March 2015- Change Practitioner of the Month

Each month we aim to name (and applaud) the person, persons and /or Organisation which has surprised us with their bravery in going beyond the norm and proposing or implementing a change in the status quo.

The award for the change practitioner for the March 2015 goes to…the BBC for:

  • The suspension and ultimate sacking of one of their highest paid presenters, Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson.

Jeremy Clarkson had assaulted a Top Gear producer 3 weeks prior, out of anger at apparently not having hot food available to eat at a hotel they were staying at whilst filming an episode for the show. The producer was taken to hospital with a busted lip. The story also goes that said producer was, in addition to the busted lip, also verbally abused by Clarkson, and threatened with the sack for his “cold food” offence. Clarkson handed himself in to BBC bosses who subsequently investigated the incident and announced that Clarkson would no longer be retained, as “a line has been crossed” and “there cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another”.

 So why does his sacking warrant the Change Practitioner of the Month award for the BBC? Simply this:

  • Top Gear is one of the BBC’s flagship show with an incredible 13 year global success which is unprecedented for a factual TV programme.
  • Jeremy Clarkson, is the key presenter of the show and his passion, eccentricity, unpredictability, antics and outspokenness have contributed, in no small measures, to its success.
  • Due to the undeniable strong link between the presenter and the popularity of the show, the BBC has been forced to turn the other cheek to his antics / not so cleaver behaviours many times in the past and instead chose to let him off with nothing more than a slapped wrist on each occasion.

In May 2014, Clarkson appeared to use the n-word as he sang a nursery rhyme on Top Gear. He gave a grovelling apology after the episode was aired, saying he was “mortified” and that he did “everything in my power to make sure that version did not appear in the programme that was transmitted”.

In January 2012, during a Top Gear India special, Clarkson appeared to make fun of the lack of sanitation in the country by driving around the slums in a Jaguar fitted with a toilet. The Indian High Commission in London made a formal complaint to the BBC as a result of the offence.

Back in December 2011, there was public outcry when he stated on another BBC programme (The One Show) that striking public sector workers should be shot dead “in front of their families”.

These are just snippets of the numerous incidents that Clarkson has been involved in over the years, but all of these “fracases” have been met with half-hearted, lacklustre apologies from Clarkson, undoubtedly forced into them by his BBC employers.

The bottom line is that the Jeremy Clarkson / Top Gear partnership is a “cash cow” for the BBC which has made the corporation (and Mr Clarkson) a significant amount of money. With it’s global reach of over 350 million views per week in 170 different countries, Top Gear holds the Guinness Book of Records for the most watched factual programme in the world, and appeals to a broad demographic, with 40% of its audience being female, statistically highly unusual for what is essentially a show about cars. The success of the show has spawned 22 series and 174 episodes in a 13 year life span, and has inspired the creation of localised versions such as Top Gear Korea, Russia, US and Korea.

It’s no wonder the BBC has seemingly let Jeremy Clarkson “off the hook” for incidents which in every other walk would have cost him his job in a heartbeat. To many people, Mr Clarkson is Top Gear period.

Against this backdrop, the BBC’s decision to enforce a change which basically chooses behaviours and values over finances is all the more remarkable….and admirable. It is a change that has not come without its problems. The BBC Director-General and his wife have been placed under 24 hour police surveillance due to death threats resulting directly from his decision to sack Clarkson, and the producer who was the victim of Clarkson’s attack has also been threatened and abused on social media. There is also, one can only assume, the very real fear amongst the BBC bosses that the show will not be able to survive with another presenter at the helm.

Yes, the BBC has been forced to make this drastic change in order to protect its values, its employees and its reputation. No doubt it would have preferred not to be put in this situation. However, unlike most of us when faced with implementing a change which would disrupt our comfortable status quo existence and ultimately hurt us in the short term, the BBC rose to the challenge, took control and took the bold steps that signified a pending change before it became too late.

It is for is reason that the BBC is awarded the Facilitate4Me March 2015 Change Practitioner of the month.

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