Friday, July 07, 2006

The reality of cultural transformation at BBC Monitoring

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

A dark cloud is hovering over BBC Monitoring. According to staff, who must remain anonymous or else face dire consequences, indifference and hopelessness are reigning supreme throughout Caversham and the overseas units. For readers who are not familiar with BBC Monitoring, this is happening in an organisation which for years has functioned largely due to the goodwill of its staff.

The key to this paradox lies in one word: culture. For some time now, Christopher Westcott, the Director of BBC Monitoring, has made much of the need for “a change of culture”. He has never quite managed to say explicitly which aspects of our culture he wanted to change. However, it is clear from his many utterances that what really troubles him is the fact that, every year, staff surveys show that employees have little trust in the top management team.

Lack of trust in senior management is in fact a recurring theme in staff surveys throughout the BBC, not just in BBC Monitoring. Mr Westcott’s predecessors had taken comfort from the fact that they were not alone in being distrusted by their staff. But Mr Westcott has decided to grab the bull by the horns. He decided, in effect, to issue an ultimatum to staff: either change the culture that grows distrust in me and my managers or else I shall purge you until I get the staff with the right culture - a culture where staff will never question or complain or criticise but salute, applaud and curtsey at every opportunity.

Mr Westcott initially avoided a head-on confrontation with staff over culture and decided instead to adopt a soft approach. So, for nearly a year, from spring 2005 until the reappointment of the old senior management team in April this year, he paid lip service to concerns about mismanagement and pledged that cultural change will be vertical as well as horizontal. But, as with politicians, it is always wise to ignore the words and focus on the deeds. And, surely enough, it did not take long for Mr Westcott’s deeds to expose his real thinking.

First came the summary dismissal of staff in the Central Asia Unit in Tashkent who criticised their manager. Then came the decision in October 2005 to appoint, without competition or boarding, a number of staff to work on a special project. Next came the accidental revelation in April 2006 that those staff had been promoted discreetly and contrary to the spirit of the BBC’s Fair Selection policy. After that came the failure, after being found out, to disclose the reasons or criteria for the discreet promotions. Then came the emphasis on behavioural and cultural change in the model for BBC Monitoring in 2010 (presentations to staff, 17 and 24 November 2005), followed by the reappointment of the old top management team, which put paid to Mr Westcott’s pledge that cultural change will be vertical as well as horizontal. This was followed by appointments to newly-created senior positions that failed to reflect BBC Monitoring’s myriad nationalities. Finally, came the eradication of experienced staff and corporate memory from middle managament and, most recently, a surreptitious attempt to vet all non-managerial staff before reconfirming them in their existing jobs.

The cumulative effect of all this has been the transformation of the culture of goodwill that had enabled BBC Monitoring to function through years of mismanagement to collective indifference and despondency.

But that is not all. It would seem that the problem of the new culture may be deeper and more far reaching than indicated by the litany of misdeeds noted above. For whilst Mr Westcott’s determination to stamp out staff distrust of the top management team can be explained by his desire to stand out as the only “trusted” manager at his level in the BBC, this does not explain his apparent indifference to the fact that his actions are actually alienating the vast majority of staff and, therefore, will generate even more distrust towards him and his colleagues.

Hence the suspicion that Mr Westcott’s resolve to transform BBC Monitoring’s dynamic culture into a sterile, military-style culture of deference and obedience may have another dimension. It is a matter of public record that, following the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s decision to slash its share of funding Monitoring, other stakeholders stepped in, dug deep into their pockets and, ultimately, saved the organisation’s skin. It is the belief of many staff - and we stress that, at this stage, it is only a belief - that those stakeholders are now at least implicitly demanding the quo for their quid, in the sense of requiring BBC Monitoring to transform itself in their own image.

Alternatively, it may be that, in his eagerness to ingratiate himself with Monitoring’s “saviours” and, perhaps, maximise the chances of their continuing to fund the organisation, Mr Westcott is second-guessing what they would ideally like BBC Monitoring to look like in 2010, when the next round of negotiations with the stakeholders over future funding is due. If true, this would explain many things, from the apparent desire to purge independent minds, to the appointing, without competition or boarding, of a number of staff with certain common characteristics to work on a special project for one of BBC Monitoring’s sponsors, to the discreet promotion of those staff, to the failure to reflect Monitoring’s various nationalities at senior level.

That is our suspicion, the suspicion of staff at BBC Monitoring. The onus is on Mr Westcott, his superiors in the BBC and Monitoring’s stakeholders to prove otherwise. If they don’t, then we can only slide further into indifference and despondency.


Anonymous said...

If only all employees had your courage, this country would be a far better place. I don't work for the BBC but I use your material daily. I wish you all the luck in the work, especially as I see reflections of the kind management you describe in my own organisation.

P said...

Just read all your postings. You've hit all the nails on their heads. The same attitudes have long been recognized as the cause of great distress between BBCM and ... for the past few years. I am abroad at the moment but will be in UK from autumn. Might email you then. Please take great care! P.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog. For God's sake keep it up, this country needs free speech in these dark times and I thank you!!

No doubt my IP has been logged.