Opinion: Staff engagement returns to BBC agenda

What's this? Good news coming out of the BBC? The poor old Beeb has been mired in controversy for so long now that the almost universal approval that greeted the appointment of Michael Grade as chairman of the board of governors this week seems almost surreal. Even the Tories found nothing to complain about in what appears to have been an astutely apolitical appointment. Perhaps most importantly, Grade's appointment was greeted with relief and optimism among BBC staff, from high-ranking journalists such as John Humphrys and John Simpson to the rank and file.

The press office staff certainly seemed upbeat when I spoke to them on Monday, and no doubt Stephen Dando, the Beeb's director of HR and internal comms, and his internal comms head Russell Grossman, are among those breathing a sigh of relief. Not only is Grade seen as a TV man who cares about quality journalism, but he is also in his own words 'a Dykist' rather than a 'Birtist'.

The staff outcry that greeted Greg Dyke's departure earlier this year came as no surprise to those familiar with the inner workings of the BBC.

He was genuinely admired by staff, many of whom sensed in his exit the end of an era. The media may have had a field day with his 'Cut the Crap' campaign designed to engage staff and sweep the last vestiges of Birtist bureaucracy from the corporation, but Dyke's flourish of the yellow cards worked a treat.

Despite the sheer enormity of attempting to engage a workforce of 24,000 staff around the world, Dyke shunned the 'top-down' approach to internal comms, opting instead for corporation-wide internet 'conversations' and face-to-face events, which by mid-2003 involved over 10,000 staff. Sending out a newsletter would definitely have been an easier option, but Dyke knew a bit about employee engagement. By contrast, since Dyke's departure, staff journalists in particular have felt increasingly alienated by the acting chairman and director-general, who appear wedded to an unnecessary level of contrition.

As chairman, Grade is unlikely to be as involved in internal comms planning, but the tone of Friday's press conference - its inclusiveness of staff concerns and assertion that 'there has been more than enough apologising' at the BBC - indicates that he shares Dyke's instinctive feel for engaging staff. Now he just has to ensure that the incoming D-G is, if not the man himself, also a 'Dykist'.

This is my last column for a while, as I am off to do my bit to defuse the looming pensions crisis. While I am on maternity leave, London Institute professor of PR Julia Hobsbawm will be sharing her thoughts with you on a weekly basis.

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