The client

BBC World Service is the world’s largest international broadcaster. It broadcasts in more than 40 languages to an average audience of 210 million each week. It has larger audiences in Africa than anywhere else in the world and is the largest international broadcaster on the continent, with major bureaux in Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal and operations in many more.  

The challenge

The BBC had been investing significantly in Africa, expanding multimedia operations, launching new language services and increasing its programming across several genres.

The headcount implications were great, with the Nairobi bureau growing from 60 to 300, and Lagos from nearly 10 people to 200, over just two years. With expansion came greater diversity in each bureau. The Dakar office, for example, employed 18 different nationalities.

Each bureau also recruits a mix of staff from local media, people on international assignments, and African media professionals who had spent their working lives in Europe and America.

The BBC has six values which people across the BBC share. They represent the expectations of every member of staff, guiding day-to-day working practices and the way each person should behave.

The BBC wanted to understand the current working practices and cultures in terms of:

  • How people related to and communicated with each other
  • How well people understood and practised BBC values
  • How values were shared and communicated and how staff engaged with the BBC regarding them
  • The role of the line manager and how well they understand what was expected of them
  • Barriers to future cultural integration.

They also wanted tangible recommendations for how to communicate expectations around culture and how working practices could embed the BBC values.

They asked Change Associates to help.

What we did

We placed a consultant with extensive experience of African cultures within the BBC World Service in Africa. With support from our team in the UK, he created a programme to uncover issues, concerns and behaviours that were not aligned with BBC Values.

The diagnostic activities included:

  • An online survey distributed to all BBC World Service Africa staff
  • A series of half day workshops for 10 – 25 participants
  • Focus groups for more in-depth conversations with specific groups (eg women only groups)
  • 1-2-1 interviews

Our consultant ran sessions in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Dakar, Lagos and Abuja. The confidential environment we created enabled and encouraged participants to open up as they had never felt able before.

We uncovered internal cultural, and wider societal, gender and religious differences, including examples of harassment. It became clear that given the space and the protection to speak in a confidential environment, staff were keen to raise issues that otherwise might have gone unnoticed or ignored for too long.

In one bureau for example, women found the courage to complain about harassment issues during one-to-one interview sessions, and we could raise this with the leader of that bureau for immediate action.

It is essential in this kind of programme that leaders are willing and able to act decisively and quickly, and many were. But we also identified evidence of some leaders not living the BBC values they espoused. Some were failing to create the environment in which the organisation’s values would thrive.

We analysed and presented our findings in a report for the BBC World Service leadership team, with specific and prioritised recommendations for the whole service and more specific recommendations for each bureau.

The result

  • Several issues were raised and addressed immediately, reflecting the benefit of providing a safe environment in which to raise concerns and the power of leadership acting immediately on those concerns.

  • One of the immediate outcomes of the culture review was the assurance and confidence created in the minds of staff across the bureaux demonstrating that leadership was willing to listen.

  • One bureau immediately implemented a worldwide BBC initiative to provide support for women in the workplace, which not been launched locally.

  • More strategically, The BBC has accepted our report and is implementing our recommendations across Africa. Whilst it is still early in the implementation process, leaders are responding positively to our recommendations.

Image (c) Shutterstock  | JonoErasmus88 Note: For reasons of confidentiality we have used a stock shot to illustrate a focus group in action for this case study.

“This is an unbelievably impressive piece of work.”

Jamie Angus

Director, BBC World Service Group