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What went wrong at the Post Office?

Like many people, I have watched the story of the Post Office scandal unfold over the last couple of weeks with growing horror and dismay.

But as a business owner, I am asking myself, what went wrong at the Post Office? And what could businesses be doing to avoid making the same mistakes?

What went wrong at the Post Office

Over the last few weeks, the brilliant ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office has brought the spotlight back to this scandal. Between 1999 and 2015, the Post Office prosecuted over 700 subpostmasters, based on the evidence of a faulty software system. This is now widely accepted to be the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

The current Public Inquiry into what went wrong at the Post Office will no doubt bring to light many lessons. And organisations will take time to digest and learn from its findings. However, what is apparent already, is that there was a catastrophic disconnection between those in the boardroom and the C-Suite, and those on the frontline delivering services to customers.

Individual subpostmasters felt sure something was badly wrong with the Horizon computer system. But they were ignored and blamed for the discrepancies. In a nightmarish form of corporate gaslighting, they were told that they were alone in the problems they were experiencing. They were told it was their fault, and therefore their responsibility.

Lost Reputations

Those responsible for commissioning and managing the system, failed to listen to the complaints and requests for help from the subpostmasters on the ground.

As a result, subpostmasters lost their businesses, their savings and their reputations. Communities lost their post offices. People felt the trust they had placed in their local post office had been betrayed.

Now the Post Office, as a business, will need to work hard to regain the confidence of the wider community and rebuild its own reputation.

If there had been honest, open and equitable communication across the business, could the Post Office have avoided this scandal?

The Toyota Way

When you are on the ground in a business, you have a real understanding of what is working and what isn’t. But when the business grows, as business owners we often move away from the frontline, and lose this valuable perspective. Involving and really listening to everyone in the business, and valuing their ideas and suggestions, brings back this viewpoint.

And even huge multinational businesses can do this effectively.

Global automotive manufacturer Toyota have a reputation for high standards of quality and customer service. Central to this is the philosophy of kaizen. This approach empowers everyone in their workforce, at every level, to suggest improvements and innovations. Regular clinics take place with representation from all areas of the organisation. Every voice is heard and every idea considered equally. And this contributes to Toyota’s efficient and wonderful client focused machine.

A powerful conversation

I have seen the power of this type of approach in my own business. In the early days, my two admin staff and I would meet at the end of the week. We would chat over a coffee about things that had happened during the week, both at work and at home. Loads of great new ideas came from these conversations. Eleven years on, some of our most robust processes originated with the ideas from these two women.

People centred

So, I strongly believe that if we keep people at the heart of what we do, we will stay on the right track. That includes our customers, our suppliers, and of course our workforce at all levels. By listening, valuing contributions and being open to new ideas, we can build businesses which are efficient, customer focussed and responsible.

Becoming a Manager with Just Helpers: Yana’s Story

At Just Helpers, it is part of our ethical ethos to support and mentor our Helpers to achieve their potential and fulfil their personal goals.  For Yana, this meant becoming a manager. This is Yana’s story.


Working for Just Helpers

Like many of our team, Yana found out about Just Helpers through word of mouth. “A friend of mine was working as a Helper,” she explains. “She told me amazing things about Antoinette and the experience she had with Just Helpers, so I decided to give it a go!”

Balancing work with becoming a first time mum has been Yana’s biggest challenge, but she received lots of support. “Antoinette was very patient, giving me extra time,” says Yana.  This investment has proved to be worthwhile because Yana is even more committed to Just Helpers as as a result. “Actually this was the reason I decided to stay and gain extra knowledge, and to prove myself and my commitment to the agency,” she says.


Moving from Helper to Manager

Becoming a manager has always been one of Yana’s goals. “This was something that I really wanted to do and I had many conversations about it with Antoinette,” she says. “I really wanted to prove to Antoinette that I can do the job.”

Yana recognises that the support which she had as a Helper has contributed to her development as a manager. “When I first came to the agency, I was making a lot of mistakes,” she explains. “Antoinette was going through everything with me, and setting challenges for me. So when I became a manager I knew what to expect from the clients and what to expect from the Helpers.” 

Yana’s experience as a Helper meant that becoming a manager within the business was a natural next step – “it gave me what I needed to move forward and to grow.”


Goals for 2020

Yana’s commitment to Just Helpers shines through in her vision for the rest of this year, following the Covid-19 lockdown. “I want to help Just Helpers to come back stronger than ever,” she says.

With such a great team, and our amazing clients, we can’t wait to see what the future holds. To find out more about what makes Just Helpers special, visit our website.

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