Episode 4: Why you should involve your whole organisation in the transformation journey

David
Welcome to the fourth edition of Transformation Talks. My name's David Lancefield. And in these podcasts my aim is to explore the topic of transformation through the eyes of a diverse group of people who have driven, lived through or studied transformation in their own ways. We will give you ideas, research and experience to help you develop better strategies more effective leadership and healthier cultures in your organisation, or at least that’s the intention.

I'm delighted, honoured, privileged to speak with Tim Davie CBE. Congratulations on that honour. CEO of BBC Studios, a member of the Executive Board of the BBC, Chair of the Creative Industries Council taking over from Nicola Mendelson of Facebook, Chairman of Comic Relief, Trustee of the Tate and of the Royal Television Society. Father of three, an expert marathon runner, there you go.

Tim
Expert, I wouldn’t go that far, but I haul myself around, yes.

David
Hauled yourself around, okay, Marathon Des Sables is hauling yourself round. A dynamic, entrepreneurial and thoughtful man I would say and a challenger too, perhaps a touch of the rebel. Perhaps we’ll come onto that a little bit later. Welcome thanks for your time.

Tim
Thank you very much David, it’s a pleasure to be here.

David
So you’ve been appointed, to cast your mind back, you have been appointed as CEO of Studios, brilliant. How do you feel and what is your first move? What’s the first thing you are thinking about doing? Because I know you are an action focused guy, you want to get stuff done. How do you feel and what do you want to do?

Tim
The Studios is a merger of BBC Worldwide which is a decent size billion turnover business that was doing sales, distribution channels and we have merged it together with the BBC production businesses that make the traditionally only for the BBC productions. So everything from Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars for the international listeners, To Dr Who, to Blue Planet. All the makers of those programmes. So about 2,000 people, half a billion of turnover. Put that together with our business to form BBC Studios.

Then we get to your question which is at that moment. I think when you, come to a new enterprise my thoughts are really on two really big things I think. One is, is that enterprise orientated to a growing market because actually having been round the block a bit, it is quite exhausting when you set yourself up against a market that is moving. Is it a tailwind business, to use a bit of jargon so apologies. But is it something where you are set up where the market will naturally drive growth.

The second thing is the other side of the fence really which is organisationally what talent have you got to deliver what you want to deliver? And making assessment of the scale of cultural change that is needed to re-orientate the operation and the speed at which you need to make that change.

David
And when you are considering both the tail winds and the culture of the business, I speak to some CEOs and some say you know what, I just got stuck in and started doing stuff, and obviously had a sense of where you wanted to go. Others are very much no I needed to build a vision for the business, a strategy and they were still doing things, but they wanted to build a picture. Where were you on the end of that spectrum?

Tim
Unfortunately I think, kind of I can’t leap down either side because I do think you have got to spin both plates and we have done. When I have been in businesses and we have done the 100 day plans, the clarity of vision around where is this business going to be in 3-5 years? I mean it is all the old clichés, but have they got a clear vision of where they are heading and do they believe in it, which is the really important thing. Because I think a lot of people say the first thing which is, have they got a clear vision? But do they believe in it? So it is, are they on board and say that is a stretching, achievable goal?

So I think you do need to build that in a consensual manner with your senior team. That takes a little bit of time, but I would say at pace. Having said that, the thing I don’t subscribe to is kind of that whole, we are going to wait and the strategy is going to merge so we can just kind of go into a kind of, I don’t know a state of affairs where there is no action. You need events. When we delivered for instance our 100 day plan, it did have those elements like clarity of strategy, communicate where we are going as a business, but it also said what wins are we going to put on the board? You know in our case, acquiring new businesses, winning commissions, transforming our business in a couple of markets. Because I think unless people see events two things happen. One is they don’t believe in the strategy itself. The second is they don’t learn how to behave successfully. So what they do is, human beings will look at a strategy and look at bits of paper, but really it comes to life when they behave in a way.

I’ll give you an example. The BBC has often talked about working across silos, you know and constant workshops and this, that and the other. Actually it is a project like the Olympics where you say, we are going to look at it across the BBC, we are going to do it on every element of our broadcasts. We form a team together, we put actually an Executive in charge of that. And you know every person came away saying ‘I got it and by the way I really enjoyed it and that is always going to be part of what I am now, I was part of the team that put together the 2012 Olympics. You need those events.

David
So you have started, you have worked out sort of where you want to go, you have worked out the markets you want to sort of tap into in terms of the demand. How do you sell it? Because you have talked about consensus and bringing the team with you and all those things. But how do you sell it, because there is often a scepticism, often a fatigue for some people. How have you, how do you go about selling your, your ideas, or selling your vision to either the Execs around the table or the rest of the organisation? What are the things you do?

Tim
Yeah it’s interesting. I can’t bring a lot of rocket science to this, I think you have to roll up your sleeves and do a few things, I think you know the basics incredibly well. The first thing is, and it is really obvious, but unless your top team, is not committed personally, not just professionally but they truly see their personal fulfilment linked to what you want to do in the next 3-5 years. I think you are in real trouble.

So you know the first thing I do with a new senior team is not talk about the business but talk about themselves. Where do they want? What’s their story? Where are they? Where again it is somewhat clichéd, but it is true, people at the end of the day talk a lot about the general business, but really a lot of minds and their emotions are really about what is happening to them, not in a selfish way, but what is their story in this.

So you have to really I think get to, you know I don’t want to sound too heavy, or Californian about this, but I do think you have to get quite deep into what individuals, what they want to do. So the first thing I do is get the top team to do that. Literally say. 

David
Because you are going to be asking more of them and to give more of themselves.

Tim
Exactly.

David
So if you don’t, otherwise you are going to be treating them like robots, right?

Tim
Exactly, people are here by choice. I feel actually quite, you know as leaders we are there to serve people as well. 

There is a responsibility to get that team aligned. And also they need to hear that you are at a very basic level, going to support them in that endeavour. So I think you do as a leader need to set your own stall out, you need to be very clear about where you think the business is heading, but it is a collaboration. For the top 20 and I am quite deliberate about this, it is a very collaborative process.

So then you get down to your next level which is, I mean I work on actually four levels. So I don’t want to get too complicated, but it is your next layer. And these people are, I would say they are people who have to carry the message on their own. You have to be able to trust them to walk into a room and say, look there won’t be a senior person around. You are the senior person. And at point I think they need involvement in the story before you communicate it more widely. They need to feel a level of involvement in it. 

David
And you just push it out?

Tim
I like a porous process with the next level down. Next level after that is kind of the management layer. Because if you have got a CEO kind on video doing a nice speech and then your line manager, your group of 10 people, it just feels completely disconnected and you’ve got a problem. You want to hear views, you are being very realistic, it is not a two way process at that point. And then finally you are out with the staff. And the thing with the staff is, I think they need to hear directly from the leaders, they need to hear simultaneously from CEO all the way down and they need to be able to input. Because very junior staff, the worst and most patronising fault is to assume that they don’t have smart ideas. You know a lot of them are really quite good. And you know just because you’re senior doesn’t mean you necessarily have all the answers.

David
That is refreshing and very clear sort of structure and it takes time, right. How do you temper it because you’re a guy who likes to get stuff done? You have a quick mind, fast action. How do you temper the sort of, the need to not just bring people on board, but allow them to have a meaningful contribution because, that will in simple terms, that is slower than just being much more direct to them saying, we are doing it.

Tim
Well I struggle with that. I struggle with it personally because you just want to drive it straight through. I think the honest truth is you just have to hose yourself down and listen. The big prize here is over 2-3 years, it is not over the next 2 months. And you just have to calm down. You know big change is not made in days, it is normally made over getting a course right and the other thing is, I think experience tells you that what we are talking about here saves you enormous time. So if you are in a rush, you just have to work out that actually your velocity at the start could be slightly slower because you are building capability to save you time later.

David
I get that.

Tim
Which is, you’re building the capacity. Because you know any team leader will tell you the difference between having a team that is aligned, that is delivering, that is supporting the agenda versus the alternative. It, it’s everything, it is so profound to your success.

David
And you worked, going back to P&G, you worked in the private sector and now work in a great public service organisation in a commercial business. How do you transform and change in that environment? You want to be commercially driven, entrepreneurial within the umbrella of being a great public service institution and organisation. How does that change your approach if anything?

Tim
Yeah I think it does. It is a big factor that my key shareholder is a public entity. Not by design by my career goes through very different revenue models. And the reason I mention revenue models is because I think they shape a lot of it. In a public service entities with fixed budgets where you haven’t got jeopardy around you or short term revenues. Okay you might have a spending round in Government, you might have a license fee negotiation but broadly speaking you are not hustling over a year’s numbers. You can do wonderful things, you can get headroom to do things that don’t deliver necessarily on a P&L but you also can get quite entrenched. And I think cultural change in public institutions is an area that continuingly is an ongoing battle for people to kind of get that culture moving.

David
And the problem, however, is you don’t have a common bottom line to the same degree which can be, so it is the flip side. You have an upside and a challenge?

Tim
Yeah and you do have multivariable kind of success criteria because for the BBC you have your public purposes. So you might have a small service that does a brilliant job of supporting a small community of a certain musical interest, when I used to run radio or, you know and I would argue that you know supporting you know a, a minority music genre is absolutely critical in public service broadcasting. But you know others would argue look your only metric is reach. But no it’s value and value is constructed in a multi-dimensional way. So I think that is quite hard.

Now coming to my business today, I work across a lot of entities whether it is Tate, other things where you know you’ve got private funding, you’ve got public funding. The first thing I’d say is often the, at the top level the contradictions are often over exaggerated because I think actually having clear values and purpose is a commercial asset. What the key thing is that gets me in a room with you know a Chinese SVD player, sorry subscription video on demand player I should say, is the BBC. What is our biggest seller last year? It’s Blue Planet 2, which was probably the finest example of high end BBC programme you can get.

So in a hyper competitive market it isn’t the fact we stand for and have a programme makers who are driven by a sense of public value, it is our commercial asset. And you know I’m a kind of classic brand guy with Proctor and Gamble training, PepsiCo training. The first thing you look for is your brand differentiation. Our brand differentiation is we make the best programmes driven by public value, driven by British creativity. 

David
How do you, either yourself or your team, how do you balance the portfolio? Because on the one hand you want to be driving the business effectively and efficiency, and you want to then drive the business in terms of growth. They often require different skills, different uses of capital. How do you think through those sort of trade-offs and choices?

Tim
It’s a daily struggle. And I enjoy it but we are seeing industries as you and I know, being utterly reshaped. And what I mean by that, is the obvious which is, it is the internet that did it. In my world we had a situation where it was very fixed and limited distribution, so a few channels to state the obvious. And suddenly you have infinite choice. My children are sitting there you know, and everyone uses the domestic examples because that is where real life hits home which is, at home and you see it, you know it is changing at pace. 

The broader data is utterly clear. This market is moving extremely fast and in that I think what’s fascinating is a double challenge, in terms of what you were talking about in change. Not only do you have to change what you are as a business and what you do, but critically and this is as big a challenge for the media businesses, but the economic path from a to b also looks extremely challenging. So in some ways, you get to, where’s the money? And it might not be that you go completely broke, but you certainly see massive margin dilution or you see different shapes to use of capital i.e. if the BBC wanted to go, subscription video on demand around the world, you might be losing hundreds of millions of pounds for quite some time before you see light at the end of the tunnel.

So what you are doing is, is to help you through that choice, I think the first is the obvious which is you need a culture that is free from defending the current business at all costs. I know that sounds a big point, but I think culture, corporate cultures broadly are all about risk aversion and long-term corporations have basically delivered sustainable incremental growth by repeating the same activity.

David
Yeah.

Tim
Yeah consumer businesses. And it’s comfortable, you get a good life. You get a bit of growth and we’ve had that for decades. This massive technological shift is discombobulating for individuals in corporations that are by and large not entrepreneurs. You may be entrepreneurial but you are not an entrepreneur if you are sitting in a corporation. I can tell you, my neighbours who are entrepreneurs are all you know sold their houses, disappeared elsewhere you know they kind of thrown things up in the air in a way that most corporate individuals would not do. And I don’t mean to be critical, what I’m trying to say is I think that corporate individuals, individuals in corporations need to kind of get a bit more comfortable with being more uncomfortable i.e. what I mean, slightly more risk, slightly more direct talking. Not rudeness, instead generosity of spirit, you know the ability to really say look I honestly think this business is widening out. It’s a very, very hard thing to do for a corporation to say, actually this is no longer going to work.

David
How do you create a safe environment for people around you to do that? Because people talk about saying, oh be straight, say what you think and so on. But there is often a fear culture which may not be explicit, but it is underneath which is, you don’t want to be the person who says the prize jewel which has been amazing for years actually is looking a bit, it’s fading?

Tim
It’s very profound this, it’s very profound and you know how many corporate presentations do, you sit there and you just feel you, at the worst case, the information is sliced to give you a positive story. It’s fatal, it’s utterly fatal to culture. All I can say David, again no revelations here, I just think you need to say to people, look just relax. Just relax, tell me the truth, tell me how it is, warts and all, what you really think. And it’s difficult, it’s really difficult for people in corporations. In my business what it’s meant is you know our core. We still have a very big business where we are selling finished television programmes. But that will you know that is not a growth business over time. Because what is going to happen is there is still a huge market for that, but the truth is the value is really now what I would call upstream. So it is up in owning IP, owning content, there is not a media CEO who won’t tell you this. Look at companies you know like Disney buying Lucas Film by buying Marvel. 

You know these are the acquisitions that really seem to make sense in this market in terms of buying big IP, owning your content and it is about the truth of that content and not the spin by the way. I mean having dealt with a lot of things in my life, I tend to work in terms of crisis, things are misrepresented. The idea of ‘we have got to get the coms right’, I tend to dismiss all of that. It is about the truth. What have you actually got here? And what we are doing is rapidly, we have brought a lot of production businesses. We have you know integrated the production business. My issue though is how the margin moves in that and making sure my position in terms of rights and margins secure as they affect that change.

David
Can we just talk about the market because obviously you have talked about the BBC in terms of being you know, you are shareholder, and you are on the Exec Board. You have a whole sort of system and network of you know production companies, distributors, you have global players now who are both customers and potential competitors.

Tim
Indeed.

David
And you’re transforming the business. In some ways I was going to say, you want some of them to transform as well with you to be part of it. Actually some of them perhaps you don’t want to transform as much. But how do you. How do you transform studios in a way, do that where the system that you work in if you get what I’m saying, sort of transforms it in the right way? Because I do see some CEOs do a great job with their own business and then all the different networks they have, suppliers, the supply chain, effectively the customers, they don’t quite get the story, they don’t quite get the how it’s changing. How do you keep it all?

Tim
Absolutely. We are a business like all now where that ability to partner you know BBC America is now joint venture. We didn’t feel we had enough scale so we divested half of it to AMC Networks is a partner there. Launching channels in India with Sony. Yeah I could go on and on, but it’s all partnership. If you take some of our biggest productions now they are co-productions, they are co-investment from. You don’t really get major drama now with you know one payer what we say, we call deficit funding, someone just paying for it.

So you are absolutely right, it is all about partnership. I think there is again, a couple of obvious things. One is, I think people need to know exactly what you stand for and your values are. I mean we are about the best British creativity applied globally. We are not interested in, I mean actually you have to be very kind of articulate very clearly what you are not. So we are not interested in buying you know production companies around the world for the sake of it. We are not going to be buying you know things outside of our scope. This is what the value we add.

The other thing is defining that purpose and scope in a way that is not linked to historical, one historical revenue shape. So we are not a digital company. We are not a mobile company. We are not a channels company. We are a content company. Okay, now that is a hokey line because everyone is using it in the media. But it is true, in our case we are about content and IP. I don’t care whether at the end of the day it goes you know where it goes in some ways. I do think there are editorial implications of screen size and length or broadening of your programming. But broadly speaking we are creating content which can go anywhere. So you re-orientate the business, you need a vision of the business that is not dependent on you know a defensive retrenchment around what is essentially a declining distribution channel or you know model.

And I am lucky in this way because I think there are businesses where you are, if a business is totally dependent on TV, linear TV advertising, that is harder over time. You know clearly you are going to have to choose your cliché, but pivot or do something which, across the world, I see that.

David
Picturing your sort of daily life, taking a difficult day or week or so on, here we go, here we go, what are the moments that you absolutely love, genuinely love? And the moments where you find it difficult. You have talked some difficulties in terms of slowing down. What do you love?

Tim
I like most of it. Because I think if you don’t. I suppose you get twee about it, but if you haven’t got energy for kind of all of it, then I really think. I come from a philosophical point of view if you like which is, I am blooming lucky and I think most CEOs, it is like I don’t have much sympathy with football managers you know when they get. That’s alright, in relative terms. So the first thing David is I don’t think these, having dealt with also a lot of crisis in terms, not personal crisis, in terms of corporate crisis, I think this relativity point is really important. So you get people going, oh this is the end of the world. You go, well no it isn’t the end of the world. I can describe certain situations where they.

So I tend to be quite positive about the whole thing and I don’t want to be twee about it because I have my dark moments, but I think in terms of the, the things that give you real joy in my life and absolutely one of the things I’ve done is move to businesses and organisations where there’s purpose, there’s a creative spirit at the heart of it. You know the real thing that gives me absolute amazing pleasure is to get to the obvious which is get to the front line, see actors doing their business or being behind the stage at the Proms when I was running BBC Radio and looking at a world famous pianist warming up doing a you know Beethoven piano concerto. And I’m not at the time actually, a bit better now, but didn’t know classical music that well. And literally had a mate, kind of in effect a degree course running Radio 3 which is, and I had the finest musicians in the world in front of me and that is humbling. I think it is when you see people that have got real talents that are genuinely different to you and you can see them and go. I just, I just can’t even fathom how you do that, I could just never do it. And I think that for people who have got a lot of kind of big jobs and actually to see people with genuinely different talents that they can then say, I can’t do that is, there is a broader learning there for me on that which is really important.

David
That’s wonderful.

Tim
The more stressful times are really when you get the BBC vary in the public eye and when a, the, when the velocity, I used that word before, but when I look at crisis management I always think around velocity and then truth. You know they’re the kind of, what is the truth and what speed are we moving at? And velocity to me, when it is moving faster to a point when you really feel you are not in control, I have had that a few times. And I suppose we could relate this in a broader conversation which is when the velocity of the market was moving faster than the truth of your business that is when stress, you know genuine doubt and stress becomes problematic.

David
Yeah I can see that.

Tim
That is the situation when I felt a bit frankly unhappy.

David
How do you recover?

Tim
It’s a good question actually I haven’t really thought about that. I do vary pace quite a lot. Although I am quite kind of fast.

David
Interval training, that is what they say in running, I am trying to empathise even though if you say you are a bad marathon runner I am not even close to being a runner.

Tim
Well you’ve got the terminology, it’s a start. But yes it is into. I mean I, I don’t, I certainly don’t believe you have to be busy all, I think busy all day. I think one of the curses of modern life is we are no longer. I mean, the one good thing about the British weather is it gives us a safety topic when we bump into each other. The new safety topic is, almost a boast of, I’m really hectic, I’m really busy. You know, I kind of think when we met just now before this, you know, oh yeah I’m really busy. It’s become our norm hasn’t it?

David
Yes it has.

Tim
And then you’ve got the phone situation which is you know you can’t walk more than 20 yards without looking at it. I do tell my senior team, don’t worry just go off to a coffee shop for two hours and chill out and think. I really believe it by the way. You’ve got to hire people where you go, the intensity of work is trusted, that is a given.

David
You have to trust people.

Tim
It’s all trust.

David
And respect that people work and think in different ways. You are working with great people, you know right from the front from the pianists and creative’s all the way up. But where do you get your best ideas from? Because you’re in a market where you have to make difficult choices. You also have to pivot the organisation and you are doing that. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Tim
Quite a decent network of people that have just got real massive experience that have never drifted to bitterness. I actually really love you know a small group of people who remain energetic, curious, positive that have got deep experience. That is the blend I am looking for.

I will give you an example that we’ll all know, which is David Attenborough. He is 91 and he is still fiercely curious about innovation, what’s going to happen to the next you know level of 4K, what shall we do with the next super HD? How do we present the oceans? I mean honestly I get exhausted spending time, which is a huge privilege and if you go to talk to him, he is still fascinated by it all, but has incredible experience. Now, that that from an executive point of view, I think what you are looking for is, you don’t want to be going into a situation where you just get de-motivated by it. I will just be very honest about it. You want people who bring that curiosity. And I’ve got a few of them. They are not for mentors, it is not coaching programmes.

David
But they are in your network?

Tim
Fine but I have a network and they’re also free from the day, they don’t need to say anything that is particularly popular. Do you know what I mean by that? They’re unencumbered.

David
That unencumbered point is a good way because what I take from this conversation is one sense of purpose you have in terms of what you are trying to do in the studios, a sense of purpose and the asset that it is within the BBC, I guess the vitality. I mean this very sincerely, there is a vitality to you and the people around you in terms of saying, come on we’re going to try and do something. There is a sort of curiosity, there is something about being honest and talking about honesty and the truth and saying whether it is unpopular or popular at the time. But also making sure that there is a degree of process in terms of how you bring the best ideas through. How you make decisions, how you move forward.

Tim
Yeah it’s really interesting, I’m fascinated by companies that can blend, UK companies particularly. But in my world, how can we bring a degree of unique British sensibility around you know the generosity of spirit, the humour, what we do as a company, but also have a kind of ruthless cutting edge professionalism which I recognise from some of the American corporations that I work with, who are incredibly sharp. You never, you never blink. I mean I mentioned the Olympics earlier in this conversation. I thought that was a brilliant example where you went to it, you went to a global quality event. Everything was pin sharp, the branding, there was no detail that you didn’t look and say, someone with a design eye, with a quality, has gone across it. There is no one in the world who could have put on a better show. But also it had a certain Britishness about it. And I don’t want to be parochial about it because I think where I was in the locality I’d search for that. I think you can do that. This is not about you know a flag waving Brit here, although I have a bit of that in me, it’s absolutely about blending, you know less of a kind of, just a flat culture. It has got a bit of kind of personality to it.

David
Yeah a certain degree of spice and edge and vitality.

Tim
Yeah.

David
And the thing I like from you and especially in this conversation is there are aspects that you talked about that could be trade-offs or tensions, commercial where there is public service, British versus others. Sort of velocity versus reflection. But actually the way you talk, and I know the way you act, is you try and make the best of both. Many people say you have to make a choice on one side, we have to be a fast pace organisation or we have to be running down that part of the business and be operationally excellent or we need to be the next big tech company.

Tim
I think life is riven by false paradoxes, that type of person or that type or that type of businessman. In a period drama it has to be this, literally editorially this type of programme, actually you know the programmes that have leapt into a different dimension tend to be ones that meet on the boundaries of genre. I mean you know the biggest show in the UK was a baking show. Ballroom dancing has created a billion pound business over the years. It’s the new stuff that excites me.

David
And you have to create that fertile ground where people can come forward with barmy ideas?

Tim
Yes that is work in progress. I haven’t done enough of that in my career. I think I, I constantly am interested in what that strange alchemy of what actually generates those types of ideas. I’d like more, if anyone is listening and they have got a particular dream for a television programme that is going to change the world, I’ll listen.

David
There you go, always trying to do some business. I love your honesty, spirit, directness, directness in the positive intent which is different from perhaps some other executives and it has been a privilege chatting to you and learning from you Tim.

Tim
Likewise.

David
And that was another addition of Transformation Talks. Check out other great episodes on Sound Cloud, Acast and iTunes and indeed our blog at www.pwc.blogs.com/business_transformation/

Thanks for listening.

End

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