My friend and blog advisor Matt Cain has come up with a visual representation of apologies scorecard. We can use this again for the current bankers being grilled by the Select Committee.
The apology continuum
A few comments on yesterday’s performance. I give Sir Fred Goodwin the highest marks: 4 out of 6 as he recognised the distress that has been ‘caused’ and he used the phrase ‘I fully accept my responsibility in the matter’ although he then qualifies it with ‘I imagine there are many others who think there but for the grace of God’. To which latter reply one is tempted to say that given Sir Fred is still a very rich man many people may think God has been unduly beneficent to the bankers. Sir Fred gets 1.5 out of 3 for apologising for the act, as he implies we would all have done the same as him in his shoes, but 2.5 out of 3 for recognising the consequences. Goodwin also engages most fully with the question of personal culpability although he is tendentious in implying those seeking to establish personal culpability want to ‘blame it all on me’.
Lord Stevenson gets a much more modest 2.5 out of 6. ‘We are profoundly, and I would say unreservedly, sorry at the turn of events’ seeks largely to evade any guilt of commission while ‘I am sorry about the effect that it has had on the communities we serve’ gets 1.5 for a rather mealy-mouthed apology for consequences.
Andy Hornby gets a mere 1 and that is for bringing himself to utter the ‘s’ word. He uses the ‘turn of events’ phrase (clearly one taught to the former HBOS team by their media advisors). Hornby explicitly rejects any personal culpability and even asks us to sympathise with him - ‘it has been an extremely stressful time’.
Sir Tom McKillop gets 2 out of 6. He apologises, says it was a bad mistake then says anyone would have done what he did.
As I said yesterday grovelling apologies may have a cathartic effect but they don’t necessarily offer insight. The collective failure of the bankers yesterday is to provide a vivid and credible account of how personal vanity and greed interacted with systemtic problems. It is this we need to understand more than anything else; how do systems interact with individual psychological frailties to generate bad outcomes? I guess we will just have to wait for the autobiographies.