Thursday, February 25, 2010

What O'Donnell's Words Really Meant

It is interesting to note the words Gus O'Donnell used yesterday in his appearance before the Select Committee.

“I didn’t talk to him about behaviour. I talked to him about how to get the best out of his staff.”

He chose his words very carefully. I think you'll find that civil service practice with KNOWN bullies is not to confront them but to use mediation and encouragement (e.g. how to get the best out of your staff) to get them to alter their behaviour. In other words O'Donnell has "outed" Brown as a bully by his wording.

I wonder if civil service Human Resources Departmental codes of practice would verify this. If I had the time today, I'd endeavour to find out. Perhaps my readers can enlighten us.

39 comments:

mambob said...

I think you're being a little too optimistic Iain. There's no doubt in my mind that Brown's a bully and nasty man to work for, but I don't think we're going to find a "smoking gun" until after he leaves Downing Street.

I Squiggle said...

What gets me about these carefully crafted denials is that you expect them from the politicos. But Gus O’Donnell is a civil Servant – the senior one at that. He’s our servant, not Gordon Brown’s. If he had occasion to speak about ‘how to treat staff’, I want to see the full minutes of that meeting. I assume they were taken, and if not, why not?

trevorsden said...

of course '..bob', but the confession by Sir Gus proves Rawnsleys words and adds credence to everything else he says.

The bad-mouthing of Rawnsley might encourage him to go a bit further ... you never know.

Mind you Darling has done it for him

John R said...

Typical scumbag weasle words, at his level it's impossible to differentiate the politicians from the civil servants. He's just covering his back 'cos he knows the attack briefings will start if he says what he knows.

Agapanthus said...

You are being disingenuous - and grasping for political straws.

Any good manager should have a discussion with colleagues and advisors about how to get the best out of their staff. It may also be how the Civil Service approach bullying - but that doesn't mean that anyone who has that discussion is by definition a bully.

It's standard practice to review how staff feel and whether one is getting the best out of them. You manage people Iain - you should know this!

Agapanthus said...

Sorry - I think I have posted the same comment (more or less) twice. I'm not sure if my first one got posted but apologies if there's repetition!

Richard Wells said...

The procedure as I understand it is to resolve matters informally or through mediation involving a senior manager if necessary.
I don't think many cases reach a more formal stage so O'Donnell speaking to Brown informally is not something that should be necessarily brushed aside, it probably is still as a result of a complaint.

Either way this kind of statement is not very helpful to Brown is it? A 59 year old man with years of top level experience still needing to get advice on how best to manage his staff when he is trying to present himself as the best person to manage the country?!

titus-aduxas said...

You might have done better to have kept this blog back until you'd spoken to HR.

They now know the reason for you asking and you're unlikely to get anything other than tractor stats.

Jimmy said...

So "I didn't talk to him about is behaviour" is really code for "I talked to him about his behaviour"?

Fascinating stuff.

tory boys never grow up said...

You are right Civil Servants are very careful with their words - they try and avoid making accusations which they cannot support. Mr Dale of course has no such problems! Perhaps he could explain why this doesn't fall within the usual definition of a smear??

Moriarty said...

Yes Jimmy that's right. In much the same way as "he unleashed the forces of Hell on me" is code for "there is absolutely no rift between us".

fascinating stuff indeed.

tory boys never grow up said...

Perhaps Mr Dale could better employ his time searching through the Civil Service Codes of practice looking for verification that words should be given a different meaning from what they actually mean. Can I recommend that he keeps searching until least June - should keep him out of mischief until then.

The King of Wrong said...

As mambob says, I don't think this is a smoking gun, but it definitely points the way we all suspect the truth lies.

It's odd that Sir Gus would say he hasn't talked to the PM "about behaviour" - the influence and assertiveness courses I've been on stress that our behaviour is key to how others react to us. Everyone loves the "if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always got" cliché!

trevorsden said...

you are spot on jimmy.

Westminster watch said...

The normal procedure for staff:

Unless the issue/event represents gross misconduct, the standard HR procedure is first to have an oral discussion with the individual, with a formal note made of the discussion and filed in the individual's personnel file.

If the situation persists, a second formal meeting is held (with someone from HR present) and the individual is warned that if the situation recurs, it will be grounds for dismissal. In the event that behaviour persists, dismissal takes place.

starfish said...

The Labour Trolls are very amusing

However, I work with civil servants and they all to a man (and woman!) interpreted his words in the same way

Clearly the PM's behaviour was causing an impact on the No10 team's performance, and Sir Gus resolved to address this by emphasising sound management and the likely improved output as a rsult

By doing it this way he did not need to criticise the PM directly but could point out to him that if things remained as they were, output quality, staff morale etc would continue to suffer

Bill Quango MP said...

I agree with Tory Boy. Words should not be given a false meaning.

"We promise no introduction of university fees" could easily mean "we promise to introduce university fees."

"We promise a referendum on the Lisbon treaty" could possibly be construed as "We will not hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty"

Its easy once you get the hang of it.

"Iraq has WMD"
"Iraq doesn't have WMD"

"If Saddam steps down, we won't invade"
"If saddam steps down we'll invade anyway"

"I never read polls"
"I am obsessed by polls"

"Hospitals are better than ever"
"You may die because of our target driven culture."

etc.
Tory Boy/Jimmy - If the leaders you defend with your last breath weren't such a cabal of proven liars your argument might carry more weight.

Salmondnet said...

The next questions should of course be "Why did you talk to him about how to get the best from his staff? Was it because staff had expressed concerns about his behaviour? I wonder if anyone will ask them. The wriggle room is steadily decreasing.

Ruth@VS said...

Speaking as a former HR professional, I think you're right Iain. Not that it will have done any good - taking the circuitous route with someone with, let's say, a "robust" approach to people management is completely pointless and achieves nothing. If they had any ability to reflect and think about managing people you wouldn't need to have the "how to get the best out of your staff" conversation in the first place!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

All the lies that come from Number 10 are crafted like a jewel, in which the flaws have been elegantly disguised.

Jimmy said...

"What Iain's Words Really Mean"

Polls Narrowing! Smear Smear Smear!

Pensfold said...

Ian

You are better off speaking to the Civil Service Unions about the Codes of practice.

The First Division Union says ministers are untouchable in practice. See

WHAT THE CIVIL SERVICE FIRST DIVISION UNION SAYS -
EFFECTIVELY, MINISTERS AND MPs ARE IMMUNE TO CENSURE ON BULLYING

Quote from the Guardian online

Jonathan Baume, the head of the FDA civil servants’ union, said that ministers’ behaviour too often “fell short” and that he was calling for all parties to sign up to a commitment to tackle bullying.

Refusing to be drawn into the political row over the claims that Brown acted aggressively and in a bullying manner around his staff in No 10, Baume said: “Too often politicians have little idea about what is acceptable in a modern workplace, and the behaviour of some ministers and special advisers does falls short of what is acceptable on occasions. Every government department has clear and unambiguous anti-bullying policies. In theory these should cover ministers. However, in practice no civil servant is likely to make a formal complaint against a minister. Instead, concerns about the behaviour of a minister will be dealt with through informal channels.

“If informal action does not succeed then the civil servants concerned generally either have to ‘grin and bear it’ whilst the minister or special adviser remains in office, or seek a transfer.”

He added: “We should consider putting in place a better mechanism. All political parties could agree that their ministers and special advisers will sign up to departmental bullying codes after the general election, which set out the necessary standards of behaviour, and ask permanent secretaries to enforce codes properly.”

Baume said the FDA was “struggling” to make progress in introducing an anti-bullying code in the House of Commons. “It is vital that MPs set an example in this area, and we still hope to have a code in place after the general election.”

Malcolm Redfellow said...

This is "rabbit-in-the-headlights" stuff.

The Tories spent ten years obsessing over Tony Blair, to the extent that they installed a make-shift facsimile as Leader. They imitated the policy-lite approach of New Labour.

Now the fetish is Gordon Brown.

Tory tabloid politics: a headline, an issue a week, then move swiftly on. Again like the bunny leaving its little deposits, and always ready, quivering for the
"reverse ferret"
.

Once the Party had the CRD and towering intellects -- Butler, Macleod, Powell, Maudling, Patten and later Joseph -- boilerplating policies. Now it's Andy Coulson, from the Basildon Echo.

Trivialities all the time: sad, really. Why not sit down and spend a bit of time sorting out the odd real policy? Rather than constant froth over cult-of-personality oddities.

Pensfold said...

Iain

You are better off talking to the Civil Service unions than the management.

The civil service First Division union says ministers are effectively untouchable. See

WHAT THE CIVIL SERVICE FIRST DIVISION UNION SAYS -
EFFECTIVELY, MINISTERS AND MPs ARE IMMUNE TO CENSURE ON BULLYING

Quote from the Guardian online

Jonathan Baume, the head of the FDA civil servants’ union, said that ministers’ behaviour too often “fell short” and that he was calling for all parties to sign up to a commitment to tackle bullying.

Refusing to be drawn into the political row over the claims that Brown acted aggressively and in a bullying manner around his staff in No 10, Baume said: “Too often politicians have little idea about what is acceptable in a modern workplace, and the behaviour of some ministers and special advisers does falls short of what is acceptable on occasions. Every government department has clear and unambiguous anti-bullying policies. In theory these should cover ministers. However, in practice no civil servant is likely to make a formal complaint against a minister. Instead, concerns about the behaviour of a minister will be dealt with through informal channels.

“If informal action does not succeed then the civil servants concerned generally either have to ‘grin and bear it’ whilst the minister or special adviser remains in office, or seek a transfer.”

He added: “We should consider putting in place a better mechanism. All political parties could agree that their ministers and special advisers will sign up to departmental bullying codes after the general election, which set out the necessary standards of behaviour, and ask permanent secretaries to enforce codes properly.”

Baume said the FDA was “struggling” to make progress in introducing an anti-bullying code in the House of Commons. “It is vital that MPs set an example in this area, and we still hope to have a code in place after the general election.”

IanH said...

You might have noticed that he referred to his notes before replying, clearly an Al briefing note to ensure the form of words was "correct"

Martin said...

Funny how "In other words O'Donnell has "outed" Brown as a bully by his wording." actually means O'Donnell has not outed Brown by his wording.

There must be a word for people who like to see other people "outed" as bullies. Bullyphiliac, possibly. My interest in this subject is lexicographical clearly, certainly not for titillation.

Unsworth said...

@ tory boys

What's your definition of a smear, then?

Moriarty said...

There is, naturally, no rift between Darling and Brown. What reason do we have to believe otherwise? No more reason than to believe there was ever a rift between Banquo and Macbeth. Or even between Macbeth and Banquo's ghost.

Several suggested explanations for Darling's explosive confirmation of the obvious have been offered. Some have argued that this was Darling's revenge. Others have looked to the more theoretically convoluted: this was a Number 10/11 joint spin operation whose aim was (depending on who you believe) to act as a cover for a bad news budget deficit story or to simply get a "handle" on the bullying narrative by "disclosing" what we all knew to be true in the first place.

I incline to the former view but for a quite specific reason. Darling made his comments in the full and certain knowledge that they would be damaging. This looks strange only on the assumption that he is interested in a Brown victory in a few weeks. Why should he be? More generally: why would any of those who have worked with this creature over the years want that agony to be prolonged? This government is like a terminal patient who has moved beyond acceptance and now wills her own demise.

If the polls continue to tighten expect more of Brown's colleagues to take the path of voluntary euthanasia. Their nightmare is ours: a Brown victory and 5 more years under the yoke of this madman.

cassandra said...

Yes yes, we know Brown is a bully and a coward and he will be dealt with accordingly by the electorate.
But there really are more pressing matters for the Tory party to deal with like a total lack of an energy policy.
Without power stations nothing works, without a strategy to provide cost effective electricity to the nation then we are all due for a prolonged visit to third world land.
Its all very well listening to pie in the sky la la dreaming by greenie fools and hoping the French will provide for us when the green dream turns into a nightmare but unless action is taken now to build a dozen large nuclear and coal power stations and get them started before the year is out then we are finished as a first world nation.
People, real people are dying because they cannot afford the bloated energy bills, bloated with useless green taxes that have done nothing but create misery and unemployment.
Its no use looking to crazy eyed eco ideologues for ideas and its no use following the orders of the supreme soviet in Brussels, they are so ideologically blinkered with a festering hatred of the UK that they are laughing their heads off at our gullible stupidity.
Its not Camerons job to save the planet even if the AGW fruad did that which it doesnt, its Camerons job to look out for the interests of those who elected him.

John Copplestone said...

I was told several years ago by a senior civil servant that Blair hated to be told he was wrong so you had to say something like:

"actually, Prime Minister, that turns out no to be the case"

Same principles apply here. Politicians HATE being disagreed with, Brown evidently more than most. They also seem to think that the rules the rest of the world has to follow (eg on expenses, telling lies, answering questions, etc.) don't apply to them.

Sir Gus knows this as well as or better than anyone. There's no way he would every criticise Brown directly. What he said was a carefully crafted (and drafted!) was of avoiding answering the question.

Adolf Brown said...

Gordon Brown is just a Monster and how anyone can believe that Brown is not a Bully is beyond me. I mean Gordon Brown bullied Tony Blair to resign, All Brown knows is negativity, brooding, inflicting hurt and pain. Gordon Brown is unsutible to be Prime Minister of the UK as Brown does not understand national interest - He just thinks of self interest and what he can get out of it in terms of power.

I have know doubt that in decades to come, speculation about Gordon Browns motives will be looked at rather like Adolf Hitlers in WWII.

What is particular dangerous about people like Gordon Brown is the Butterfly effect of his policies on other things. This is an unknown quantity at this time other than his ruinious Economic policy that has crystalised now. Though the real pain has been deffered to the future.

Victor, NW Kent said...

When one thinks of doubting that Labour Ministers are guilty of bullying and harassing their staff think of Sriti Vadera and John Prescott.

miko said...

I have a relative who is close to the Defra people in Whitehall.

This relative states that Whitehall hates Gordon Brown more than any other person in living memory.

He is detested for the way he treats people,hence his massive attempts to convince people of the opposite.

Fact.

Urban Cowboy said...

@tbngu - so you believe words should be taken at face value? Odd then that just a couple of days ago you were so insistent on trying to insinuate Conservative plans to close a hospital where the statements said the exact opposite.

But then, being a NuLiebore blogdrone does require you to be somewhat flexible in your postings, does it not?

Elby the Beserk said...

The graph Guido produced, of days off in the Treasury in 2007 tells us all we need to know. They rose rapidly towards the end of Brown's tenure, and fell even more rapidly bar a wee blip after he went

http://orderorder.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/2e2164e0bccfca3042ce454ebd57b294_hmt_days_lost.PNG?w=400&h=296

A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words

Tom said...

I worked for many years in the Civil Service, part of the time in charge of personnel, and so can I hope speak from a little experience.

Richard Wells'post above captures the essential gist of how any breakdown between manager and staff would be handled. The emphasis, in summary, would be on trying to mediate a solution acceptable to all. Only if matters had irremediably broken down, or if the original incident was sufficiently serious, would there be formal minutes of meetings and warnings etc (though no doubt Sir Gus would make a note for the file even if the discussion was informal); there is a lot of emphasis on process not least because if matters ever come before an industrial tribunal, departure from due process fatally weakens the case of an employer - and, as you can imagine the whole shebang can take some time to resolve even if it doesn't get as far as a tribunal. I imagine that much the same approach would apply in any well managed private sector organisation too.

One of the most difficult things is to establish the facts when
relations have broken down and emotions are running high. It is not surprising to me that a manager as experienced as Sir Gus O'Donnell would proceed with care and circumspection - particularly if the situation involved a Minister. And he would be very careful to avoid emotive language for example describing a situation as bullying - again, as you can imagine most people are extremely sensitive if accused of this, and it would not help a resolution, which would be his main objective.

My conclusion is that Andrew Rawnsley is probably applying quite a lot of poetic licence in asserting that the subject of any meeting between Sir Gus and the PM was the latter's bullying peer se of No. 10 staff: the emphasis would have been, I am sure, on resolving any problems and preventing their recurrence. I dont think it fair to accuse Sir Gus of a "cover up", or whatever; he would I am sure use exactly the same of neutral, unemotional language to describe any manager-staff problem.

But for Sir Gus to have spoken to the PM at all about how to get the best from his No. 10 staff indicates to me that there was more likely than not some sort of problem, and that it involved the PM. It is far from routine for senior civil servants to talk to Ministers about managing staff etc. It would have been interesting to know how often this happens, both for No. 10 and in other Departments. The civil
service union, FDA, seems to think it is quite a big problem, but their statement, while interesting, is short on real substance.

Hope this helps.

Bird said...

Did you notice Gus was no Sir Humphrey. He sounded like Alastair Campbell, complete with glottal stops.
He's gone native.

tory boys never grow up said...

Urban Cowboy

I'll be more than happy to take Tory words at face value - when their Health spokesman explains what he meant orignally or even says that he has changed his mind, and the scope of the proposed review of acute services is properly explained - see my earlier and still unanswered question. Perhaps you need to understand that when Claire Wood's campaign started the only pronouncements had been made by the Health Spokesman and thes were what were quoted in her leaflet.

Unsworth

A smear is an accusation that you cannot support or even have any chance of doing so in order to denigrate someone's personality - i.e Gus O'Donnell meant the opposite of what he actually said.

The King of Wrong said...

@John Copplestone said
"actually, Prime Minister, that turns out no to be the case"

Sounds remarkably similar to "up to a point, Lord Copper", doesn't it? :)