Thomas Cook Tragedy

Two small children died in 2006, from carbon monoxide poisoning, in a Thomas Cook villa in Corfu.  A human tragedy.  And a sign of serious management malaise.

Justin King, former Chief Executive of J Sainsbury Plc has issued an independent report into the company’s ‘customer health, safety, welfare, relations and crisis management’.  So not the events themselves, but the policies and actions of the company, and their responses after the event.

Old Thomas Cook

Old Thomas Cook

King singles out a number of issues, including how the “legal backdrop to the case weighed heavily on the decision making of the company” and resulted in poor, slow, and at times non-existent communication with the family.  But also a decision at one point to refuse to pay the family’s legal fees in connection with the 2015 inquest.

He also singles out Thomas Cook’s ‘risk dashboard’ process in which he observes an “over-emphasis on financial and reputational risk and less emphasis on customer consequences and outcomes…”

Without seeing the actual ‘risk dashboard’ this is hard to judge.  BUT there’s an important point here. Customer experience is inextricably connected to a company’s reputation and its financial health.

They are not separate issues to be itemised separately on a list.

The start point for any assessment of the health of an organisation must be an appreciation of this issue.  If the leadership and senior management do not realise that ‘customer safety’ is everybody’s responsibility, ‘good financial management’ is everybody’s responsibility and ‘reputational stewardship’ is too, things are going to go badly awry.  And that they absolutely impact one another.

These things are everybody’s business.  From the chief to the bottle washer.  And the supply chain too.

Modern management practice is to try to structure and reorganise in ways that cut across organisational silos.  Allowing any employee to ‘pass the buck’ on a safety issue, customer service issue, or reputational issue cannot be good business sense.  Nor is it right to do so.

Because all of this, in essence, is about doing the right thing.  Not by the lawyers.  Not by the shareholders. Not by the PR people.  But by the customers, past, present and future.

Thomas Cook have done the right thing by commissioning this report.

They will now be judged by their response to it.  Not a PR response (embarrassingly parts of the report were leaked to Sky News suggesting a spin operation).

But a root and branch business response that ensures this sort of thing is never ever allowed to happen again.

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