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Driving transformation: in-house change management strategies from the BBC and beyond – PODCAST

Dive into the transformative world of in-house change management to discover the power of community, the importance of people-centered leadership, and how to sustain change initiatives without extensive resources.


In this episode of Game Changers, join hosts Sophie Brazell-Ng and Stephanie Ho and former Head of Change at the BBC, Louise Robey as they discuss her experiences and insights into building in-house change capabilities, her top 10 tips for success and more.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the field, this episode offers valuable insights into fostering a collaborative, adaptable, and forward-thinking workplace.

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Welcome today we are back in sunny ish London, hoping for some of that summer weather to come in. Today I’m with two new guests. Today we’ve got Lou Robey and we’ve got Steph Ho and we’re going to be talking about building in-house change management capability. So a little bit of a different podcast today.

You guys know me by now, so I’m going to let the other two lovely ladies I’m with introduce themselves. Lou, do you want to introduce yourself? 

Lou Robey: Hi, I’m Lou Robey. I’m Director of Women in Change and we’re a network uniting all female changemakers across the world globally right now, which is very exciting.

It’s a fairly new business, but I’ve just stepped down after 25 years at the BBC as one of their Head of Change. So it’s a whole new world. So I’ve, I’ve stepped into being Director of Women in Change, but, uh, I am also sort of, what do they call it? Building a portfolio career. Yeah. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah I think so, that works, I like it. Awesome.

Lou Robey: There you go. There you go. Yeah. So doing my own thing, but really concentrating on building this global platform, which is extremely exciting right now. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Very exciting. Awesome. And Steph. 

Stephanie Ho: Hello, I’m Steph and I’m a Senior Consultant at Clarasys and I specialise in people and change.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Awesome I’ve been really excited about today’s episode and also sort of in that warm up that we’ve just had having a little chat. I think we’re going to have some really, really exciting stories to go through today from Lou. 

Defining in-house change management 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: So as always, we’re going to start off with a little bit of a definition just to make sure everybody knows what we’re actually talking about today. So open to the floor here, but what do we mean by in-house change management capability? Lou? 

Lou Robey: Well, I think it’s an interesting one because I think there’s two. So, building in house change capability in its classic form for me would be that you would have some form of transformation office or a PMO office.

You would be looking at your project management side of things. Some people have just project management, but now people are looking at change. I think the change management function is fairly and still relatively new as a career. I think if you speak to most people right now, they say they fell into it, It’s not something they grew up to be. 

I certainly didn’t grow up to be a head of change anywhere, but 16 years later, here I am right? So I think building an in house change capability is almost like looking at it, I suppose, as Clarasys is a consultancy model where you would have the bones of a transformation office, you would have project managers, you would have programs or projects, and then you would build change capability around that.

Now that can be in a consultative model of where you have people working in one area like the PMO and you then loan them out to programs and projects around the business, or you recruit them specifically for a program and project. And I would say at the BBC, certainly for the last 25 years, where I’ve been, we would do the latter, which is that they would be coming in to work on a particular program.

So I think where you might be better is if you’re building more of a consultative model, because then you would keep knowledge and you would be able to build on that knowledge. So if you’ve done one building project, you can go and do the next building project, you wouldn’t necessarily bring someone in.

I think the second part of defining what is an in house change capability, and this is something we can go into. I know we had a bit in our warmup, but. I’ve been doing something quite unique, I think, for the last two years, which is looking outside of that model. Not that that model is not important, by the way, because I think it goes hand in glove with the other side of what I’m talking about.

But for me, I was very clear that, you know, in a world of getting smaller, of not having enough money, certainly in public sector, that we had to look to think about what other in house change capability we could build. And so we went where the energy was and we looked to see where people were interested in change, in either a leadership model or a non-leadership model, and start to build that capability to start to see where we could use those people, I suppose, like a standing army of change ambassadors or change agents, certainly the BBC, we called them change agents.

And we can go into a little bit later, but as a definition, and I think most people would think of the first thing I said, which is you have a PMO, you have a transformation, you have change in project capability, and then you build some form of sustainable network so that they stay connected and that they’re constantly in a learning organisation.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yep. Steph, anything to add to that one? 

Stephanie Ho: I completely agree. There’s those two elements of building an in house change capability is about, you know, setting up the teams, making sure they have the right skill set, also making sure that leadership is on board and you have the sponsorship from leadership to be able to make sure that, you know, with any organisational change, whether that’s digital transformation or let’s say a culture change program, there are elements of that that will always involve people.

And you have to be able to adapt to those changes. And if your organisation doesn’t have the skillset or the knowledge or even just the understanding of how to deal with it. No one likes going through change in an organisation. It’s very, you know, you always have some form of resistance at the very beginning.

It’s an emotional curve, right? So yeah, it’s very much how building your workforce’s adaptability to change, but also a great point that you made around change ambassadors, making sure that you have that network. I think having a team within an organisation allows you to tap into different elements of the organisation as well and have that holistic view of the organisation rather than it being just embedded in, say, IT or HR, for example, and you get to sort of leverage those connections and relationships with the organisation to make sure that change is sustainable, that it’s long term and it’s for business as well as for the workforce.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yep. Beautifully put by both of you guys. As somebody who’s been in this space for a while, and as well as looked at building some, some change centre of excellences, I would very much kind of agree with the traditional sense that people go, “Oh, it’s from that project management, that program management type sphere.”

And that’s how people have very much seen it. Why I’m really excited to get into this and also something that we do that I think is a bit more unique at Clarasys is that we like to look at the employee experience.

Overcoming challenges in change management

Sophie Brazell-Ng: So I think this is why I’m excited to hear about your experiences, at the BBC, Lou, because you sound like you’ve, you’ve gone from it from a very different angle and also from where maybe your resources are stretched.

And by that we mean people and also money and time as well. So I’d like to dive straight into it. Can you just tell us about your experience of building that internal change capability at the BBC? 

Lou Robey: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, we were all, public sector generally, right, is in a world where it’s forever cost cutting.

And I think if we’re going to be very honest on this podcast, the change function is always brought in too late. I mean, it’s very rare. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: They kind of go, we’ve made, we’ve made a mistake. Can you fix it? Oh my gosh. 

Lou Robey: Okay. You know, firefighting. And then you get there and you think. Are you serious? I’ve got no training budget and you want me to train 300 people all by next week.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: We’ve pressed the panic button, but we’ve got nothing to give you. 

Lou Robey: Completely. And I’m sure many people can relate to that on this podcast, being brought in and holding their heads and thinking I’ve been set up to fail. 

Stephanie Ho: Sink or swim. 

Lou Robey: Mostly sinking. But so back to your point about building the in house change capability, I think one of the things we did very quickly at the BBC, and that was through the foresight actually of the original Head of the PMO at the time, was to bring anybody in a change function together, which was quite unheard of.

And I’d say it’s probably less than about six or seven years ago that they sort of started to think that we needed to know each other because we were mainly recruited in silos per project. So I wouldn’t have known if you were doing something in News or Stephanie, if you were doing something in Arts, I might bump into you, but I, you know, and then there were obviously with COVID, you didn’t know who anybody was, right? Because we never saw each other. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: It’s so typical, isn’t it? 

Stephanie Ho: You didn’t realise there was somebody over there. 

Lou Robey: Exactly. Yeah. Now, and how many times, you know, have you been involved in something like that? And somebody goes, Does anybody know what they did when they did that building project in West One? Was there any learning?

And you think, what? Why aren’t I doing? Why aren’t I working on BBC Elstree? You know, why have you taken somebody else to BBC Elstree when I’ve just done West One? I mean, that’s the difficulty, right? You don’t benefit from the learning of the organisation and therefore people come in green and then you start from the ground up again.

So that’s the difficulty. Building that in house network was something that I’m going to give credit to a gentleman called Simon Higdon, if you’re listening, Simon, who really started to think about that with his team. And Stuart Collins was another gentleman who got behind that. And then there were other people.

I won’t name everybody because I’ll forget their names, but essentially what happened very quickly is that we put together a network of change agents, and we then increased it actually to all the people that were in projects as well. So we built a community of those people and we would meet once a month, generally virtually.

But what we were able to do during that time was to sort of increase high thinking, problem solving,  we were able to share learning. And we were also able just to have almost like action learning sets out of it where you could go to and have a group of people that you could talk to. What was very interesting to me was that there were a few people that stepped up to run that on a really regular basis.

I think Christine Murphy was the first lady that did it. But once that got into a groove, it became so valuable. You don’t realise how valuable it is until it’s not there. And what slowly became apparent is as the cuts came and people had to go or people moved on to other jobs, suddenly there was nobody running the network.

And that’s when you sink or swim on whether it would be sustainable. Right. And it was really the fight of the people there that were still in that network that were saying, Oh my God, is this it now? 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: And how do we adapt to this new change?

Lou Robey: Yeah. Who’s going to run us? Who’s going to build that PowerPoint and who’s going to, you know, bring in the speaker, but.

And, and there were a few of us that just said, we genuinely can’t let this die. This is too good. Yes, it’s too good a platform. They’ve been bringing in amazing speakers. We were having learning days, learning lunches, everything you could possibly think of that was thrown at it. And we had a sponsor, and then suddenly it’s all gone.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Gosh, I wonder what it’s like having a Sponsor. 

Lou Robey: I know, but we did. And that’s when you realize you need to go get a new sponsor and you need the next people to step up. So interestingly, four of us did step up. Three of us were called Louise. That was quite interesting. So we had to rename ourselves. I think one was Lou, Louise or Louise B and another lady Mariita.

But you know, the idea was that the four of us would share it for as long as we were there. And we went and got a new sponsor. We explained why it needed to stay as it was and off we went. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: That’s really exciting. I mean, that sounds like a really creative environment to be in when you’ve got a group of people that you’ve brought together that are specialisms in their area that might have traditionally been a little bit more in silos.

And then you’ve actually said, okay, actually, should we get us all together and look how powerful we can be as a group, look at the impact that we can have that’s beyond just us as individuals. 

Lou Robey: Yeah, and I think there’s a great power, Stephanie and I were talking about this prior to meeting you today, about collectively looking outside your organisation and, you know, the work I’m doing at Women in Change is to unite women to look outside their organisation, particularly females, because whether we like it or not, roughly 80 percent of, you know, Change Managers at the moment are female.

It’s just a fact. And as much as we’d love more men in it, generally it’s women. So we need to raise the game and we need to make them more prominent, but women collectively share and they’re much more collaborative. So the thought of us not sharing and not learning and not building a learning organisation would have been an anathema to us.

So it was so, so powerful. And, I know Stephanie has been to one of our summits and there was something, wasn’t there, the last summit, just this connection. 

Stephanie Ho: The energy. 

Lou Robey: The energy, the noise. I mean, it was a really noisy summit. 

Stephanie Ho: Yeah, for all the good reasons. 

Lou Robey: All the good reasons, because we can chatter. But you just saw people doing business. You really saw connections and people doing business. So going back to that, I think that was about, we weren’t prepared not to do business together. And that’s what was really important. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: We’re prepared to support each other and put each other on a pedestal. 

Lou Robey: Yeah, absolutely. 

Building a sustainable change management community

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think there’s also an interesting part that you’ve mentioned in there, and I do definitely want to come back to Women in Change, because I think there’s some learnings that you’ve taken from that experience at the BBC to that, about building a sustainable, internal change capability.

And what you’ve described at the BBC, it sounds like you went through a, ironically, a moment of change and you actually sailed out the other end, maybe a little bit stronger than you had done before. When we’re speaking to clients at Clarasys about building that internal change capability, we often want to make sure we build something that’s sustainable so that when we leave, we’ve left a legacy behind that continues on, kind of, when we’re not there.

What do you think has kind of led to that sustainability that really helped you go through that tumultuous time. And I’m probably expecting it’s going to be still a really, really great community and capability part of the BBC today. 

Lou Robey: Yeah. I mean, I think in terms of the traditional one, I think that will sustain.

I think the power, I mean, it’s probably about six or seven years old now in real terms from when it started. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: That’s longer than most new businesses. 

Lou Robey: Let’s hope mine lasts that with my directors. But yes, seriously, I think if we come away from maybe not talking about the traditional to the non-traditional to answer that question, because I think one of the things, and Stephanie and I talked about this a lot today, actually, cause we’ve had some pre meetings prior to this podcast, but one of the things we know we’re both really passionate about is people centred leadership, right?

And I think so often we just expect people to accept the change. And actually, if you really don’t connect with people, then you cannot expect to bring people with you. I think unless you take every aspect, whether it’s technical or not, you have to put people at the centre of it all. And if you don’t, you will fail.

It’s as simple as that with your stakeholders, whatever it is, you know, communication and deep listening, all that – vital. That said, one of the things, I mean, I think I’m naturally curious about people. I’m a human being that loves other humans. So I think that’s helpful. And I think that’s probably added to some of my success because ‘m not somebody who I’ve met change managers along the way that don’t really want to go speak to anybody or, you know, like people, but they just want to get that, they just want to adopt it.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: How did they end up there?

Lou Robey: Because I think they’re just very good at passing exams. You know, I have had a few change managers that I do wonder how, how they are change managers. But, you know, I think there is a lot about influencing without authority is absolutely key in being a change manager, right? I mean, you have to be able to do that in spades. 

But for me, it was about how do you really bring people with you and how do you make sure that you bring the energy. And actually what I did was, and this is thanks to a lovely lady called Susan Lovell who said, I just need you to build the whole in-house capability for me.

So we were putting in what would have been for me, the third culture change program within the BBC. We were doing this completely under the radar, by the way, for anyone listening, we had total stealth. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard that word was. We had no budget, we had no resources, and we didn’t really exist in any world at all.

So we were all begged, borrowed and stolen, effectively. And we were piloting everything that we did, because actually if you pilot, you’re allowed to make mistakes and it’s accepted. If you say you’re for real, actually everyone then starts having a look at you. 

Stephanie Ho: All eyes on you. 

Lou Robey: All eyes on you.

Innovative strategies for change with limited resources

Lou Robey: So yeah, so we were piloting. So we set up the BBC, I must say all credit to the BBC. They have two things. They have something called Hot Shoes, which is a 10 day you can jump into a task or a job and learn it and deliver something that you have a skill set for. So I can buy in a skill that you might have. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: That’s really cool. 

Lou Robey: It’s so cool.

So like, I want somebody to make me a film. You’ve got 10 days. There you go, go make it for me. No money. So the long and short of it is that over the two and a half years that I did that, I had 60 people come and go between that and something called an 80 20 scheme. So the 80 20 scheme is, Let’s just say you work five days a week, cause that’s the easiest way to explain it, one day a week you work in another part of the business.

So we took people on board and I would say over 20 percent of those people I know of that have come through that program have already been promoted into other areas of our business who came to work with me in change. They’ve also become advocates of change. They’ve gone away with organisational development skills, technical skills, coaching skills, whatever it might be.

But from a leadership perspective, they’re now able, even if they’re not a leader, they are now able to help people understand change. Yeah. So that’s one thing I did. The other thing I did is I looked around the organisation and looked at all the other groups that were forming. other things that might naturally be doing change without knowing that they were doing change.

So, for example, we had our future talent group of people, we had our MBA group of people, so we used the MBA crowd, by the way, to actually help us problem solve. So that was fantastic because they were using that as part of their dissertations and we were able to help them get through their MBAs or Cranfields or whatever it was they were doing.

Really, really important group of people. We had something called the Future Ways of Working Group, which was in itself, speaks for itself. So they were obviously massively important during hybrid working and lockdown, but they were set up before that. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: That’s something that we also have internally at Clarasys and kind of help a couple of clients with as well about some creative thinking around it.

And I think there’s something that you’re talking about that is really resonating with us, curiosity and giving people who’ve got curiosity opportunities. And that seems to be where you’ve actually, brought quite a lot of people in to support you in that change space. You haven’t got any resources, you haven’t got any budget, but you know there’s people out there with innate skill, innate interest, and you’ve got actually, do you know what, come and join us and you’ve learned something, you’ve helped us, and they’ve gone away to be better than they were before you said.

Lou Robey: Well they’ve got skills, yeah,  I mean they’ve got skills they didn’t know they could have and I think that’s really insightful. But in terms of the BBC change community, because we’re not visual here. So I think just for the sake of the podcast, so you imagine like a, a wheel of fortune and you’ve got the BBC change community sort of in the middle of that wheel, effectively, if you think of, let’s call it a pizza.

Shall we, if we think of slices of pizza, then there’s lots of different slices of pizza that are going on. So there’s my team, which was those 60 over a period of two and a half years that were coming and helping and doing and learning and going back and being change champions. Then we actually actively recruited people from the organisation and said, and I’m saying really from any grade, you did not have to be a leader. If you’re interested in change. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Breath of fresh air – from any grade. 

Lou Robey: It’s wonderful. Any grade. So you could be a PA, you could be a scheduler, you could be a leader, you could be talent. We had talent. And when I say talent, because that sounds awful, because isn’t everyone talented? Of course they are. But our frontline, you know, our presenters.

They would be known as talent. We had some of them interview champions. We’ve had about eight or ten staff networks. So we went to the staff networks and went to people that were involved in looking at the future of the BBC. We partnered with other areas of the BBC that might be looking at change, like, some consultancy areas of the BBC that didn’t necessarily sit within the change arena.

But were doing things to help people reengineer their business processes or become better at time management or that sort of stuff. They were called Project Spark, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean anything on here. But then there’s the coaching and mentoring services, the training department and so on.

So think of that as a wheel of fortune cut up like a pizza. Then effectively you start to build that community and then you start to build a thread of interest throughout that community. So I’m naturally nosy, curious. I’m not afraid to ask that difficult question. I’m not afraid to put myself into something.

So I invited myself to all of those networks. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: To the pizza party. 

Lou Robey: To the pizza party. There you go. So at the pizza party, because these are great analogies, aren’t they? That, you know, I basically got to know them all. And then I started to explain to them how they could help me as well. So if you think about that over two and a half years of one to one coffees, lots of conversations. We then built a BBC Change Community Charter, where we went out and told people if they became part of My Wheel of Fortune, what the benefits would be to them, what they would gain.

So for example, one networking event a month online, information ahead of the game of any changes that were coming out to the BBC, extra training, facilitation skills, speakers, that we would bring in, change community events and days two or three times a year and the opportunity to network because most of these people work in silos and actually don’t know each other so they’re actually cross functioning and cross pollinating.

Stephanie Ho: And it’s that point that you made, so back to when you said building a legacy and then you said, you know, building the right behaviours, you know, everyone in that community they had very similar sort of behaviours, values, you know, drive, all coming from different backgrounds, but that allows that creativity, that spark, right, of leveraging different perspectives to create solutions together.

That’s basically what you created, a group of people with very similar behaviours and then teaching, passing that on to the next people that come through the door. And then that will continue even after you’ve left that community, the people that you’ve sort of taught those values to, or even share those behaviours with, they’re going to continue passing it down.

Lou Robey: What was really interesting, what you say, because one of the things we haven’t touched on is the culture change program was very much set on the values of the BBC. And you said to me, oh, it’s really great because you’ve got people to collaborate and be really creative. Well, creativity is the lifeblood of the BBC. Respect. 

You know, how do I, so our remit as a culture change program was to build a great place to work. That is what we were enabling. The values for what we were marking our homework on in terms of, are you living these values? So we have a slide, which is very difficult to explain on a podcast. I’ll get into massive detail here because it wouldn’t work, but it’s effectively a three way handshake.

So you imagine that we’ve got all our values, so we’re trusted, we’re impartial, creativity is the lifeblood of what we do, and we try and operate. Collaboratively as one BBC. There’ll be others that I’ve missed for the sake of this podcast, but the point I’m making is, is that we then put in some, we’re trying to build high performance teams.

We’re trying to make sure our leaders are effective and I know we’ll get into impacts, but we effectively, and not me, obviously, but people in the BBC put in a senior leader index model where they would be measured against the values in their appraisals. So when you say, am I a respectful leader? Do I put creativity at the heart of everything we do? Do I understand the strategy of the BBC and do I communicate that well? 

All of that is marked up against the behaviours and the values of the BBC and the behaviours that we expect to see. And if you aren’t meeting those targets, then things are now starting to happen. But the values, and I can’t really emphasise enough, that that was absolutely the bedrock.

Of the culture change program. And so all the training that we did and all the tools that went out and all the work that we did. So there’s a phenomenal lady called Heather Palmer, who essentially rewrote the 40 HR policies across the BBC. Give her a medal. Well, hopefully we, she’s in the finalists for the Women in Change Award. Let’s see. 

By the way, I don’t actually judge those if anybody’s listening in case she wins. I don’t know. But yeah, I mean, you know, you have to think back for two years, nobody knew what we were doing. Pretty much for the first two years, because we were actually building the foundation. So we weren’t building it on sand, you know, the work that Susan Lovell and Heather and myself and many others were doing, what was actually to build the foundation of that culture change and what that would look like and be clear about that.

And, and one of the things, again, I may be stepping ahead and forgive me, but one of the things on that model of building that network was when I knew I was going to be made redundant. Everyone was going, “what’s going on with the network? We’ve got all these people now, you’ve built this amazing change community.”

And it was really active by the way, and we can talk about how do you know that, but really incredibly active. The energy was amazing. And then there was this worry of like, how will it self-sustain? Because there’s a, there’s a feeling like, well, Lou’s not here. What are we going to do? You know, and whilst we all stepped up in the traditional change network, I wasn’t sure that that would be the same in this non-traditional version.

So I did something that probably most people would think was a really odd thing to do, but I asked on LinkedIn if anybody would like to come and mark my homework. And I actually shared, well, first of all, I was totally blown away for anybody listening to this that actually said, yes, I was blown away by the generosity of offering feedback and thoughts on something that I’m sure people could have charged a lot of money for.

I’m really got no credit. I didn’t credit them particularly, but they did come and one of my colleagues, Adam and I sat in a room and we just basically did the same pitch to seven different people over a period of about seven hours. It was a long day.

And I can honestly say that there was only one thing that came out from that conversation that perhaps we hadn’t thought of. And it is very much as I understand it, a very strong self sustaining network. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think that’s showing another power of community of people that are interested in this. The fact that you’ve gone out to LinkedIn, you’ve put yourself out there to be scrutinised, which is, by no means an easy thing to do. And actually people who really believe in the work that we do have actually said, “yeah, do you know what? I’m going to come and I’m going to try and help you out.” I think that is an incredibly powerful community to be part of and has the exact same roots as I think what you, what you’ve just been sharing with us about how you built that community at the BBC.

I actually love how we started this podcast talking about traditional internal change capability, because. When you do that, it’s very much, here’s a project, here you are on your own, off you go, the project’s done. Brilliant. Yeah, what exactly, what now? You know, where’s all that learning gone? Where’s all that momentum that you might have built, or may not have built?

You might have been running up that hill on your own doing a marathon, but what in actual fact that you’ve been talking about is something that’s just so much more exciting and when people are excited, it’s going to keep on going. 

Lou Robey: Yeah. And it’s even bigger than that. So I’ll give you an example where there were things, really big, high thinkings that were going on around programs in the BBC.

And I don’t mean traditional programs that you’re watching on television, although that might be the case. These were project programs. And the BBC has now a standing army. So, you know, when they say we need to roll out a manager’s road show for the final strategy of the BBC and we need facilitators to help us to get people to understand why they need to do that, bang, standing army.

We need to do some higher thinking on this next part of this really big change for the BBC. Again, standing army, people being able to do that. We’ve got masterclasses in learning through change. We’ve actually trained up people in that network to run organisational development masterclasses. We’ve built a suite of tools online to help leaders lead through change.

They need help to understand where it is and what it is. We have people that can do that. So suddenly, all those things that we were just doing quietly in the background, and you go to me, “but if only I could train my leaders on how to understand change, that would just be really helpful.” Well, we can do that because we’re all ready to do it.

We’ve even recorded it. So we could watch the recording, actually. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: We’re one step ahead of you actually.

Lou Robey: Yeah. And we really were, we genuinely really were. I mean, so much so, the whole team won an industry award a couple of weeks ago at the Change Awards. Because we, even though we’re, you know, any culture change program that runs is a minimum of five years, right?

And you would argue we’re only three years in. But what we were able to demonstrate was the impact that we have already made and so much impact with actually, and I’ll repeat again, no budget, no headcount, no team, you know, don’t ever sit next to Susan Lavelle because she’s just stolen. I used to say to people, be careful, you’re not going to end up working where you are for much longer.

She just had this amazing way. But, you know, between the two of us operationally, We were just hand in glove in managing people in and out constantly. But you have to want to constantly keep training people up. You have to have resilience and drive to repeat and repeat and repeat. And be passionate. And be passionate.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: So I’ve got an absolutely huge smile on my face in the background here because I’m just so excited by this. I’m sure we could actually ask you a million and one questions on this, but I’m sure it came with its challenges. Are you happy to share any of the challenges that you kind of faced and how you faced them when you were starting to build this network?

Lou Robey: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question because most of the doors were closed. I won’t name where at the moment for the sake of this example, but I will give the example because I think it’s really important. But there was one area where the HR Director came to us and said, I think we have a cultural problem in our area, and I think it’s really serious, and I’m not sure I can solve it on my own, but I know I have to help solve it, and I don’t know where to start.

And so what we did was we obviously went and understood what she thought that challenge might be. But what we actually did is we went into that part and sat there for three months and we did deep, deep, deep listening. And it was hard. I mean, it was really hard. But what came out of that was a whole revolution around how people really wanted that division to be, ultimately.

And it came from the bottom up. And whilst I can’t get into the full details, I can tell you that it was transformational in the space of a year. So where you might argue 50 percent of those people might have left. That was not the case. They were able to use their voice, their power to explain why that division had to change and what they had to listen to.

And interestingly, when we went to report back to the executive part of that area of the business, we asked them the same questions from the deep listening exercise that we asked the staff, or the teams, I don’t really like that word, the teams, and all their answers were practically the same. So they did know the problem, but they were, I guess, maybe stuck how to solve it.

So having that intervention and a consultative eye of that deep listening in a very safe, psychological safe environment, and you know, I interviewed some people more than four times. I think it was one of the most nerve wracking experiences I had to feed back about that. I mean, I still get deeply upset at some of the things I heard because I couldn’t believe people really felt that way at work.

And now they’re not, and I know they’re not because I still hear from them. So I think when you go and pilot where the energy is, you have to be prepared to start small and you have to be prepared to go deep. When you can then demonstrate, and they’ve actually shared their learning, they’ve come out and they’ve shared their learning across the BBC.

And I think people have been really struck by the openness of sharing around something that was deeply, deeply worrying and troubling. And I think therefore it’s helped other parts to come forward and say, actually, we need to do that. 

Stephanie Ho: You touched on really two important parts there. The role of Change Managers or change agents. It’s almost diplomatic between the people in the organisation and leadership because we often talk about buy in from leadership sponsorship, but we don’t talk enough about sponsorship from the actual workforce. Buy in from the workforce. And if you don’t have the, I guess, socialise the idea of, okay, this is the change that we need to target. And we’re listening to you. We’re actively listening to you to understand how could we approach this? What’s a sustainable way to make this change happen? 

You can address it and say, and suggest as a leader, yeah, that’s something we’ve got to do, but actually not figuring out, okay, is that actually tangible?

Is that something that we can actually fulfil, within your role, et cetera. It’s never going to positively change. You, you’ll just keep going back in the same loop, the same cycle and going back to position one. 

Lou Robey: Yeah. You know, this goes back to listening and, and bottom up. It doesn’t all, I mean, you need a great visionary as a leader and you need to always be told why.

And you need to understand what the road is to get you there and what the vision is, of course. But when you’re doing something around culture. That’s much harder, right? Because you’re trying to get from the way we operate here today. And there’ll always be one or two people that are going to try and annihilate that and cause problems.

And sometimes those people have to go. Okay. And that’s, that’s a whole other conversation about you get them to go. And that’s why the values became so, so important. Right. And there were some people along the way that just said, actually, it’s not for me. I, I don’t think I want this. I don’t want to be here for the next bit and that’s fine because it’s what that does.

But I think when you have the power of that particular example and you’re really listening and that suddenly the exec are really listening and they’re saying, the teams are saying, “Oh, he really listened or she really listened or they really listened and I can see they’re serious and we’re seeing small changes.” Look, you’re not going to change the world overnight right but incremental change people start seeing that incremental change they start believing and therefore they start backing and then they start pushing to go faster and go with it.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think you’ve hit upon a number of things then. The listening element of it, the importance of leadership in that, and they can be your biggest advocate or your biggest problem. And I know I’ve seen that in many, many places where with all the greatest intention, something that could have been fabulous has just fallen down because we didn’t get the right sponsor or the right backing.

So that’s a number of like really, really interesting challenges. Are there any other challenges that you kind of experienced? 

Lou Robey: I mean, I think standing up in front of, so we had to stand up in front of 95 leaders and get them to understand why they needed to make changes in another division.

And this was straight out of COVID. I mean, nobody had seen each other for nearly three years, right? And we brought them into a studio and it was the first time they’d actually seen each other for nearly three years. But I think what was really interesting with that example. Was that the Director of that particular division was extremely clear, and it was a female actually, but she was extremely clear as to what the two big improvements she wanted to make within the next year.

One was around creativity and one was around respect. And she was, it goes back to your points, Stephanie, extremely clear about why they were there, and what they had to do. And if they weren’t prepared as, you know, to get on the bus, so to speak, then she needed to have a word with them. So I think having that backing on something that could have really been, I had to stand up in front of 95 leaders and tell them why they had to do this.

Then you sort of think, well, You know, really? But what we did with that was that we built the packs ahead of time, all scripted, everything that they would have to do, how many team briefs they would have to do. We then sent out a feedback form and we were able to build the themes. And then in the staff survey, we were able to then show the difference from where they were.

And we use the staff survey, by the way, the engagement scores say, why did we pick these two? Let me show you. And then a year later, brought them back together and said, You have moved the dial. This is how you move the dial and good on you. That could have been a really heartbeat missing moment. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah. And you, you’ve spoken about some important things in there that again, I think are really critical for a change capability.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to pick away at it, which is also sometimes a real challenge in our space, because it’s like, show me the immediate response to it. Show me the immediate return that we get from this. So you’ve mentioned sort of reinforcing it with feedback loops showing actually this is why we’re doing it and this is the change that you’ve happened to evoke and supporting it because you can also go and say that to 95 leaders but actually if you didn’t have all that material prepared and didn’t have all the information to give them they could very much walk away and not know what to do with that information themselves so it’s reminding ourselves actually they’re also part of this change as well and we as change managers or change leaders have to guide them through it at the same time.

Lou Robey: Completely, I mean look it’s a very paternalistic organisation, the BBC, but going back to a couple of points I’d just like to sort of reiterate is that first of all you are sort of an in-house consultant right so if you take that model in you use the word we both used it actually in your speech but diplomacy, diplomat I have said from day one I am a diplomat.

In everything that I do, I, it’s not about whether I want it or not. I’m just here to explain why you have to do it. I mean, one of the most difficult changes I ever had to do was to bring the one show from West 12 to West 1. I mean, yeah, there’s a few grey hairs here. Let me tell you, because why would you want to leave a building that’s totally yours, that you can do what you like to come into a building where you have to share everything?

I mean, there was a, that was a very… 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Where’s the positives in there for the people that were doing it for you? Why would they want to move? 

Lou Robey: Right. Okay. And so it happened. There was a lot, but until you can get to that point, you have to even be, be able to, I remember seeing that gentleman lying on the floor of his office when I walked in and I didn’t know what to do.

So I laid down with him. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: What was it? I will not move. 

Lou Robey: I just literally laid down. He goes, what are you doing? I said, I don’t know, what are you doing? 

Meet people where they are, right? As hard as it can be, from the most basic lying on the floor to that. But I think, so how do you drive it? You share that success, you share those stories. The storytelling was massive in what we did, making films, making podcasts. Helen, my colleague, would constantly record the learning from each of those bits of things, whether it was us that was doing it or other people were just naturally doing it in the organisation BBC finance team, oh my God, there were streets ahead of everybody and we kept finding out what they were doing.

So we kept recording what they were doing and playing it back and playing it back. 

Stephanie Ho: But I love that transparency element of it. The acknowledging, for example, lessons learned, like acknowledging, yes, it didn’t go well. There were mistakes, but we can learn from it. Or, you know, meeting people there and saying, yes, I know it’s difficult for you and having that empathy to understand where they’re coming from and being transparent and saying, yes, I understand your position or I can try my best to understand your position, but let’s head together in that direction and try and figure out a way out. Which is an important element of getting people to get that, again, buy in into the narrative and understanding the why, why are we heading that direction? 

Lou Robey: Yeah, and we made a lot of films. I mean, you know, we really did try and showcase everything.

There’s a fabulous little story of, we called it, Values Into Action. Because it was when I talked about that division I went to with the 95, 96 leaders. And actually one of the… 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: That does actually have my hair stood up on end. So I’m kind of thinking, Oh my God. 

Lou Robey: Straight after COVID, haven’t seen anyone. Here I go. But out of that, there’s a wonderful case study where the newsroom actually started to invite people that may not necessarily work in news every day, but they come into the brainstorms for news features and thinking about it from, well, we put audiences at the heart of what we do, so thinking about that.

And we interviewed the, the younger people that were going in that perhaps didn’t have all the news skills. Say, what did that feel like for you? How did you feel going into an environment with all these news journos and stuff? 

And then we interviewed it from the other angle, which is your 40 years in news. What did it feel like having somebody come in that you didn’t think had the credibility? And actually, both of them said that they thought it was really refreshing, because the ones that didn’t have all of the skills learned masses from the people that did. And also, remember, we’ve all been locked in our bedrooms for two years or wherever we were locked up in, right?

And then from the other side, they were just seeing young blood, Looking at the audience from such a different point of view and our landscapes are changing, right? Our audiences are massively changing. Most people don’t listen to more than 15 minutes of content these days. How do you capture that in a news item?

And most young people, by the way, don’t watch news or read news. 

Stephanie Ho: It’s a 30 second reel. 

Lou Robey: Yeah. Right? And most of that’s not even right. We’ve got a general election coming, that’s a challenge. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Oh yeah, I’m interested to see how they’re going to approach that one. 

Lou Robey: And now you’ve got something called BBC Verify, because not only can we tell you the news, we have to tell you how we found the news, and then how we made the news, and then how do we know what we’re telling you is true and that we are trusted. 

So again, that was a beautiful story. And that case study was on the back of that work that was done over that year. And it was one of the outputs of just thinking, how do we become more creative? 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah. And what I really like also is the change capability that you’ve built has used, the industry or the business that you’re in.

So the approaches that you’ve used are things that speak to the people that you are working with. Well, I think that’s so exciting. And I think that’s something that sometimes certain change capabilities miss is like, you’ve got your audience, your employees and your teams that you’re working with. They’ve chosen to work at your company for a reason. So let’s speak their language because that’s going to resonate with them really well. And it sounds like you’ve used loads of different types of media and kind of ways of, sharing news that actually you go out and share with the public as well. You’ve used those mechanisms to engage that community.

And I think that’s really, really quite cool. 

Lou Robey: Yeah, I mean, the other thing that, just because I’m nosy, right, was I started, and this obviously now everybody knows about it, but at the time, not many people were talking about it, but AI was coming. And I kept thinking, well, AI’s mammoth, right? That’s gonna totally change.

And not just from an industrial revolution across industry, but it’s going to really change the way we make programs and it’s going to, you know, I kept going to sessions. I don’t know about you guys, but we were told that there won’t be change managers when AI comes. They won’t need us. I’m not sure that’s absolutely right, but a few years ago.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I don’t think that’s the case either, especially for anyone listening. I don’t think that’s the case. Quite the opposite, really. 

Lou Robey: Yes, I think we definitely need human beings. But the point is, is that how do you build a culture around AI? And that suddenly became very much part of the culture change of the BBC. And actually I started to talk to those progressive people in R&D and all those fabulous places that we were very fortunate, the BBC, to have.

And I sort of said to them, you probably don’t know who I am or why I’m here, but I think we need to think about the values and the culture that you’re going to be building around AI. Because if you work in the back office, you might be able to use a lot of AI, but if you work in news, you might not be able to use much AI.

And how do you square that when I’m sitting next to you that I’ve got all the Chat GPT stuff that I need and you haven’t got any. Right. So we did a lot of work as a team to actually work together for the launch of the AI strategy around the culture that we wanted to build for the BBC as well. So we looked at Pocket.

So when you say, where did you go look for your work? We started to, well, I certainly did, but I know some of my team really started to think, right, what’s coming. What do I need? It was very intentional. Yeah. And they, again, and I know this because they’re great friends now, just were huge. They just kept saying they were hugely grateful we were there.

They hadn’t even realised they needed the standing army. Right. All those people that were going to be advocates for…

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Expanding the pizza party. 

Lou Robey: There we go. We’re getting some great places here. We’re getting fed. We need to find a drinks company. Oh, that’s the one sponsoring us. 

Key takeaways for aspiring change leaders

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think as we’ve been talking about this and anybody listening, I think probably sat there going, this makes a lot of sense to me. How do I start? What do I do? And I know Lou, when we started to talk about this, you shared with me, I’ve got 10 things that I can share that you should start doing.

And I have to confess, I don’t know, these 10 things. So I’m really excited to hear what these 10 things are. Are you able to share with us? 

Lou Robey: Yes, I absolutely am. I mean I’ve, I’ve probably said all of them at some point during this conversation, but to be concise, I think. You have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul, right?

And what I mean by that is you have to start with one to one conversations. Everything has to be about small, deep, meaningful conversations. The other thing that I mentioned while we were going through this is you have to upskill, so you have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and a lot of energy to bring people to a level and everyone will come at this from different levels because naturally through their grade or their experience of life or their interests. 

So, really important to think about your ability to upskill people and what you want to upskill them in. Be clear about that. Inspire. You know, I was passionate. I am passionate, which is, you know, the Women in Change thing again, it’s all about passion. So how do I keep the passion going and how do I make that infectious? Go back to the COVID example. It’s really about building a virus. So how do you keep them inspired? I said to everyone, why do you keep coming to my call? Or by the way, it was around the same day every month, bit of a trick there. But if you keep it in around the same week of every month, then people will say, is it the 15th?Have I got a call with Lou? I know. 

And I always made sure there was something on that call that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. So, and that’s what they said as part of the, um, when I was sort of just marking my own homework, I said, what’s the one thing you get from this calls? If we always get something that nobody else knew. And that was really important. 

Hive thinking opportunities, inviting them to hackathons, hive thinking, roundtables, whatever you call it. Real opportunities to engage in business and drive the business forward. Keeping them two steps ahead, really, again, key. 

I think consistency. I remember when somebody came in to start to take over my role and they went, Oh, I can’t find a speaker for that day. We’ll just cancel that session. I went, Oh no, you do know that I never cancel a session. And there was that horror on their face. But what do I do? I said, well, then you find a purpose. Yeah. You find a learning, you find something, or you ask the community, what do they need at that session? Right. So again, manage with consistency. 

Keep selling the benefits. I think that’s a key one for any change program, but keep reminding people what the benefits are for being in this network. I talked about the charter, keep referring back to the charter. 

Learning from others and being less siloed. Same thing, but constantly building a learning organisation and just keep reminding them about the Wheel of Fortune, right?

You know, who’s there, all the other people that are there for them and different parts of the business that they can go to. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: What amazing advice. And it’s all made me feel really excited about kind of all of those opportunities out there that we can kind of bring that to other folks as well. So that’s really, really cool.

What a great conversation. Lou, thank you so much for coming into our offices today and having a conversation with us. Do you want to share a little bit how we can get in touch with you? And I know also you’ve got the Women in Change Network as well. 

Lou Robey: Yeah, well, I’m quite prolific on LinkedIn, so I’m Louise Robey on LinkedIn, but Women in Change, so it’s literally, as it says, and we’ve got some really interesting things happening, because we’re actually launching our own magazine and that’s gonna be on LinkedIn in June, so have a lookout for that. But there is a Women in Change page on LinkedIn and although we offer a membership and paid membership, you don’t actually have to necessarily join us in that way. So if you just want to come and have a feel for who we are, then the best place is to go to either the website or the LinkedIn page.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Well, I hope everyone out there has really, really enjoyed today’s podcast. Obviously, if you want to get in touch with us, all our details are in the show notes, but a big thank you to both Lou and Steph for being our guests today. 

Lou Robey: Thank you very much. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Wonderful.


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