Can a governance review make a drama out of a crisis?

We may never learn what has really gone on at LAMDA, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, other than a review of its governance. But there has certainly been some drama along the way, with the Principal resigning recently in the wake of multiple allegations about her management style, the way in which LAMDA’s anti-racism strategy was implemented and failures in communication with staff.

All this was played out against the backdrop of the pandemic, pressure on LAMDA’s operating costs and staff redundancies. The Principal must have had her hands full.

This news that she was stepping down was met with an impassioned response from the actor community and alumni of the Academy in support of the Principal. Many of them believed that she had not been well supported by the trustees in managing the agenda of changes in the organisation.

So far, so typical when a senior leader fails to get everyone onside in a major change programme. What marked this situation out, however, was the LAMDA board’s publication of an extensive statement about the terms of reference for its internal investigation into the allegations against the Principal as part of a governance review.

We always advocate for organisations to ensure that staff complaints are rigorously and fairly investigated, but it is unusual for a board to publish so much detail about its internal processes. What appears to be a laudable aim to be open and transparent can sometimes be construed as an attempt to shield the organisation from accusations of poor process. In this case, it looks as if the board has been very keen to show that it reviewed its governance concerns properly, and that it took the reported issues seriously.

In the end, the board was clear that the Principal had decided, in May 2021, to leave LAMDA, and that she told the board about her intention well before multiple complaints about her behaviour surfaced in mid-July. The board reported that it commissioned an internal investigation on 26 July and that it subsequently considered further complaints and allegations received from current and ex-staff in August.

Although the board stated that this was not a disciplinary investigation nor was it conducted under LAMDA’s grievance policy, nevertheless the investigation gathered evidence from a wide range of people. Finally, the board concluded that “In our view, Sarah Frankcom’s resignation has rendered unnecessary any consideration of whether a disciplinary process is appropriate.”

The board said that “lessons would be learned and action taken to ensure ongoing change is implemented in a fair and inclusive way”.

It’s for LAMDA to decide now what those lessons are, and what action will be taken to address them. Its swift response to the allegations and complaints and its prompt investigation of staff concerns was the right thing to do. Time will tell if the staff who complained about the principal’s behaviour are satisfied with this outcome. The challenges to the organisation around costs, communication, and involvement in the management of change will remain. There may be more drama to come yet.

At Verita, we have extensive experience of handling complaints, carrying out governance reviews and developing solutions to governance problems. To see how Verita might be able to assist your organisation, please book a free consultation or contact Ed Marsden on 020 7494 5670 or [email protected].


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