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Nine steps to rapidly transform your legacy teams

No amount of tinkering at reorganisation will work. Tinkering has failed. New business models and new editorial models require new thinking, new roles, new workflows, and new organisational structures, writes INNOVATION Media Consulting senior director John Wilpers.

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Everything must change. No one and nothing can be exempt. 

Hiring an innovation director or few developers or data scientists while leaving old editorial job descriptions, work flows, publishing practices, and even desk arrangements unchanged is an expensive exercise in futility. 

Without a whole-hearted, unflinching commitment to change, any reorganisation plan will ultimately fail. 

As a matter of fact, 77 per cent of all organisational redesign efforts DO fail, according to a recent McKinsey study.

**** HOW TO TRANSFORM A MEDIA COMPANY: “Innovation helped Hanley Wood transform its editorial platform from a Balkanized, print-first, top-heavy, sluggish organisation to a streamlined, fast-moving, highly productive digital-first asset,” said former CEO Frank Anton. “And we did it quickly and without engendering almost any resistance from the existing editorial staff. Here *****

What happens? Forty-four per cent run out of steam after getting under way, and another third fail to meet objectives or improve performance after implementation, according to the McKinsey study.

The consequences of that failure? When reorganisation projects breathlessly announced by management as the salvation of the company run out of steam or fail,  the company is actually in worse shape than before it started. 

Hopes have been raised and dashed. Staff have dedicated time and made emotional commitments only to be left at the altar. The company is months further behind in making the changes that might ensure its future. And any subsequent reorganisation effort will be greeted with massive, justified scepticism.

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Even with an excellent editorial change plan, reorganisation will fail unless it is rooted in a new company mission (so people know WHY they’re going through all the pain) and a clear, measurable business plan (so people can measure success that contributes to the successful financial future of the company). 

So here are nine steps to take to not only avoid reorganisation failure, but also assure the future of your company:

1. Take the long view; don’t solve for the short term

Reorganisations designed to solve immediate problems often create new problems because they don’t anticipate the future. The structures, job descriptions, workflows, etc. are not future-focused, so they fail when the future arrives. Big goals are also more inspirational for the staff. 

2. Don’t assume you know what’s going on

What you perceive as reality in your company may or may not be accurate. Have an outside party conduct interviews and surveys to find out what everyone thinks is working and not working and what should be done about it. (You should NOT use your HR people or any other staffer as no one will trust them.) Getting staff input early will go a long way toward identifying the real problems, the real solutions, and earning staff buy-in as the plan proceeds.

3. Involve everyone in the process

After you’ve asked for everyone’s advice, then hold a town hall meeting, display all the faults and solutions, and tell everyone it’s time for them to help make the future happen. Tell them the times of feeling like a victim of change are over; they can be change agents, directing their own and the company’s future. Create action teams charged with developing at least one recommendation a month which you must act on (yes or no) in ten business days. 

4. Deliver results early and often

Almost half of all reorganisation projects fail because they run out of steam, according to the McKinsey study. Don’t let that happen. Appoint one person whose sole job is to ride herd on all the action teams. And, when those teams submit recommendations, do your best to make as many as possible a reality. As soon as staff see results, even the sceptics get excited.

5. Accept you don’t have all the talent yet

In this increasingly complex media world, you and your staff do not have the all the skills necessary to move your company into this new environment. From analytics to video to programmatic advertising, you will need to seek out and hire the best talent you can find. 

6. Identify resistance and work to change those mind-sets

Media companies are, at the end of the day, all about human beings. And human beings have complex emotions, beliefs, hopes and fears. Not all of them will align with your vision. In the course of the interviews mentioned in Step 2, you will be able to identify the people and the concerns you will have to address. This must be done delicately, avoiding a perception of pressure tactics, and assuring your people you are looking out for their best interests as well as the best interests of the company. Regular small group, face-to-face meetings are the best approach. 

7. Set metrics to measure short - and long - term success

Do NOT start any reorganisation project without agreeing up front what the short - and long - term success metrics will be. Those should be borne out of the new mission statement and strategic objectives. When goals are met, you should celebrate the achievement, recognising the individuals and teams that made it happen. 

8. Reach out regularly and personally

In our global consulting, we hear over and over again that in communication companies no one communicates, especially management to the staff. And during an uncomfortable period like a reorganisation, you almost cannot over-communicate. Hold regular face-to-face meetings, post the activities of the action groups, stop by departments just to chat. Identify influencers in each department to connect with on a regular basis. Be very, very accessible.

9. Create back-up plans, just in case...

In the rush to launch a reorganisation project, media company managers often assume everything will go as planned. It never does. And most of the time, managers then have to scramble instead of falling back on a Plan B. Try to anticipate the potential risks — key people quitting, interruptions to power, missed deadlines — and discuss with everyone how you will handle each should it occur. Identify key second-level people who could be trusted to step up in the case of defections. There is nothing wrong with creating a plan you never have to use; there is something very wrong with putting your company at risk by being unprepared.

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***INNOVATION Media Consulting, authors of the annual Innovation in Magazine Media World Report, help media companies around the world transform (read their Hanley Wood case study here) and present at conferences (FIPP included) around the world. Want them to present at your event? Contact John Wilpers at wilpers@innovation.media***

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