Stephen Dando, Director of BBC People told delegates at the annual CIPD conference that the challenge following the Hutton crisis was to manage grief, continue output, re-establish the BBC’s journalistic credibility and get things back to normal.
Journalist Andrew Gilligan started an unforseen chain of events that quickly snowballed into a major row between government and the BBC over claims about Iraq’s weapons.
The tragic death of David Kelly that subsequently occurred led to an inquiry by Lord Hutton which heavily criticised the BBC.
The Hutton period has been dubbed the ‘darkest days in the BBC’s history’. What followed was unprecedented.
BBC workers deeply respected former Director-General Greg Dyke elevating him to a god-like status and his resignation that followed was met with uproar. Many staff walked out in protest and openly conveyed the grief to the press and public.
“Picking up the baton after this was the challenge,” commented Dando.
Life had been transformed in a number of hours, he said. The high dependency on Dyke as the all-knowing leader was a big hurdle to overcome.
Senior figures set about managing the grieving process. A meeting of the top 400 members of staff was called. ‘Leading the Way’ was an essential forum for airing the issues and compiling the ‘change’ agenda.
“The first step was mobolising managers. We had to restore a sense of calm and equilibrium,” said Dando.
Staff were allowed a period of recovery in which 80% of internal communications were about listening and allowing people to grieve. Acting Director-General Mark Byford spent a great deal of his time in one to one meetings.
“We were in full listening mode. We held a second meeting, this time for all staff and significantly we held it in a newly opened BBC building one which Greg had never been to,” admits Dando.
The internal newspaper ‘Ariel’ was given entire editorial freedom to provide and receive internal comment and opinion and the intranet ‘Arieli’ was given a free reign to publish unmoderated messages on the discussion boards. In that time the page impressions increased three-fold.
“Getting to the bottom of what happened was an important pre-requisite to get on. Some momentum was lost but our output was consistent. Losing Greg Dyke can only be a good thing. We are now left with a stronger more assured organisation.”