What Lessons Can We Learn From the Grenfell Tower Tragedy?

3 Key learnings from the Independent Recovery Task Force Report

The Grenfell Tower fire on the night of 14 June 2017 was a tragedy that has affected thousands of lives.

To ensure that lessons are identified, shared and acted upon by the appropriate agency or organisation, the Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce issued its Initial Report into the Recovery activities on 31 October 2017.

The Grenfell Tower fire may be seen as a Council and Public Sector issue however, some of the lessons are so significant that they are worthy of wider consideration for all businesses, agencies and organisations – how would your organisation or company cope in a major crisis? In this short article, we have selected three topics that we believe are worthy of consideration for everyone placed in a leadership position.

 
 

1. Leadership in a Crisis.

The report acknowledges that there has been much improvement since the change of the senior leadership team in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), however the first paragraph of the Executive Summary is hard hitting, stating:

“RBKC failed its community on the night of 14 June and in the weeks following. Prior to that we have heard that RBKC was: distant from its residents; highly traditional in its operational behaviours; limited in its understanding of collaborative working and insular, despite cross borough agreements; and with a deficit in its understanding of modern public service delivery.”

Paragraph 58 notes:

Leadership from the council’s headquarters is most frequently described by residents as either in “disarray” or “absent”.

Senior staff are most often selected for their ability to manage the day to day tasks of the organisation, they are neither trained or experienced in responding to a major crisis. We all hope and pray that we will never be involved in anything as catastrophic as Grenfell Tower however, when the welfare of your staff and the survival of your business requires real leadership, it is too late to identify that the leadership team can’t function in a crisis.



2. Prioritisation.

One of the major tasks of a leader is to identify and articulate the priorities and ensure appropriate action is taken to address them, and it is the last of these three activities that is the most critical – anyone can talk a good game, however we are all judged on results. Even if the leadership had been exemplary from the outset, the nature and scale of the tragedy would have presented unprecedented challenges. With such a major loss of trust in the system and the leadership, the importance of identifying the immediate priorities and delivering them is even more critical – deliver the “quick wins” to build trust and gain momentum.

At paragraph 35 the report notes:

“For the recovery effort to begin we feel it is essential that RBKC identify actions for immediate focus that will begin to make a difference on the ground in a matter of days and weeks”.

Faced with a business crisis, does your organisation have the processes in place to not only identify and articulate the priorities but to really make a difference? Would you suffer from “paralysis by analysis” or could you cut through the bureaucracy to deliver what is required?



3. Stove Pipes.

In all our working lives, we risk working in silos or “stove pipes” with a clear understanding of our line management but little real understanding of other departments and their ways of working. Despite the fantastic and dedicated work of many agencies and organisations in the aftermath of the fire, the Initial Report notes at paragraph 44:

“residents speak powerfully about the disjointed nature of the response overall. It seems that this lack of coherent collaborative working across agencies is a long standing weak point, which the council allowed to fester unchallenged.”

Collaborative working requires practice and can only come about if identified as a requirement for training and this training is delivered regularly on an ongoing basis.

When your team is required to work with other departments or organisations under extreme pressure, could it deliver better results with an enhanced ability to work collaboratively?

Finding the time and resource to deliver this training is a leadership challenge - does your business grasp this leadership challenge or does it shelter behind the idea that “it won’t happen to us”?


The full report is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/initial-report-from-the-independent-recovery-taskforce-31-october-2017

Image copyright: Natalie Oxford - https://twitter.com/Natalie_Oxford/status/874835244989513729/photo/1