RTÉ scandal a lesson in how to create a blame culture

To do anything great, push boundaries, and be the best you can be, you must have a solid platform to launch from. You must feel safe to focus on the task at hand, with little worry about the consequences of failure (a performance culture). As soon as you start to look over your shoulder and worry about the consequences of failure, you start to play it safe (a blame culture). In health, it is called defensive medicine. The priority is to make sure you cover your backside and don’t get in trouble, not to solve the problem or do what is right.

A performance culture is driven by inspiration, where team members have the freedom to express themselves and their passions without repercussion. A blame culture is driven by fear: what will happen to me if I express myself and my passions? I have been a part of both cultures and in one instance, even witnessed the painful demise of a performance culture toward a blame culture; I left shortly afterward.

RTÉ has a problem to solve: financial irregularities. Instead of focusing on solving that problem to the benefit of the organization, the approach has been to create a political circus in which a pack of dogs is released upon staff members. This suits the politicians, of course, because they can be seen as taking decisive action—for a change—albeit on an issue that has little real consequence to the lives of ordinary people. If the same pack of dogs had their own lives turned upside down and their life decisions inspected with a fine-tooth comb (in retrospect, I might add), the outcomes wouldn’t be all that great. You would mainly see that they too are humans operating in their own context, half-shadow and half-light, like all of us.

To be clear, transparency and holding people accountable for decisions made using public finances is important. Public humiliation for days on end from people riding the proverbial high horse is not. The real losers will be us, the general public, and for quite some time.

Who would make a provocative, insightful, thought-provoking, thoroughly researched TV program for RTE in the next 20 years? Only a madman or woman. Apart from the tyranny of political correctness (which means I must now write madman ‘or woman’ to express a sentiment about mankind), many ordinary staff will be made to fill in 10 forms to pay for a cup of coffee, never mind a flight to a remote filming location.

The consequence of solving this problem with a sledgehammer, rather than an archaeological-style excavation, will be a blame culture that lasts a long time before it returns to anything close to a performance culture. And the consequence of that will be lower quality TV and radio.