MittMedia is a media company in the middle of Sweden. Our company owns 17 daily newspapers, with a combined circulation of 270,000. We have 1,000 employees, and we are now changing our business from print to digital like almost everybody else.

Traditional approaches to building awareness and training for “digital first” are being replaced by “Framtidsverkstaden” (“FutureWorks”), a concept for engaging 20% of MittMedia’s employees in building customer insight and developing the new offering.

Framtidsverkstaden is a unique combination of business development, cultural reinvention, and professional development. The concept has been designed for Mittmedia by Helsinki-based LearningMiles and builds on core insights by its research partners, the Department of Educational Research and Development of Maastricht University, and sociologists of the Hawke Institute in Adelaide.

At the core of the Framtidsverkstaden concept is the insight that challenging work practices and deeply rooted patterns of thinking requires experiences of participating in discovering the new. This thinking is reflected in the motto of the designers: “People do what they believe in, and they only believe in what they discover.”

A second building block of the concept is the recognition of “personal reinvention” as an increasingly powerful tool for engaging employees, leaders, and customers alike.

Framtidsverkstaden is a three-day event of discovery and design for 25 participants. The event works as a gateway to a 12-month professional development programme. In total, eight groups of 25 participants will join Framtidsverkstaden.

The start of this three-day event is fueled by a set of strategic questions identified and presented by two or more members of the company’s executive board, to be answered by the group at the end of the session. This seemingly simple mechanism of using challenging questions to generate mental engagement is one of the building blocks of the thinking behind Framtidsverkstaden.

The questions used in Framtidsverkstaden to challenge experienced media people work because they are real and relevant. They always relate to the current challenges of strategy, customer demands, and the development of the digital offering.

The executive board asks participants to help with the strategic and creative development of the company, and few experienced professionals could resist such an invitation. 

In addition to relying on acute trigger questions, Framtidsverkstaden borrows from modern anthropological approaches for generating customer insight. Thus, in each three-day event, almost one-third of the time is dedicated to “Customer Safaris,” in which the participants observe and engage with customers to understand their contexts in a deeper way.

In January 2013, seven months since the start of the Framtidsverkstaden initiative and despite decisions to downsize the workforce by 15% over three years, an intensive can-do atmosphere resides in MittMedia.

The intensity of collaboration across the traditional borders between the news desk, sales, and IT is quite visible, and includes two Facebook groups opened for facilitating communication in creative projects and progress.

Although it is still too early to call a decisive victory, this indicates to the executive board a decisive shift of culture from “waiting for a saviour” to one of “changing from within.”

We continue our work. Today, 200 employees (out of 900) have joined the “Framtidsverkstad.” And we’ve just increased the focus by initiating a workshop in leadership following the same method, and focusing on generating customer insight. 

Our Facebook group — where employees discuss the future of company matters, advise each other about ideas, share editorial material, etc. — currently has 632 members and is growing. Participation is entirely voluntary, and we have no formal moderator of the group.

Last year we made a film in English.

The employees work in “Framtidsverkstaden” exclusively on strategic issues regarding customer offerings in paid content, decline of print, digitising print’s core readers — issues that are relevant to me and to the rest of the executive board.

We have many direct examples of great change. Here are two examples of successes I’m sure we couldn’t have attained without such leadership:

  1. Our editorial team, which includes 10 editors in chief (over 500 editorial employees), decided that we must work much closer to the market side as we shift our daily focus to digital. Today we are organised so that each news desk in the newsroom has a sales representative from our marketing department working there.

  2. We plan to completely reset our print schedule. Starting later this year, we will print all our newspapers in the daytime. We do not spend any more time or energy on attracting new customers to the print version of our news. We will concentrate on those faithful readers (those over 60 years of age) that we have and create content for them. We will begin “Framtidsverkstäder" together with our loyal readers so that they seriously may be involved in influencing the content.