Jabbar Sardar: Creating Capable, Efficient, and Inclusive Workplaces

Jabbar Sardar
Jabbar Sardar | HR Director | BBC Studios

The success of any organization is dependent on the staff within it. The HR service plays an essential role in delivering this and it sets the tone for the organization’s functionality. HR leaders play a valuable role in improving the workforce and creating a most conducive culture to delivering superior business performance. As an HR Director for BBC Studios, Jabbar Sardar oversees all HR activity to support the business strategy. Jabbar emphasizes and focuses on creating efficient and inclusive workplaces.

In an interview with CIO Look, Jabbar Sardar shares his journey, aspirations, and how he is contributing as an HR leader at BBC Studios.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at BBC. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

My career journey reflects my personal journey and has been built on dismantling stereotypes and mindsets as barriers to breaking into a sector, and using the influence I hold to implement change.

My priority has always been clear – provide the business with the tools to be competitive and efficient AND inclusive, culturally confident, and welcoming. Workplace culture is never static, and in HR, we need to ensure it is constantly evolving, improving, and meeting the highest standards.

Tell us something more about BBC and its mission and vision.

The BBC has a clear mission – to inform, educate and entertain – and clear values about how we expect all our employees, and anyone who works with us, to behave. We are committed to maintaining a diverse, inclusive, and sustainable workplace culture, reflecting our audiences across the UK and globally, connecting with new generations and perspectives, and respecting our planet.

As the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Studios has an ambitious growth strategy that will be driven by an equally ambitious people and culture strategy, which I’m leading. We already have over 6,000 staff and freelancers operating in 16 countries, producing over 2,000 hours of output per year. A world-class business with bold growth ambitions needs a world-class working culture, and our mission is to be in the upper quartile for wellbeing, leadership, inclusion, and performance.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted HR through your expertise in the market.

A few years ago, BBC Studios and BBC Content de-merged from BBC Television (now BBC Content), and in 2017 the teams from our Distribution business (then BBC Worldwide) merged with BBC Studios to create a single commercial entity. I directed both major change programs, enabling the teams involved to build a new commercial culture that has workforce wellbeing and career development. I’ve worked closely with the former CEO (now BBC Director-General) and the new BBC Studios CEO to ensure their senior leadership teams create and model an honest and effective performance culture, which both nurtures success and challenges everyone at every level when necessary.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

As an HR leader, my priority is to ensure technological advancements are leveraged to improve workforce culture, remove the fear of – and instill enthusiasm for – change. Like most businesses, pre-pandemic, we had not been seriously looking at the future of the workplace and the possibilities offered by technology to create a truly hybrid, mobile, flexible (and happier) workforce. The pandemic forced us to meet an era-defining challenge.

My HR team worked with the Studios executive swiftly and confidently to build a spirit of collective resilience, flexibility, and kindness. A company-wide strategy known as Putting People First really kicked in during those first months, and this has had a lasting effect. The staff tells us in increasing numbers that they feel respected and supported and that we have enabled them to do their best work by harnessing all the tools at their disposal, technological and otherwise.

What change would you like to bring to the HR Operations if given a chance?

I believe creating a truly inclusive and diverse workforce should be our number one priority. We are making great progress at BBC Studios, but I want us to go further and faster. Any workplace needs to reflect the make-up and aspirations of our society. Career choices and possibilities should be free, fair, and accessible to all. I’m very proud of our success in BBC Studios, and although we’re not there yet, our achievements so far include the introduction of inclusive leadership training, the creation of diverse talent pools, and concrete support for staff networks championing diversity of our workforce.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the HR sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?

So many sectors and industries are now faced with structural and financial challenges which will necessitate a revolution in how HR makes a difference. At BBC Studios, we know we’re at our most effective and powerful when we enable and empower, when we see the long-term big picture and the strategic plan, and understand our role in how to help a business grow, change, and in some cases reinvent itself.

We must move away from the misconception of HR as a service provider. HR is about bringing out the very best in people. It is not the department that tells you what you can and can’t do – it needs to be at the top table as a trusted guide, critical friend, and strategic partner. Ultimately, creating an organization where leaders are empowered and accountable for making the people’s decisions to drive business performance and people development.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for BBC?

I would like to look back in a few years’ time and be proud of what my team achieved to position BBC Studios as a world-beating content giant with a brand that is trusted and admired the world over.

Personally, I want to continue making a difference at every level as an HR professional, HR Director, and leader. That means encouraging, in turn, the next generation of HR leaders to encourage the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and role models, in every sector.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the business sector?

Understand the power of clear and inclusive communication. Don’t be afraid of failure – learn from things that don’t go as planned. Don’t tolerate bad behavior at any level. Breathe and reflect before making decisions – even if you only have minutes, rather than days, to pause. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And remember that you, and all your team, are also consumers or members of the audience. Use that to your advantage.