On his second day as the BBC’s new director general, George Entwistle has set out a management strategy that promises to deliver a more self-critical, flexible and creative organisation with the ability to break bad habits.
In a speech today to BBC staffers, Entwistle first paid tribute to his predecessor Mark Thompson, who is heading for pastures new in the United States as president and CEO of the New York Times. “My good fortune is to inherit from Mark an organisation in robust health,” he said. “One that, in this amazing year, has reminded us on many occasions what it’s capable of achieving. Mark was a remarkable director general. He walked into a BBC on its knees, but he picked us up and has given us eight years of farsighted and totally committed leadership.”
As part of his efforts to echo that brand of leadership, Entwistle argued that the BBC’s main creative chiefs could no longer act as representatives of their divisions at the expense of the entire organisation. “This can be sorted out,” he said. “We must be run by a tight, collegiate team of creative leaders whose responsibility is to the BBC as a whole.”
Entwistle picked up on “disturbing” results of a recent staff survey, which indicated that only 42% of personnel believed that senior management applied the corporation’s values in their everyday work habits. “BBC leaders absolutely must set the right example to the whole organisation,” he said. “I believe the top-level changes to managerial structure I’m announcing today will help fix things. This morning, I held the first meeting of the BBC’s new Management Board. This smaller team – replacing the BBC Direction Group and reduced in number from around 25 to just 12 people – will be responsible for the effective running of the whole organisation. I’ve asked everyone on the board to ensure they work in the interests of the broader BBC in all the decisions they take.”
A healthy atmosphere of “robust” self-criticism, he argued, would be instrumental to ensuring that the BBC sticks to its Delivering Quality First (DQF) measures for maintaining the high standard of its output while making cost savings. “I’ll be asking our leaders – including all editors and executive producers across the BBC – to help me achieve this,” he said, and pledged to work with people “programme by programme if that’s what it takes”, to give them “the skills, support and encouragement they need”.
On the thorny subject of that savings programme, Entwistle revealed that he had already asked the corporation’s chief financial officer Zarin Patel to develop the scheme “so it no longer feels like something the centre of the BBC does to content makers”. Plus, Entwistle announced that he is grouping all of the corporation’s operational and finance functions into one business division under Patel with immediate effect. “I believe this will play a vital part in simplifying the way we work, so that a sharp focus on our creative purpose can be maintained by everyone at all times,” he said.
That change, Entwistle acknowledged, meant that chief operations officer Caroline Thomson – his main rival for the director general post – would have to leave the organisation. “I want to mark this moment by paying tribute to Caroline’s enormous contribution to the BBC over many years,” he said. “She was pivotal in winning the last charter for us, when her impeccable strategic leadership helped deliver a clearly defined 10-year mission for the BBC, securing our purposes and funding through to 2016.”
In sum, Entwistle stressed, “The BBC is nothing if not its staff. To prosper in future we need to bring urgent and sustained attention to how we recruit, retain, reward, develop and inspire the people who work here. No one is more important to me – except our audiences – and I aim to run a BBC which makes it feel that way.”
Forthcoming big events that George Entwistle wants to give the Olympic treatment to:
The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who
A TV and radio focus on music, including Glastonbury
BBC Two’s Year of Invention
Wimbledon with “our new grandslammer” Andy Murray
The Natural History Unit’s Summer of Wildlife
Cross-media output for the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I
Brazil’s football World Cup
Sochi’s Winter Olympics
Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games
Image source: BBC