A little while ago we met with Bucket List hero Darren Childs. Darren is the CEO of the UK’s biggest multi-channel broadcasting company, UKTV, and has radically transformed the way his company works. He freed the organization of its hierarchy, old-fashioned design and lack of engagement by getting rid of the traditional workplace with it’s command-and-control structures. The results? The organizational switch has created a more engaged, happy and creative workforce. Besides, UKTV has increased its market share from 4% to 10% and doubled its value in less than 5 years. But what exactly did Darren do to transform UKTV? We flew over to London, met with UKTV’s team and leadership to uncover their secrets.
Upon arrival and the moment we arrive at the main entrance of the building we have the feeling we are entering the most corporate place we’ve seen in the last 10 months. High ceilings, marble all over the place and a very traditional reception desk welcome us. The contradiction of this with one of Darren Childs’ first comments when we meet him is striking: “The command-and-control structure belongs to the industrial age. In the digital age we are living in, those structures have become outdated. As the digital age requires creativity, we need to do everything we can to build our organizations around creativity”.
1. Disassemble hierarchy through design
It all begins to make sense when we leave the corporate entrance, though, and enter the floors of UKTV, where we are welcomed by an open, fresh and colorful design. In the bespoke-designed office space, they have constructed a huge open stairway between the two floors in order to connect both workplaces. During our tour it becomes clear why. Everything at the UKTV office is designed in order to get rid of the command-and-control structures that belonged to ‘UKTV old style’. Darren: “We wanted to disassemble the hierarchy through design. Partly we did that by redesigning our entire office. We assembled this huge stairway to connect the two floors as we don’t want our employees to be separated. We want them to connect and bump into each other. These serendipitous meetings create some of the best ideas“. Other design changes that UKTV made:
- No managers have their own office
All managers that had their own office got rid of it and settled in between their colleagues. Darren: “Offices created a barrier for people to talk to each other. It hindered openness, transparency and engagement”. On our journey we’ve seen this change in almost all organizations. Higher management is willing to get rid of their privileges; from leaving their prestigious corner office to giving up premium parking spaces.
- Office space nomads
Employees regularly need to change desk. Moving around enables them to connect with new people every so often and increases innovation and creativity.
- Technology to support flexibility
Technology enables employees of UKTV to move around the office freely while still being able to do their work. People are stimulated to work in any part of the building they like, may it be outside, on the couches or the swing chairs. All work is stored in the cloud and accessible to each and every one of them, at every location imaginable. To us, this felt like the perfect stepping stone to having employees work whenever and wherever they want (like we’ve seen at for example the Belgian Ministry of Social Security). But at this stage, that seems one step too far for UKTV. Darren: “The broadcasting business is a team sport. That’s why we prefer everyone to work in the office”.
2. Radical transparency
Normally when hierarchy is reduced, decision making power is distributed throughout the organization. However, an essential condition for good decision making is access to the right information. To give everyone access to the information, lots of progressive organizations implement what they call radical transparency. It allows access to all information for all employees. UKTV increased transparency by:
- Weekly town hall meeting
All employees gather during a weekly meeting in which the most important information is shared. From executive decisions to updates on projects and from celebrating success to sharing failure.
- Ask unasked questions
A black box with a white question mark on it is attached to one of the walls. Anyone who wants to put an anonymous question out to Darren and the leadership team can write it on piece of paper and place it in the box. During the weekly town hall meeting, Darren opens up the box, reads any questions out loud and then answers them instantly. Darren: “It increases transparency and accountability for management. It not only sends out a clear signal to everyone that we promote transparency, it also helps people to ask questions that are often unasked”.
- List of leadership performance
Managers are evaluated by their teams. The scores of these evaluations are then made public. Everyone can see their score and it’s therefore easy to spot bad management. Darren: “We have zero tolerance for bad leadership. We try to find ways to improve bad evaluation scores, but if it doesn’t work out we have to look for other solutions.”
3. Company values done right
Many pioneering organizations get rid of lots of cumbersome rules and protocols. Instead they determine values to live by. At UKTV these values are: Create, Learn, Influence, Challenge, and Collaborate (more info here) and there are posters with each word up on the walls. But these aren’t just nice wall decorations, UKTV has implemented several initiatives to stimulate staff to live by those values:
- Recruit for values
Not only are the values an important tool in making the right business decisions, it also helps them to recruit the right people. In the recruiting process they focus on company culture by assessing applicants on the five company values. This process is similar to Spotify’s credo on recruiting: hire for culture, train for skill.
- Award for values
Awards are handed out to employees that performed exceptionally well. But at UKTV ‘exceptionally well’ does not necessarily mean what it means at other organizations. Where traditionally employees are awarded for results like highest sales or most successful project, at UKTV awards are handed out to employees that have demonstrated the company values in an exceptional way.
- Put your money where your mouth is
A great example of living the values is through their Innovation Pot Scheme, which is meant to stimulate the value Create. Every quarter employees can pitch an idea that centres on business innovation; from production proposals to organizational improvements. The best ideas are awarded with the required resources (money, time, and skills) to realize the idea. The creators of the ideas can lead on the project and bring it to fruition with support from the company.
The result? In traditional organizations only 20% of employees can recite the values, not to mention understand them. At UKTV more than 90% of employees can not only name the values but can also explain how they are guiding them in their daily work.
A never ending journey
For those of you looking for quick fixes and culture hacks to create the perfect workplace, keep looking. Darren: “Crafting the perfect culture is a never ending process. Here nothing is set in stone. What works well now, might not work in the future. We continuously experiment, learn and adapt.” And so the story for UKTV continues. Time will tell if their future changes will lead to an ever more successful organization with even more engaged employees. We are grateful to have seen their unique workplace, because once again UKTV proves it can be done. The radical change they made may not have been easy, but a combination of idealism, perseverance, and experimenting has made them come pretty damn far.
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