Remarks at the Public Media Business Association Conference

Pat Harrison, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
 Remarks at the Public Media Business Association Conference
Long Beach, California
Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thank you.

Good afternoon. So great to be here in Long Beach.

And see the sun.

We have had so much rain in Washington, D.C., that our now famous swamp is overflowing — in fact, it is more swampy than ever before.

So, this is a welcome climate change.

The last time I spoke at a PMBA Conference was three years ago in Washington, D.C.

A lot has happened since then, so I thought it might be a good time for us to catch up together.

Especially at this juncture of great cultural change and disruption.

A few weeks ago, at the PBS Annual Meeting in New Orleans I spoke to general managers about culture and leadership impacting the long-term relevancy of public media.

And I thought I might continue that conversation at PMBA today, as we look at ways to invest in and advance a future focused public media culture of innovation and inclusion.

No one defined culture better than the late management guru Peter Drucker who said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

And to drive home the point, someone added, “and it eats innovation for lunch.” (And probably the business plan for dinner.)

What this means is, culture rules.

It can strengthen your leadership, it can support or derail strategy, it can advance a mission or bring it to a thudding standstill.

For CPB, which is distinct from PBS and NPR and APTS, in our role as the steward of the federal appropriation, and before we even get to discuss mission and vision, we must demonstrate that we strive for and support a culture of accountability.

Which is why PMBA’s role is a vital one, helping stations with the compliance process and raising the standards of accounting.

You are an important partner for CPB, as together we work to develop the strongest foundation possible of best practices and policies that will ensure a vibrant future for public media.

To help us strengthen this culture of compliance and trust, CPB works with the office of the inspector general, Mary Mitchelson and her team.

In her capacity as IG she reports to the CPB board and conducts audits and inquiries to determine if our grants are being managed properly and if we are complying with the Communications Act.

These checks and balances, along with PMBA’s work, are demonstrations of how we embrace accountability.

So, when I testify before Congress, as I did a year ago, before the house Labor H Subcommittee, I can attest to our fiscal responsibility through the process we follow, the grants we make and the initiatives we support.

So, thank you for your professionalism and the crucial role you play helping to build this strong foundation.

I also want to acknowledge the CPB team here today.

They represent CPB’s culture of professionalism and accountability beginning with our chief financial officer, Bill Tayman.

* * *

With a strong foundation in place, and a dedicated team, our goal is to help stations move toward great possibilities and opportunities to serve the American people.

Through CPB funded initiatives such as American Graduate and Veterans Coming Home, we are working with stations to help new generations access learning and relearning, as technology changes the nature of work.

And through our educational and informational content we are shaping the civil society we need for a strong democracy.

But in order for public media to have this impact we have to be in that innovation space, open to including new publics, new voices and new stories through new platforms.

More than a decade ago, CPB expressed this commitment to creating a culture of innovation, inclusion and engagement through what we called the three D’s of Digital, Diversity and Dialogue.

We began to work with general managers who could see that change was coming — actually, it was already here — and they wanted to work together to meet these new challenges.

Daniel Coyne, who wrote “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups,” said that a successful culture is energized and engaged with employees focused on solving problems together.

Coyne says the way to build a great culture depends upon delivering three messages and making them a reality.

  1. You are safe, which means the workplace and the people in that workplace have a sense of belonging, connection and identity.
  2. We share risk. This requires that the workplace promotes a culture of trust and cooperation.
  3. This is our purpose. A workplace where everyone understands and supports the purpose, the mission and the vision.

And the purpose is communicated not just through data, but stories, goals and values. Because stories are how we think, and the language we use embeds itself and becomes action.

In terms of public media, our collective action resulted in a move away from what we called “outreach” to true engagement with communities and the American people as our partners.

We responded to community need through content and engagement that dealt with the mortgage crisis, the national high school dropout rate, the challenges of veterans returning to civilian life—through podcasts on so many topics as we began to connect to an American public diverse on so many levels: race, gender, age, geography.

Mindful that Charles Darwin, who knew a lot about survival of the fittest, observed “it is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

Just a few weeks ago, the world watched an example of dramatic cultural disruption and change symbolized through the extraordinary nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

But what this event really was about was the preservation of the royal family as an institution, their understanding that their longevity, their relevancy, was directly connected to their willingness to embrace change.

To evolve in ways that still honored traditions of the past but positioned the crown for the future.

The Church of England, steeped in tradition, provided the backdrop for the American bishop Michael Curry, who delivered a passionate homily about love as a healing balm.

Yes, some of the royals looked as if they were experiencing culture shock, but the message, the visuals throughout the ceremony, communicated to Great Britain and the world, that this royal family, while honoring the past and tradition, was moving forward in very relatable ways.

Public media is not the royal family, despite our great affinity for British dramas. And while we do have a past worthy of honoring, our future demands attention.

The reason we are successful serving the American people 50 years after the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act, is because we have been guided by mission, vision and innovation.

When, instead, years ago, we could have dug in our heels and embraced the status quo, when serving the American people meant broadcasting and appointment television.

We could have ignored the signs that our audience was on the move and empowered with new technology.

But we looked at ways to meet the change challenges and embraced innovation, ensuring our content would be available on whatever platform people were using, and that this content reflected a changing society, featuring new stories and storytellers.

In James Kerr’s book, “Legacy” — which is about the most successful rugby team in the history of the sport, the New Zealand All Blacks — he talks about the team’s culture as value-based and purpose driven. And how they turn value and purpose into practice.

To become a member of the All Blacks, which is a very competitive process, means becoming a steward of a cultural legacy, where every team member is committed to leaving the All Blacks jersey in a better place. And this commitment leads to winning.

My interpretation of CPB’s stewardship is to advance public media to that better place of service with strong, relatable local and national content, trusted journalism, editorial integrity, and a delivery system for lifelong learning.

And, the acknowledgement from an increasing number of decision makers on both sides of the political aisle, that we are an important component of American life and should be funded accordingly.

This is all achievable, because when aligned with strategy and leadership, a strong culture drives positive organizational change.

And that is why, when the stories of harassment began to emerge we were shocked. Because those stories did not match the culture we thought we had.

And we had to face the fact, that in some cases we had not created a culture of safety, of inclusiveness.

Which is why at CPB, we ensure that employees have many ways to communicate grievances—from reporting to their immediate supervisors, and/or the HR Department, and the CEO, and the CPB Board, and the Office of the Inspector General.

And not necessarily in that order.

And it is why CPB made available to all stations, free of charge, our harassment prevention training, which every CPB employee is required to take.

We — and society — are working to address this issue, not just for specific cases but for long-term sustainable and enduring change.

Our goal is to strive for a culture of both results and caring, mission and measurement, process, fairness and creativity, and yes, safety.

Mission, vision, accountability, drives everything we do, starting with Community Service Grants, through funding for multiple initiatives helping stations transition to a digital reality, and develop business practices for that successful future.

And through all of these commitments, our goal is to serve the American people.

To provide content that helps us rise above the great divisiveness in our frayed society, content that sparks mutual understanding and respect through our shared stories as we build a culture that values learning and knowledge and facts.

Thank you all for what you do, working with one another to leave the public media jersey and our country in a better place.