ANALYSIS: Internal comms in bid to 'cut the crap' at BBC

BBC director-general Greg Dyke marked his two years in office with a provocative campaign titled Cut the Crap, Make it Happen. Eye-catching yes, but the purpose was more profound, the BBC's head of internal comms tells Alastair Ray.

It was a bold statement that rightly caught the headlines early in March. The BBC's director-general waved a football referee's yellow card and told staff to 'cut the crap and make it happen'.

Greg Dyke marked his second anniversary in the job by giving staff yellow cards, to wave at anyone being negative and stymieing creative ideas.

The launch of the second phase of the change management and internal comms plan at the BBC - the first created its new 'petal' structure - attracted plenty of comment, not all positive. One paper described the suggestion as a 'foul-mouthed exhortation,' before quoting insiders sceptical about whether waving cards of any colour would actually help.

But the yellow cards are part of a wider internal comms plan that aims to show staff the change of style at the BBC.

Dyke hopes to change perceptions of the Corporation from 'the best-managed organisation in the public sector' - the consultant-driven goal of predecessor John Birt - into the 'most innovative and risk-taking place there is'.

Nearly three months later, the BBC says 2,000 have been distributed across 23,000 full-time and 15,000 contracted, self-employed and freelance staff.

The thinking behind the BBC's culture change and internal comms explosion were outlined at the IPR's Inside Story conference last week.

BBC head of internal comms Russell Grossman says that although the yellow cards garnered a lot of publicity, they were only a small part of a wider agenda.

And whatever might have been reported outside the Corporation, internally reception was positive.

'It has captured hearts and minds. It was a good device that made people sit up,' he claims.

The yellow cards, he adds 'engendered in people a feeling they could make a difference'.

Early victories in the campaign so far focus on raising awareness of the reduction in bureaucracy at the BBC.

People who want to redecorate their work-space now know they can simply get a pot of paint and start painting, while staff getting the bus from White City to Broadcasting House know they no longer have to sign in.

These may not sound like huge changes for a large organisation, but Grossman says 'people are saying they understand that some things take a little bit longer to achieve'.

The internal comms plan - still a work in progress, it should be noted - focuses on seven areas, with the first two taking the greatest priority: maximising creativity and remaining in contact with the UK's changing audiences.

The five other key aims have been named as: valuing people more; leading more and managing less; how can we do it right tomorrow; make greater spaces; and just do it, the section that spawned the yellow cards.

The BBC appointed programme-maker Susan Spindler to head the project.

Internal comms and HR have been briefed to work alongside each other to promote the changes.

'Internal comms and HR are there to support that centre with strategic advice, what will work and how they do it on the ground. We are working closely at board level, providing advice on change and being prepared to try some new things,' he says.

Internal communication involvement has effectively been split into two roles. Firstly, there are IC partners who are part of each divisional team, working alongside the human resources staff providing advice.

The second focus is on IC consultants who are one step removed from the process and ensure that BBC-wide aims don't get missed as divisions work on their local priorities. 'We are very much at the heart of change,' Grossman says.

This week the Corporation rolled out its first Just Imagine staff consultation sessions. An internal website has also been set up with information about the campaign - attracting 25,000 hits in the first couple of weeks - and formal measurement of progress will kick in later in the year.

'Anecdotally,you can go round the place, you do feel a different buzz,' says Grossman.

IPR president Jon Aarons says the BBC has some particular issues to deal with in attempting to change what can be an 'introspective' culture.

'It's an interesting effort by Dyke to signal there's a change of direction taking place. He understands the need to keep communications simple and direct,' he says.

Nevertheless, he argues, it's a huge task. The BBC is he says 'a very, very big organisation to try and turn around and point in a different direction. It's like herding cats.'

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