Innovating to stay ahead of the pack – with SKY CEO Jeremy Darroch - eqsummit.com

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Innovating to stay ahead of the pack – with SKY CEO Jeremy Darroch

In part 1 of this discussion with Dr. Martyn Newman, the CEO of Europe’s leading media company explains the culture of innovation that keeps SKY ahead of the chasing pack.

 

Martyn Newman: Jeremy, it’s good to have a few moments of your time ahead of the Emotional Intelligence Summit on May 25th this year in London. The theme of this year’s Summit is, of course, emotional intelligence, mindfulness and creativity. I guess in a time of rapid change, a lot of people today are convinced that the ability to innovate and change direction and create new products and services and so on is the key to survival. And Sky, certainly, is regarded I think as the hotbed of innovation. Probably a lot to do with the way you’ve created original programming, original technology and original collaborations across geographic boundaries and so on. Do you think that title is well deserved from where you sit at the moment as CEO?

Jeremy Darroch: Well, I think the core purpose of our business is to perpetually renew. I mean, I would say personally renew, rather than just change. I think sometimes when businesses talk about change it can feel like change for change’s sake, and renewal to me captures more our heritage and how we need to make sure, that remains relevant and modern for the future. Ultimately as I look at a business like Sky, and Sky is a business that doesn’t really own very much – it’s not as if we’ve got a big mine or a big patent with a tale of earnings for the future –  really a business that’s built around people and ideas.

“We’re really a business that’s built around people and ideas.”

So, as we think about this idea of renewing the business for the future, that leads us to innovation. How do we innovate across the full suite of our products and our content? How do we do new things that allow customers to feel that we’re relevant for their future lives? As opposed to being important in their past, I think when you push the business in that direction, what you want to do is have the full suite of your capabilities available to you.

“How do we do new things that allow customers to feel that we’re relevant for their future lives as opposed to being important in their past…?”

I’ve increasingly learned over the years that the answer to many of the questions that we face isn’t going to be found in a spreadsheet. It’s a much more diverse and complex set of things that you need to understand. You need to understand people’s attitudes as well as their behaviours. Through attitudes, we can start to think about where they will go. Behaviours tend to tell us about what they do today. I think we’re a deeply individual organisation certainly, but innovation is driven by the sense of renewal. Constantly making sure that the business stays relevant for the future.

“Innovation is driven by the sense of renewal. Constantly making sure that the business stays relevant for the future.”

Martyn Newman: Yes, that’s interesting. When you think about innovation it’s not something that can be compelled or commanded to that degree is it. It really is something that’s enabled. What have you done at Sky specifically to enable innovation to take place there?

Jeremy Darroch: First of all, I think across every area of the business we’ve legitimised it. The reason that we talk about “Believe in Better” as an organisation is because it allows anybody in our organisation, wherever they are, to say, “This can be better. This isn’t good enough and we need to improve it.” Then quite deliberately you create a bit of a rod for your own back, because once you’ve established that direction you have to follow it through. I think it is really having the confidence and a bit of courage to put that right at the centre of the organization. Not just at the top of the organisation, but throughout the organisation. And from that, innovation then flourishes, and then we spend a lot of time really thinking about how we innovate, identifying successes, because successes are important because it says to us, if we can do it here then we can do it somewhere else.

“The reason that we talk about “Believe in Better” as an organisation is because it allows anybody in our organisation, wherever they are, to say this can be better… from that, innovation then flourishes.”

Then identifying where things are not working and having the culture that allows us to swarm, if you like quickly over those things and improve them. But always with an overarching mindset of improvement and betterment rather than failure or blame. That, I think traps you, whereas I think if you have a belief of perpetually trying to improve that, you’ll find that will start to flow broadly through the organisation. But it’s not always comfortable. As I say, when people come back and say, “this isn’t good enough”, it requires you to address it. You can’t push these things aside, because that starts to undermine the whole direction if you don’t follow through.

Martyn Newman: I’ve worked with you over the last couple of years and with some of your teams and I know some of the things that you’re known for in the business. Some of the principles that you operate on are things like having a shared purpose and a shared set of values and commitments. It seems to me that these are fundamental to how you see culture emerging and evolving. Do you think that culture is really critical to the creation of innovation and initiatives like this?

Venue for the EQ Summit 2017 - London, May 25th
Venue for the EQ Summit 2017 – London, May 25th

Jeremy Darroch: Yes, I do. I think they serve a number of different roles in the business. I think consistent values and purpose, that we all buy into, are non-negotiable. They’re not things that we work through collectively, but are set. They are the fundamental glue that links everybody together. For some people, we recognise we’re not for them. For whatever reason, either they don’t share the same set of values, or the same sense of purpose, and that’s fine. This probably just means that this is not an organisation for them. Culture I think, is then the thing that really brings that purpose and the values to life. They determine the way that we operate, the way that we are.

“Culture I think is the thing that really brings that purpose and the values to life.”

Now, I’ve learned over the years two or three things. I think first of all you have to convince people. You can’t just keep telling people what it is that they have to do. They have to buy into it themselves for it to work. Also, of course, as the organisation gets bigger and more diverse, a common culture and value set will orientate people broadly in the right direction. That doesn’t mean to say that everybody in Sky would take a decision exactly the way I would take it, but you know they probably wouldn’t be a million miles away from that. Once you start to roll those things out and embed them, what you find, I think, is you really find a consistency of approach across the organisation that flows from the top and all the way through. That really provides the sort of pace and direction, almost in a self-sustaining way. It just makes it easier when the organisation is much more nimble, much quicker in terms of its execution.

 

Want to hear more fascinating insights from Jeremy? Get your tickets to the Summit below! There are a limited number of tickets left, so don’t miss out.  

Martyn Newman, PhD, is MD of RocheMartin who are hosting the EQ Summit in London on May 25th. The theme of this year’s Summit is ‘emotional intelligence, mindfulness and creativity’ and also features Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Goleman, Ruby Wax and Baroness Susan Greenfield.