In this discussion with Dr. Martyn Newman, Group CEO of Sky – Jeremy Darroch – explains the organisation’s culture of innovation and how emotional intelligence skills have become the bedrock of creative success.
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?
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 it’s execution.
Martyn Newman: I know at the Summit you will talk more about leadership and it’s role in fostering innovation. I know it’s possible to find a lot of books on leadership and quite a few books on creativity and innovation, but very few people seem to put them together. As a leader in your business, what do you see as the relationship between leadership and the quality and volume of creative initiatives inside the business? Are there some initiatives that you can take as a leader to foster an innovative climate?
Jeremy Darroch: I think there are. A lot of it is around the work that we have been doing right across the organisation, around how we help people. How do we draw in the full suite of skills that they’ve got to apply in delivering creativity and innovation? How do we define creativity and innovation as opportunities that exist right across our business? I think one of the challenges, for example, is people often think about innovation in relation to product initiatives – they’ll link creativity to content. For me, there are only two manifestations of creativity. There’s no reason why we can’t be and we should be, innovative right across the scope of the business. I see innovation and creativity as very broadly applicable across others, because really they’re all about the application of ideas.
“How do we define creativity and innovation as opportunities that exist right across our business?”
How do we take ideas and apply them in ways that mean we’re better today than what we were in the past? Since we’ve brought all of the Sky’s across Europe together, some of the most valuable ideas we’ve had are when we’ve found creativity and innovation that exist in smaller parts of our business and we’ve brought it back to the bigger part of the business. That’s really where you get the benefit of leverage.
“Since we’ve brought all of the Sky’s across Europe together, some of the most valuable ideas we’ve had are when we’ve found creativity and innovation that exist in smaller parts of our business and we’ve brought it back to the bigger part of the business.”
Martyn Newman: That’s a fascinating insight. Because when people typically think about creativity they usually think of some sort of isolated creative genius, sitting in a cubicle, coming up with ideas, but you’re suggesting that really through this process of collaboration and particularly as you think about how Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia and Sky UK have come together, they’re quite diverse cultures, diverse experience and mindsets, but by them coming together and creating this culture of collaboration, it’s worked. As a result, you’re suggesting that there’s been more creative initiatives that have come from Sky as a whole, right?
Jeremy Darroch: Certainly. There’s no doubt about it. I think it’s enabled us to do things in Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland at a greater pace and a greater scale, than those organisations would have been able to do on their own. But I also think that we’ve learned in Sky in the UK, because we’ve had two organisations which haven’t had the resource pool that we’ve had in the UK. We’ve found that they have achieved an awful lot, often quicker and with a more agile mindset than we would have achieved in the UK. For me, as you start thinking of the big decisions that we make, we bring insight from the organisations in Germany or in Italy, or the UK. When you bring all these views and ideas together, it’s from this that really effective operational strategy can come. Then we have to think about the environment we create to enable that to flow and facilitate the crossflow of ideas.
“as you start thinking of the big decisions that we make, we bring insight from the organisations in Germany or in Italy, or the UK. When you bring all these views and ideas together, it’s from this that really effective operational strategy can come.”
Martyn Newman: You hear a lot of rhetoric from people wanting innovation, but once people do come together from diverse backgrounds, there can be conflict. There are quite different perspectives and views, isn’t there? And that you need to develop some sort of tolerance and patience, I guess, for those ideas to gestate and then come together.
To what extent do you think your investment in emotional intelligence skills over the last few years has provided a framework to enable people to become more self-aware of their impact on other people. And, do you think these are the sorts of skills that contribute to bringing diverse groups together and fostering creativity?
Jeremy Darroch: I think they are the absolute bedrock of our process of working, because there is creative tension, so you have to recognise that and make sure that is managed appropriately and in a way that’s stable. I think the core skills of optimism and empathy, and the ability to listen hard, are things that have really flowed from the work we’ve done on emotional intelligence and mindfulness and these are really important skill sets.
“…emotional intelligence and mindfulness …are really important skill sets.”
They become more important as you start to work across diverse organisations, where perhaps you’re with people less frequently and you’re connecting with them for a shorter period of time. This I think has been really central to what we’ve done. Of course, we’ve taken those core modules and we’ve had all of our senior leaders and an increasing number of our less senior leaders go through them. Now what has happened, of course, is that the muscle memory of the organisation, if you like, is becoming more consistent.
Martyn Newman: Yes.
Jeremy Darroch: I can see it today. I can see the quality of conversations, the listening skills, the ability for people to seek first to understand and put themselves in that colleague’s shoes, rather than jump to what’s immediate from where they sit. It’s just getting better and better and better.
Martyn Newman: That’s so hard to do isn’t it, when people feel pressure and stress, so maybe that’s the way mindfulness works as an ability to become more aware of the stress and it’s impact on your body and on your thinking and gain some skills over managing it. It really sets people up to engage in more productive and collaborative relationships together. I don’t think it would surprise you that when we crunched our data on a number of large groups of leaders, it turns out that the most productive leaders, those that create more innovation from their groups, score higher on three scales. For example, they score highly on self-actualisation – that’s the one that Maslow gave to us about energy, motivation and passion – so closely related to creativity. But interestingly, they also scored extremely well on relationship skills and empathy; this capacity to ensure that people are encouraged to contribute to the conversation. That everybody’s perspective is of value. Groups with these skills seem to produce far more innovative output than groups who tend to be led and dominated by strong charismatic people. Does that surprise you?
Jeremy Darroch: It doesn’t surprise me, but I also think that creating the environment where those things can happen is one of the great challenges. One of things that often makes me chuckle is that at the top of business, you’ll go to anybody and two things will typically be the case. First of all, they’ll have too much to do and the second thing is they’ll never give anything up. If you think about that, it’s a real conundrum.
Once you start to get people to think, “how can I get my colleagues, or the rest of the organisation to help me with that?” You can then give up things to enable a better focus on the areas where you can have greater value. Suddenly, you start to make the organisation much, much quicker.
I think at the heart of it is self-actualisation, which is just so fundamental to why people join and stay with organisations. But also, listening skills, and empathy are all critical to that. Just using the organisation and your colleagues as resources, rather than barriers is a really important mindset.
“I think at the heart of it self-actualisation, which is just so fundamental to why people join and stay with organisations. But also, listening skills and empathy are all critical to that.”
You know, stress and pressures never going to go away. That’s going to exist. It’s naïve to assume that we can wish that away. Much of the pressure I see, people put on themselves, because as high achievers they want to get better. They want to be successful.
I think the way to deal with that is to really focus on self-awareness and improve people’s ability to understand the situation; understand what’s going on around them and importantly, to understand how they’re reacting to it.
“the way to deal with that (stress) is to really focus on self-awareness and improve people’s ability to understand the situation; understand what’s going on around them and importantly, to understand how they’re reacting to it.”
Martyn Newman: There’s a lot of people listening to your comments that might say, Jeremy’s a bit soft. He’s running a large business with some hard commercial realities. You’ve got BREXIT happening and the uncertainties of the marketplace, and when that occurs, surely the skills that really will determine the future of business have a much more technical quality to them? But you’re suggesting that the skills for the future have a lot more to do with how people manage themselves and manage their stakeholder relationships. And that these are critical factors in the implementation of new initiatives or inventing new products or taking the business in a new direction. Is it as radical as that?
Jeremy Darroch: Absolutely. I think it’s always easy to think that simply by setting the right targets, the right goals, and the right sort of business process, that somehow the organisation is going to be able to sustain it’s performance in the long-term. My experience is quite the opposite. What occurs is that it can happen for a short period of time, but rapidly it runs down. Because for us, performance and success is not just one year or one quarter, it’s every year and every quarter. We don’t want to say we’ve achieved success, we want to repeat success and that requires us to really move, if you like, the performance curve to a different place.
One of the things I feel proudest about at Sky now, is that I see a set of leaders who increasingly set their own standards. I don’t need to set their standards for them anymore. They’re constantly redefining those standards. That allows me to be one step removed from that and really work on developing the environment with them in which they can achieve those goals. That’s repositioning, if you like, where the drive and direction comes from. I think when you create environments when leadership and divisions of the organisation are clear on purpose, buy the values, like the culture and know how to set their own goals and reset their goals, certainly you’ve got leverage going your way. The organisation no longer becomes an organisation that you have to push. Actually, if anything it has to be an organisation that you’ve got to hold back and say, you know, actually we shouldn’t do that, we just need to think about it this way.
“when you create environments where leadership… are clear on purpose, buy the values, like the culture, and know how to set their own goals and reset their goals, certainly you’ve got leverage going your way”
That’s really getting the power of numbers working your way. I often say, I can work at the top of our organisation and get 50% more out of my top team. That’s probably 10 people. Alternatively, I can create the environment where I can get 10% more out of everybody. That’s 3,000 people. That’s a very different capacity.
Martyn Newman: Great, so we’re almost out of time but I did want to ask you, speaking at this year’s EQ Summit we’ve got some of the biggest names in the industry, people like Daniel Goleman, the godfather of emotional intelligence. Sir Ken Robinson and I know you’ve invited Ken out to address some of your top leadership at Sky. We’ve got neuroscientists – Baroness Susan Greenfield and so on. A lot of people will be at the Summit because they really want to hear you addressing these issues, some of these challenges, and learn from your experience. I wonder Jeremy, from a personal point of view, what do you think are some of the questions that this year’s EQ summit really must address if it’s going to have lasting impact and make a difference going forward?
Jeremy Darroch: I think the questions I’ve really thought about are, how do you bring this to life in a business or an organisation? What’s the bridge between the theory of why we should do it and some of the really strong empirical underpinnings that exist? Where do I start? How do I start to roll it out? How do I get engagement across the organisation? What are some of the pitfalls?
I do think that this is an area where if you push too far, too quickly you risk losing people, so I think there’s a rate and pace around how you want to implement this that’s important. Then I think the more people that can help you understand and see some of the benefits that flow, just to build a confidence that when you actually pursue this, there’s a greater capacity you can tap into and bring some of those things to life. Some of those things are of enormous value.
Martyn Newman: That’s a great set of questions Jeremy. I think you’re right. I think we’ve got people in the room who together will address those issues very, very specifically. We’re looking forward to having your company on the day at the Summit.