Three important factors for successful behaviour change

“Since I joined the BBC as a graduate trainee 20 years ago, media disruption has eaten away at the traditional business models of circulation, advertising and distribution. News media’s primary focus is shifting from the ubiquitous ‘bolt on more’ strategy to a more holistic approach,” writes guest poster Helen Philpot, who recently moved from heading business change at News UK to take on a similar role at DMG Media. She shares her insights into how to change organisational behaviours…

by WAN-IFRA Staff | November 9, 2017

My first experience of digital disruption was during a stint in local radio, on a training course to learn how to shoot and edit video. During the past two decades, I moved from broadcast journalism to newsprint, and now help media teams to achieve rapid innovation and delivery by creating the right structure and processes for success.

Very few would dispute traditional media’s ambition, desire and urgency to meet the challenge of declining advertising revenues and rise of social platforms. The industry has experimented widely, with my own career illustrating the disruption. The interesting paradox is that, despite the disruption, the core structures of media businesses have not changed, especially concerning the “this is the way things are done around here” mentality.

This year’s World News Publishers Outlook report shows a clear link between organisational success, on the one hand, and changing behaviour, structures and processes to be more entrepreneurial, on the other. This supports my experience, where I have seen “innovative” behaviours embraced and more importantly sponsored by leaders who tend to get stuff done.

There are caveats though, these behaviours need to be sustained over time – they are not quick fixes. It is simply not enough to adopt an “agile methodology” to technology without the understanding and support of the wider business; it’s not enough to have a talent and engagement plan for one department that does not link with the overall goals and culture of the company; it is also not enough to apply this approach piecemeal. Therefore, I have noted three important, inter-related factors for successful behaviour change:

1. Adoptive/adaptive leadership

We often hear the phrase, “act like a start-up,” which of course is nonsense, given that large enterprise media organisations must worry about profit and shareholders. However, the advantage legacy media has over any start-up is the ability to leverage years of experience, funding and might to embrace and support business transformation.

I do not mention “digital” because, in my experience, digital companies have often “let the business off” in terms of change, focusing transformation solely in the technology department’s remit. Business transformation with digital innovation powering it is what traditional media organisations will need to achieve in order to survive and thrive.

To enable such a root-and-branch change, leadership needs to have an open and adoptive style, embracing a fail-fast approach and sharing common goals. It is not enough to form cross-functional teams either with one shared goal if others in the business are competing against that goal, either individually or as a department.

Leadership in large media organisations are entrepreneurial without doubt. However, many senior executives have risen through the ranks of the newsroom and are unfamiliar with the language and processes of digital innovation. Technology leadership has a critical role to play in helping other leaders across the organisation understand new methodologies and the associated vocabulary. Having a common language when talking about change is key.

2. New emergent roles

Businesses will become more complex and complicated, operating globally across time zones and cultures. This requires highly matrixed organisational structures with cross-functional teams and staff with more than one reporting line. The news media is no different. To “manage” this complexity, new roles will start to emerge that require the types of behaviours and language described in the OUTLOOK report. They are roles that are non-traditional and hard to justify in the legacy paradigm, but will provide the “glue” on which innovative-orientated cultures will increasingly depend.

These are people who know what is going on across organisational silos; they have the best interest of all the departments and the whole business at heart, but lack personal interest driven by headcount or budget. In my experience, organisations who have embraced this need either through recruiting “Chiefs of Staff” or “Heads of Change/Transformation,” and who have allowed those individuals to operate without restriction or the burden of budget, could drive initiatives through, challenge where necessary – and keep stakeholders focused on the goal: innovation.

3. Talent and engagement strategy

The most important factor to the success of any organisation (start-up, SME or large enterprise) is the people within. Support networks for entrepreneurs are fundamental to an organisation undergoing business transformation. Powerful tools such as peer recognition, awards, and newsletter mentions should play a part of the talent and engagement plan. The leaders who invest in such a plan are showing trust, respect, and confidence for their workforce. In addition, by doing so, they reinforce the importance of the entrepreneurial mind-set and enhance the chances of the culture change that underpins performance.

The last piece of the puzzle is ensuring that a set of values underpin the plan – and for those values to be modelled constantly by the company leadership. Behaviour change is the sum of the parts.

Helen Philpot is a senior change professional and coach with experience in digital platform development and implementation, customer and production operations who has led strategic planning and implementation of new teams, processes and products. She is currently Head of Transformation and Governance at DMG Media, publishers of the Daily Mail and the MailOnline.

This post was excerpted from the World News Publishers Outlook 2017, which is free to WAN-IFRA Members and available for sale to non-members.

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