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What can be learnt from the BBC scandals?

16th Nov 2012
Director of Consulting A&DC
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After the recent scandals at the BBC, director-general George Entwistle was forced to resign last week, after only 54 days in the role. As a result, trustees of The BBC’s governing body are meeting tomorrow to finalise plans to appoint a new director-general. Not only does this highlight the importance of having a succession plan in place, but it also raises an interesting issue in terms of their recruitment process.

It’s understood that the BBC Trust is keen to consider an external candidate to replace Entwistle, which could have several benefits. While an internal applicant would already be familiar with how the BBC works and perhaps would need less training, hiring an employee from outside of your business brings in fresh ways of thinking. It’s important for any company to be able to develop organisational agility – the ability to perceive, notice and react to the environment – and an ‘outsider’ can help with this. They will be much better able to think outside the box and come up with new ideas based on their previous place of work and past experiences.

The key for any business is to avoid the concept of ‘group think’, and an external candidate can be extremely useful for this. At senior levels, there can often be the mindset that the board are the experts, particularly if there’s a lack of diversity. If everyone thinks the same, there’s the danger that they will fail to see what’s happening outside of the company, which could ultimately be detrimental for your business. We’ve previously seen this at Kodak, where the teams were so focused on what was happening internally that they failed to notice that other companies were developing the digital camera. As a result, it struggled to compete in the market.

However, whilst the decision to hire an external candidate will be beneficial, it’s clear that the BBC’s recruitment process is much more complex than that. There are lots of considerations to make, and it’s been said that there are three options for the trust to consider when it comes to appointing Entwistle’s successor.

Firstly, they could re-advertise the position and go through a new shortlist and interview process, but this would be a long process, probably taking up to 3 months. A second option would be to contact previous shortlisted candidates who lost out to Entwistle, including Ed Richards (chief executive of Ofcom), Time Davie (the BBC’s current acting director-general) and Caroline Thomson (the BBC’s former chief operating officer). A final option would be to approach new candidates directly.

The issue is further complicated by a debate over how the position should be defined. It has been suggested that the combined roles of executive director and editor-in-chief should be split, which would broaden out the field of candidates. However, it could be difficult to split the role in this way as it could require rewriting the BBC’s royal charter. Without a clear definition of what the candidate will need to do though, it will be difficult to accurately assess potential applicants.

It’s clear that the resignation of Entwistle has resulted in the BBC having to make difficult decisions as quickly as possible. In order to ensure you don’t find yourself in a similar situation, you need to have a plan in place that can spring into action if the worst should happen. To reduce the likelihood of problems occurring in the first place, think carefully when recruiting to ensure you hire the right talent for your team that can bring new ideas to the table. And perhaps most importantly, start with a definition in mind. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you judge success?

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