As Crikey goes to air, the Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, will be ruffling feathers among his senior management by telling them they must adopt a leadership culture and get rid of the “tick the boxes” management approach that has characterised the organisation.

In his first executive love-in since taking on the post last year, Scott will tell his top people he wants to lose what has been described by some insiders as an ABC culture of “death by management” in which following rules is more important than outcomes.

In an indication of Scott’s approach, the assembled managers will be addressed by former CSIRO Chair Catherine Livingstone, who has talked in the past about the nurturing of ideas within a cash-strapped public service oriented organisation, but whose restructure and reorientation of CSIRO also caused antagonism.

All this may put some noses out of joint. There is no doubt that some senior ABC figures are feeling under pressure – but there is also a general mood for change at the ABC after years of management, rather than leadership, from Scott’s predecessor Russell Balding.

Scott will tell his audience that given its funding restraints the ABC’s only strength is its people. This might well be dismissed as empty cliché were it not for the fact that it is to be backed up by a comprehensive rejig of the ABC’s Human Resources Department, which has been seen as underperforming, or performing oddly, for some years, particularly during the period when the ABC was plagued with allegations of bullying staff.

In the next few weeks the ABC will be advertising for a new Director of People and Learning, reporting directly to Scott, to oversee staff management, development and succession planning. All the admin – payroll, and the like – will be in a separate Operations division.

This restructure followed a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report late last year that found only 11% of Human Resources effort was strategic, and almost half of all time was spent on administration. Not good for an organisation which relies so heavily on recruiting and deploying talent.

The incumbent Director of HR, Colin Palmer, is expected to apply for the new position but there are obvious implications in the fact that it will also be advertised externally.

To give some of the flavour of where Palmer, and the other executives recently departed and under pressure fit, a close ABC observer recently opined that a great deal could be gleaned from a walk through the car park at Ultimo headquarters.

Robyn Watts, the recently departed head of ABC Enterprises, had a Mercedes Sports. Colin Palmer had a statesman or similar with CP number plates and the head of legal, also believed to be under some pressure, drove a little Peugot.

“I said to people at the time that that seemed to sum up the differences in style and personality between three weak links.”

Today Scott will be telling his managers that he cares about their results, but also about how they get their results. In particular he will say he wants a zero tolerance of bullying but also that he wants honest conversations between management and staff, and managing for performance rather than being bound by rules.

He will also lay in to the bugbear of the ABC – the interdivisional rivalries and jealousies, telling his senior people they will be judged on their contribution to the whole ABC, not only on ticking boxes within their departments.

Watch for the fallout.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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