend to recruitment as she was accused of nepotism by two whistleblowers for giving her daughter’s boyfriend a job at Torbay Hospital for which she was criticised by an employment tribunal.

She tried to play the race card at the tribunal saying “On a personal level I found the allegations as nothing less than personal slander and I wonder if a white middle class male chief executive officer would have been treated with such disrespect.”

However that didn’t wash with the tribunal judge Nick Roper who ruled:”We find that there was a concerted effort by the South Devon Healthcare Trust to manipulate the investigation, accuse the claimants of malice, suppress the report and to mislead the other parties as to its contents, with the apparent aim of protecting Dr Vasco-Knight and Mrs Murphy against the force of the claimant’s allegations.

Mrs Murphy was a senior colleague in whom the whistle blowers confided who told them they would lose their jobs ‘through dirty means’ which left them feeling ‘bullied, threatened and intimidated’.

“This was completely contrary to the protection which they should have been offered under the Whistle Blowing guidelines.” said the judge. One of the whistleblowers returned to work, the other received £230,000 in compensation.

You don’t get the impression of a healthy culture under her leadership do you?

That event led to her suspension from the Trust and her eventual resignation. The official line was that she moved North for family reasons and for a time worked for East Lancashire NHS Trust as a management consultant, reportedly on £1,000 a day.

Her LinkedIn page, currently closed down, reportedly gave her roles as a “turnaround director/director of transformation” for Solitaire healthcare, where she says she had been since July 2014, and interim chief operating officer, a role she has held at St George’s since September 2015 where she worked under Miles Scott. So wasn’t she as culpable as him for the failures there? Why then appoint her?

Yet again we have a number of embarrassing failures of leadership or worse and the NHS seem incapable of dealing with them. No wonder the Taxpayers Alliance is up in arms. John O’Connell, the CEO, said “there is a worrying trend of impunity in the public sector where fat cat salaries don’t seem to reflect performance and nobody is held accountable for the failure to provide taxpayers with the services they pay for and expect.

“How can a Trust put in special measures possibly justify such a ludicrously large salary for its former chief executive and – bizarrely  – continue to pay him even after he’s taken on a new role elsewhere?

My point exactly. Why wasn’t he just sacked for poor performance? Why do we have this continuous revolving door of failed executives? Why are we still rewarding failure?

NHS can’t afford to reward failure like this

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hEFGqWFbq4rM2_uOeHbVLAwqtt1UqJeYUGU5cjJmrhSXx7TLIftY0Sy8Z6V9GiDxQzIaEJA=s151Katrina Percy, the former Chief Executive of Southern Health Trust, has been under pressure to stand down for months after the mental health trust she led failed to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 people with mental health and learning disabilities between 2011 and 2015.

This catalogue of disasters in a Trust that states its aim is: “to provide high quality, safe services which improve the health, wellbeing and independence of the people we serve”.

Her LinkedIn profile describes her as: Passionate about leading organisations through transformational change of their clinical service; placing a very strong emphasis on the leadership and team development throughout the organisation to enable this.

That’s her opinion. An independent review found that “a failure of leadership” had led to these deaths going unanswered but she resisted efforts to resign until this week.

3016053_Katrina_Percy_14th_MayAnnouncing her resignation she said “I have reflected on the effect of the ongoing personal media attention has had on staff and patients and have come to the conclusion that this has made my role untenable.

I have, therefore, come to the difficult decision to step down from my role as chief executive after nine years.

“I am delighted to be taking on an alternative role, providing strategic advice to local GP leaders as they work with others to transform the way in which health services are delivered across Hampshire, and I feel that now is the right time to take on that new challenge.

I know and understand that many will say I should have stepped down sooner given the very public concerns which have been raised in the past months. I stayed on as I firmly believed that it was my responsibility to oversee the necessary improvements and to continue the groundbreaking work we have begun with GPs to transform care for our patients“.

Not one word of apology or any sign of contrition. This “I’m the only person who can fix it” attitude, despite getting the Trust in a mess in the first place (she was CEO for 9 years), is not uncommon. It’s also been used by Police Chiefs and other public sector chiefs.

And of course she’s delighted with her new role – she’s still being paid very generously – on the same £180,000 + benefits – in a consulting role. But why would GPs take advice from someone who has been criticised for leadership failures?

It now turns out that the post was created especially for her, there were no other candidates and no interviews. This is not the way to recruit top executives in any organisation.

And what were the chair and board members doing about the independent report? Well the Trust’s Chairman Mike Petter resigned days before the publication of the Care Quality Commission report which said that the Trust was still failing to protect people.

The interim chairman, Tim Smart, says “Katrina has ensured that Southern Health is now working more closely with other health and care organisations in the region to provide more joined-up care, so more people receive support at the right time and place

But Andrew Smith, the MP for Oxford East, said that her continued employment was evidence that the Trust was “not fit for purpose“. He also said “it’s disturbing too that her comments and those of the Trust blame her resignation on media attention rather than acceptance of her ultimate responsibility for the abject and fatal failings of Southern Health

The mother of a vulnerable teenager who drowned in a bath after having an epileptic fit , an incident a jury inquest ruled as caused by neglect, also criticised the Trust. “It’s good that she’s no longer CEO and hopefully there will be more movement at board level. To reward her with a made-up post at the same salary is simply scandalous”.

I think most people would agree with that sentiment.

Rewarding failure, again and again

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imageWhatever you think about the New Year’s honours list and its continuing habit of rewarding people, especially civil servants, for just doing their jobs you have to wonder what on earth they were thinking making Lin Homer a Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath.

She has failed in every recent job she has had.

Ten years ago she was criticised for her role in a vote-rigging scandal as Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council. A judge said she had “thrown the rule book out of the window in an effort to increase postal applications. Six labour councillors were found guilty of electoral fraud at a council election that the election commissioner said would “disgrace a banana republic”.

In 2010 she was briefly permanent secretary at the Department for Transport where she was criticised by Sir Richard Branson for ignoring concerns over the franchising competition for the West Coast line. Her department was also criticised by MPs for its “irresponsible decisions”

She then became the first Chief Executive of the UK Borders Agency (how do they select people at this level you have to wonder?). She was accused of repeatedly misleading MPs over the size of the backlog in asylum and immigration which would take 24 years to clear.

In 2013 the home affairs select committee, in a scathing attack on her, said it was astounded that she was being promoted to be Chief Executive of HM Revenue & Customs and said “The status quo in which catastrophic leadership failure is no obstacle to promotion is totally unacceptable”. The chairman Keith Vaz said her performance “was more like the scene of a Whitehall farce than a government agency operating in the 21 century”

In her present role she has been accused by the public accounts committee of “an unambitious and woefully inadequatee” response to a National Audit Office report. The HMRC has also been heavily criticised by consumer groups for long waiting times on its telephone helpline service, which has doubled in the last twelve months to an average of 38 minutes with 20% of callers waiting an hour. In the first half of the year half of all calls just weren’t answered – 12 million of them.

In November 2015 the chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee said that customer service was a genuine threat to tax collection and the service was then even worse than had been previously described to her committee. That was also the month that HMRC announced the closure of 137 tax offices to be replaced with 13 regional centres.

This teflon coated serial failure as a leader obviously has a thick skin (or lack of self-awareness) and friends in high places.

She also has sycophantic staff who sent out a tweet on the HMRC account (@HMRCgovuk if you want to say your piece) defending the department’s record and mentioning the Chief Executive by name.

This is the kind of thing that annoys hard-working people. In any other business she would have been sacked long ago. I know bankers and premier league managers profit from their sackings but they aren’t public servants.

Rewarding failure, particularly on this scale over a period of time in different jobs beggars belief.

Photo from East Anglian Daily Times

Anatomy of a true leader?

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green_stick_figure_stand_out_crowd_1600_wht_1832In the Sunday Times business section this weekend Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, set out his list of the most important characteristics that a managing director should possess.

In brief these were:

The ability to motivate. The boss who can enthuse a workforce will generally do better than one who rules by fear.

Domain Knowledge. They must have sufficient technical understanding to gain the respect of their team.

The ability to listen. The best bosses don’t dominate debates but encourage feedback and leave their doors open. They listen to the shop floor by going there in person.

Decisiveness. Ultimately companies cannot function as pure democracies and someone has to make decisions rather than procrastinate. Employees need a sense of direction.

Financial literacy. Must be able to interpret financial statements and analyse accouts.

A sense of humour. Life is too short not to enjoy going to work .

Reliability in a crisis. Someone who doesn’t panic in the face of adversity and gets down to work in a diligent and professional way without histrionics.

Frugality. Having a thrifty approach to business. Extravagant CEOs set a bad example especially if they live beyond their means. A lean operation is the only way.

Delegation. The only way for start-ups to become large companies is for the proprietor/managers to learn to identify, promote, trust, and empower talent.

Adaptability. Modern companies need to be flexible and intelligent leaders thrive on change and are constantly learning.

Bravery. Outstanding leaders need the courage to make unpopular decisions. Those who fail to speak out on controversial issues and follow the consensus are followers not leaders.

That’s Luke Johnsons’ list and I can’t say I disagree with any of them. An interesting mixture of personality traits e.g. adaptability (being open to experience) and learned skills e.g. financial knowledge.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who meets all those criteria however! And when it comes to frugality it’s hard to say it abounds. When the average pay at the top of organisations is 130 times pay at the bottom and CEOs get rewarded for failure e.g. the Barclays CEO walking away with £28 million it’s hard to believe it exists at the very top of organisations.

If you want to comment or add to the list contact him at: luke@riskcapitalpartners.co.uk