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The Internal Communication Black Belt Programme

CASE STUDY

Using Appreciative Inquiry to drive change at the BBC


Sam Berrisford, internal communications partner, BBC Ever heard the phrase: its not what you say, its the way that you say it? This observation gets to the heart of Appreciative Inquiry, an engagement technique with the potential to change the way people within an organization talk to each other. Here, Sam Berrisford describes how this simple technique not only involved employees in change at the BBC, but placed them in the driving seat of a major cultural transformation. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) uses structured dialogue to generate a collective image of a new and better future for an organization. It explores the best of what is within the organization and what has been before. It attaches an element of formality to the process of learning from organizational experience and is, critically, forward-looking and positive. In practice, AI can take many forms, although its most vigorous exponents Cooperrider & Srivastva, strive to maintain the integrity of the formal process. In their 1987 article Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life they describe the process in detail. Put simply, you ask people whats good about their organization and how it could be made even better, rather than asking them whats wrong? The negative framing of this question tends to generate the very issues and problems youre trying to understand and resolve. Ideally, AI breaks this cycle of negative thinking, unlocks experience and knowledge, and releases the creativity and development potential of the organization.

Appreciative Inquiry and the BBC


We have to watch our terminology at the BBC. In addition to Appreciate Inquiry, AI also stands for Appreciation Index a standard measure of audience reaction to a program (the higher the AI, the more appreciated the program). In IT research AI stands for artificial intelligence, and in animal husbandry it refers to artificial insemination. Theres also some debate within the BBC about the spelling of inquiry which many regard as a misspell of enquiry. (A call to our pronunciation unit and a consultation with the OED attaches equal value to both spellings, hence inquiry is used in this article). Concern around meaning and usage of language reflects the kind of culture that exists within the BBC. Its doubtful, for example, we could have introduced a process overtly called Appreciative Inquiry into the organization. Our people are highly suspicious of jargon, especially when its business related. This is partly a result of the organizations focus on journalism the BBC employs more than 5,000 journalists and a larger number of independent-minded producers and editors. Many of our senior managers and leaders come from this professional background. Typically they are questioning, challenging and critical; analytical and mistrusting rather than constructive, intuitive and trusting. This is a culture where dialogue is the norm to resolve an issue, where autocracy is resisted as a matter of course and where every decision is challenged as of right. Things get done by influence and persuasion. These attitudes also support a truly creative culture. Our core vision talks in terms of making an inspiring creative and cultural contribution to the UK and to the world. A look at our TV, radio and online output will provide strong evidence
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The Internal Communication Black Belt Programme


of our ability to deliver this vision. However, in mid-2002, when the story of AI in the BBC really begins, it was an organization perceived by its people as being a difficult place to be creative, where teamwork was low, leadership poor and competitive behavior was high on personal agendas. The BBCs then executive committee, under the leadership of director general Greg Dyke, started to look at how this culture could be changed. The program was called Making it Happen and its worth reading the account of this culture change program and the leadership approach that underpinned it in Dykes book, Inside Story1. Making it Happen used the application of Appreciative Inquiry in a complex employee consultation exercise called Just Imagine.

Using AI as a culture change tool


For six months in 2002, over 10,000 employees (approximately 40 percent of the total BBC) took part in over 200 meetings across the UK and around the world. Attendance was voluntary and, in sessions that could include from 25 to over 200 at one time, people paired up and held reciprocal interviews about their positive experiences at the BBC. They talked about successful moments and about what made them proud. The simplified AI structure we used asked them to consider three key questions: 1. What has been the most creative/valued experience in your time at the BBC? 2. What were the conditions that made that experience possible? 3. If those experiences were to become the norm, how would the BBC have to change? Each pair discussed what they had discovered at their table, usually of about 10 colleagues, and the most powerful and affecting stories were then shared with the whole group. The process had a profound impact on some people 15 minutes of absolute focus and attention and for some it was the first time anybody had asked them what they thought and felt about the BBC. Unlocking the emotions of affection, pride and loyalty could be a very moving experience for participants and throws light on the complex nature of the psychological contract our people have with the organization. Exposing the relationship between the individual and their organization was an unexpected byproduct of this, and may yet be the most subtle and significant consequence of using the process.

How the AI process worked


In process terms, Just Imagine was carefully designed and extensively piloted before launch. Core elements were fixed so that data could be generated in a standardized way and stories, quotes and ideas for action were recorded on laptops during the sessions. In all there were over 98,000 ideas and suggestions (15,000 unique ones) which were captured, analyzed and fed back to divisional and pan-BBC change teams for evaluation and implementation. It led to 35 concrete initiatives for change at the BBC, from new insights into the BBCs audiences to new flexible working and holiday arrangements.
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A mandate for change


In his book, Greg Dyke writes, The amount of raw data that came from staff who had participated in the Just Imagine sessions was worth its weight in gold. Most of all, it gave me a powerful mandate for change. I no longer had to say, This is what I believe should happen, or This is what the executive believes should happen. I could look staff in the eye and say, This is what you told us you wanted. There were a lot of quick wins that were cheap and easy to achieve. They were implemented almost immediately, demonstrating visible engagement with the outputs of the sessions. Some issues were more complex and difficult to address. These included a demand for more feedback and development; a flexible holiday scheme; job shadowing; an enhanced induction program for new joiners; and a new development program for the BBCs 7,000 leaders. These initiatives continue today because the ownership and commitment to them lies with the people who created them. The process generated nearly 4,000 comments and suggestions about the values and behaviors of the organization. These were distilled down to six core aspirational values: Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest. Audiences are at the heart of everything we do. We take pride in delivering quality and value for money. Creativity is the lifeblood of our organization. We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best. We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together.

Gaining support for values


Our most recent employee survey results continue to show significant support for these values even a year after Greg Dykes departure. They will endure because they are a reflection of the core intrinsic values of our people and have been created by them. They are owned by staff, not imposed from the top. Overall, the Just Imagine process and its application of AI principles has helped shift the culture of the BBC. It reconnected people with their emotions and gave them a positive sense of what could be. This positive energy created a powerful momentum, people felt that their opinions mattered and that they could make a difference. The organizational mindset was significantly changed.

The role of leadership


Much of this culture change was led by Greg Dyke in his role as director general. He associated himself strongly and personally with the project and developed a powerful emotional connection with large numbers of BBC staff and they with him. When assessing the impact of initiatives like this its impossible to discount the impact of a charismatic and committed leader.
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The power of this connection was graphically illustrated by employees spontaneous outburst of emotion following Dykes resignation in January 2004 as a result of the publication of the Hutton Report2. Employees demonstrated outside BBC buildings all over the country, pleading for him to stay. An exceptional reaction to the departure of a senior executive.

Life after Making it Happen


Dykes departure and the subsequent appointment of a new director general, Mark Thompson, represented a major disruption in organizational life at the BBC, a period from which its only now beginning to emerge. Clearly, disruption can create positive opportunities for change and were seeking to make a further radical transformation. Under Thompsons leadership, were working to create a BBC fit to fulfill its public service role in the future digital world.3 The BBCs organizational development and internal communication teams are building on the relationships developed during Making it Happen to help make this transformation a success. This isnt always easy during structural change, where jobs are at stake. But as we move into the next phase, which includes the reinvention of our program, genre and creative strategies, our ability to have a creative dialogue at team level will be a hugely valuable asset.

Lessons learned
The application of Appreciative Inquiry as a tool to unlock the collective intelligence and experience of our people has been important to the success of the culture change program at the BBC. However, we recognized from the beginning that our use of AI was limited in scope. If we had developed its use to the full, then the origination and ownership of change would have stayed at team level (possibly with a strong and supportive corporate integration strategy). We took a basic approach and simply used AI as a means to facilitate consultation and involvement in a positive framework. Critically, we called it something staff could identify with Just Imagine. Our people generated powerful creative ideas about our corporate values and how we could improve the BBC and make it a better place to work. These ideas were then evaluated by senior project teams, prioritized, approved by the Executive Committee and implemented in the organization through new corporate mechanisms. Clearly, every organization is different and has different needs depending on its stage of evolution and the demands of its external environment. For the BBC, AI was the right tool at the right time. It set up a willingness to be involved which still permeates our workplace. It initiated some key change projects around leadership training, feedback and development, working conditions and the use of space in our buildings. AI also provided, and continues to provide, a platform for creative dialogue. At team level it helped build communication within and between teams and through the line and, most importantly, it ensured ownership and buy in to our corporate values. Any face-to-face encounter has the power to generate energy. This can have a negative effect, which drives confidence down and diminishes the individuals
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concerned as well as their organization. Or the encounter can be a positive event which is creative and life enhancing. AI is about releasing positive energy from the communication between individuals to their personal benefit and the overall wellbeing of the organization of which they are a part. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not those of the BBC. References 1.Inside Story by Greg Dyke, Harper Collins, 2004 2.The published findings of an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of civil servant Dr David Kelly, and the actions of government and the BBC (www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/content/report/). 3.For more information about the BBC: www.bbc.co.uk/info/ Web resources: Appreciate Inquiry Commons (http://connection.cwru.edu/ai) AI Consulting (www.aiconsulting.org)

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