Big things I’ve learned about change in the past year (a checklist for media orgs)

I am excited to present this week at the Daily Iowan’s 150th anniversary celebration. As a University of Iowa undergrad, the DI was my first training ground in how to be a reporter and a newsroom manager. It remains an incredible experience for students.

I’ll be speaking about change management, focusing on media organizations. It’s been a year since I left my job as a digital director at a TV station to return to school and head down a new career path in change management. I’ve had plenty of “aha” moments from incredible mentors connected with Northwestern University’s MSLOC program about why organizational change can be so difficult and how to help make it a smoother process.

Plenty of news organizations continue to scramble just to get their product out, find new revenue streams and navigate ever-changing consumer behavior. It’s a tough business and the past decade has been a roller-coaster ride. I also remain deeply concerned that news companies still aren’t paying enough attention to building and growing internal change capability. There’s plenty of “we need to change” talk, but the “how” of the change — the boots-on-the-ground, step-by-step implementation that gets broad buy-in — loses steam. Many are failing to continually train new leaders or set up systems to create, share and scale knowledge in engaging ways. Some don’t have the know-how to create successful and sustainable teams, HR is buried in logistics paperwork, the emotional impact of historic industry disruption on employees is ignored and so on.

Meanwhile, business is only getting more complex. Check out this Industry 4.0 site from Deloitte.

If you work for a media organization, here are a few tactics to consider when navigating change:

Try to stay in the problem. Picture it: You’re in a meeting and a problem is brought to everyone’s attention. It’s the first time most participants in the room have heard of this problem. What does everyone do? They start suggesting solutions. Not so fast. While that behavior is rewarded around deadline-driven news coverage, it may not work best with internal, organizational strategy. Ask the room: Have we really identified that this is the problem? How do we know? Have we tested these assumptions?

Ask questions. Then ask more questions and then ask more questions. How many times do we pretend to listen to others, but are actually simultaneously formulating a response in our minds? This Harvard Business Review article has a different tactic. There is power in asking follow-up questions, which can make a participant feel respected and involved in a change process. Questions can be as much about building rapport and gaining support for an initiative as they are about getting answers. Here’s a challenge: Could you go an entire work day mostly asking questions? You do work in the communications business, after all. Take a page from journalism and avoid “yes” or “no” questions, capitalize on silence and allow the other person to expand on their comments and take care not to interrupt.

Know yourself at work. Do you know your work style? How do you react during times of stress? Can you read a room and adjust your style accordingly? Taking assessments can provide a better sense of how to be more effective in the workplace. Two of my favorites are the CliftonStrengths assessment and the Hogan assessments. Here’s more information on assessments.

Know your team at work. Did you know that teams with more than 8-10 people may not function well? Or, how about that most teams go through four distinct phases: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing? Have you ever considered writing a team charter so that every member is clear on how the team operates, member roles and goals? Knowing how a team works is just as important as ensuring that the team reaches its goals.

Build narrative intelligence. Organizational storytelling is the focus of my Master’s thesis and I am convinced that company leaders (especially) should continue to build skills in this area. Being able to tell the right story at the right time to the right audience to spark action will become even more critical to drive change. Storytelling can be a powerful way to steer through ambiguity.

And, please incorporate story arc, current state and future state into your presentations. This TED Talk from Nancy Duarte should be required watching for anyone creating a PowerPoint:

Learn design thinking. “This approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges,” according to the experts at IDEO. This method can be rolled out across the enterprise as a key way to build ideas and test solutions. It works for planning news content, discovering revenue solutions, transforming talent management and more.

To be sure, this is just a starter list. I’d love to hear from my fellow change management practitioners and media leaders on their solutions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s