News Thomas Molloy

Friday 29 August 2014

Outsider who knows policing may be best bet for Garda job

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

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A Garda has been accused of using racist language. Picture posed.

ANYBODY with a passing interest in sport or business knows that failing teams or companies are prone to often replacing their bosses with complete outsiders.

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Now, according to the opinion poll in today's Irish Independent, it seems the public wants the Government to do the same when it comes to the Garda Siochana.

There is no legal reason why the garda commissioner cannot be a foreigner or a civilian from another walk of life. But how do outsiders perform in practice?

An interesting survey of 2,500 companies published in the 'Wall Street Journal' last week suggested that chief executives hired from outside a company are twice as likely to be forced out as those promoted from within.

In further bad news for outsiders, they tend to stay at the top for nearly a year less than insider CEOs. Women, incidentally, are more likely to be fired than men.

Insiders also tend to be better for shareholders. The study looked at the stock market performance of companies led by insiders and outsiders and concluded that shares rose nine times higher in companies led by insiders.

The explanation is that outsiders are less familiar with a company's inner workings; something that would be of particular concern for anybody entering an organisation as complex as the Garda.

So the evidence suggests that an insider is usually the better choice, but this is clearly not always the case.

After all, most organisations only turn to outsiders when things are an utter mess. The term "poisoned chalice" is an old one dating back to Benedict of Nursia, who lived 1,500 years ago.

The Garda Siochana is clearly one of these cases. After stumbling from crisis to crisis for years, it seems more famous these days for breaking the law rather than upholding it.

Both the staff and the public are disillusioned and the brand is tarnished almost beyond repair.

In cases like this, a new chief executive is often the only solution and history shows it can work very well.

Here in Ireland, the appointment of German airline executive Christoph Mueller to lead Aer Lingus is perhaps the best-known example of a local company turning to an outsider for help to boost morale and burnish an image. Outside Ireland, the global business world is full of similar examples.

In Britain, perhaps the best-known recent example is Stuart Rose, who turned around Marks & Spencer with new clothes, fancy food and a distinctive advertising campaign.

Sir Stuart, who recently retired from the high street retailer, has now taken on an even bigger task, and one similar to the job facing the new Garda commissioner, by agreeing to help rebuild the National Health Service.

He recently compared the health service to M&S, saying that both were "national, iconic brands" with which their users had "strong emotional links".

While Mr Rose is only at the beginning of his new part-time job, he already sees interesting parallels between the challenges faced by the health and the retail industry, concluding that "the primary driver for all the change we are experiencing is technology".

That insight also applies to the gardai which have been bedevilled by problems linked to technology from rogue phone recordings to the implementation of the Pulse system.

The threats and challenges of technology are one good reason why the gardai would be better seeking an outsider who comes from a 21st Century background rather than Phoenix Park or Harcourt Street. Another good reason would appear to be the problems insiders routinely encounter when rooting out corruption.

However, while it seems intuitive that outsiders have a better chance of stamping out dishonesty, the experience of the last few years in the financial services sector suggest otherwise. Almost every overseas financial institution of any size in the English-speaking world has changed captain since the crisis without any noticeable effect on corruption levels.

The scandals just keep coming, suggesting that it would be naive to expect garda corruption to end anytime soon simply because there was a new man or woman at the top.

It is difficult to generalise about what Enda Kenny and Frances Fitzgerald might learn from the business world as they consider who should replace former Commissioner Martin Callinan but it seems likely that the best appointment would be somebody who is already a senior police officer overseas. Complete outsiders struggle too much.

Another lesson is that the Taoiseach and Justice Minister will then have to work hard to support their protege as he or she struggles with countervailing institutional forces.

Outside appointments would seem to be the best for failed organisations but they are not a panacea. Any new commissioner will need support as well as proper oversight.

Thomas Molloy

Irish Independent

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