At the back end of 2012 a BBC inquiry into the Lord McAlpine affair found that the whole ghastly affair came down to a failure of senior management.
Although some people were singled out for their failure, no one got sacked and I can only guess that everything is in suspended animation until the new Director General starts later on this year.
Everyone will be looking to him to sort out the managerial mess that brought the BBC to one of its lowest points ever in its history. No doubt when the new Director General takes up his position in June opinion formers and newspaper pundits will all be offering him advice on what needs to be done with the BBC management to bring it back to its glory days. Well I would like to get in there first and offer my advice as someone who, admittedly many years ago, used to work for the BBC.
The BBC like any big corporate structure, especially those who are in the public sector, all have one thing in common – they are process driven. For managers of these great big megaliths the process is their God. They stick to the process like glue to such an extent that they lose the ability to be flexible.
I would argue that one of the main reasons why George Entwhistle eventually had to resign was because he was seen not to be in control of what was going on in his organisation and it was very clear to me that as a corporate man through and through Entwistle became a slave to the process of the organisation.
The internet and digital revolution has made communication much easier and faster for those of us who run businesses these days, but the curse of any manager that has become addicted to this form of communication is that they forget how to really communicate with people. Even in this age it is much better to pick up the phone and speak to someone, or, more importantly, to stand in front of all your troops so they can see the whites of your eyes or smell your fear or courage.
These basic forms of engaging with your staff tend to be the first to go in any big organisation, managers preferring instead to communicate with staff via email which probably reads like a solicitor’s letter with the manager making sure he or she has covered his arse. This form of communication has more do to with making sure you don’t make a mistake than leading the troops.
Emails and texts are much faster and you can reach a lot more people with a message, but the only time they can get something of the individual across is when there is some kind of personal relationship. As much as you may try, a text or email from your boss will always be received in the manner of master and servant. To get the best out of people it requires them seeing the whites of your eyes.
So my first piece of advice to the Director General is to ban senior managers from sending texts and emails to their staff.
Corporates often look at small businesses and admire their flat structure and flexibility and would like to replicate some of our practises. More often than not it is just a fanciful thought because it would take such a major cultural change in the organisation. Why rock the boat, for if you keep your head down in these organisations you will be able to get a big fat pension and perks experienced nowhere else in the workforce.
The other must-have for corporate structures is the manager’s office. This sanctuary for management can be an unnecessary dividing line, a constant reminder to the workers that they are being watched over.
All great managers understand that without the workers their job wouldn‘t exist. Staff will give you their loyalty and work hard if you show that you will lead them, inspire them, protect them and, more importantly, take the can for them. Those of us who run small businesses understand this and more often than not treat our staff as a most valuable asset. By contrast public sector managers seem to think managing staff means ruling over them rather than working with them.
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