Swedish media companies lean into change management, competence transformation

By Thomas Sundgren

United Robots



Swedish media companies have invested heavily in tech and product development for the past decade. In recent years, though, many have started to appreciate the “people factor.” They are structuring their organisations and processes to work with change management and competence in a focused and innovative way, ensuring a tangible effect in operations and business in a much better way than before.

National Swedish media companies are putting resources into change management, actively working with competence in organisation activities and strategies, sales academies, and other innovative human resource processes.

NTM Media is leaning into change management by focusing heavily on people.
NTM Media is leaning into change management by focusing heavily on people.

But change management and competence processes also encompass the local media industry. One company leaning heavily into change management and competence processes for management and co-workers is NTM Media.

Digital transformation requires speed

NTM has grown its operations by acquisitions in recent years while leaning into the digital transformation of both business and tech. NTM is also aware of the importance of working agile, fast, and focused with change management and competence.

Lina Hedenström is chief operating officer at NTM. To her and the company, there’s an obvious and urgent need for innovative and flexible change management and people-centred processes.

“Digital transformation drives the need for speed in working with change management in all industries. We need to listen and adapt to the customers and the market in a completely different way today than yesterday,” she said. “Changes that used to take months now sometimes take days. Digitisation enables it and the market demands it.

“The media industry is currently in a forceful structural change when it comes to the behaviour, habits, and needs of readers and advertising customers,” Hedenström added. “The business models we used to be able to rely on are now being radically challenged. Many ways of working that were viable just a year ago are obsolete today.”

Co-workers as an important asset

Rapidly renewing customer and market competence and knowledge is the key to understanding the new ways of working. In this new context, the “people factor” needs to be the centre of attention, according Hedenström.

“Co-workers are our most valuable asset,” she said. “During recent years, NTM has been working actively to enhance organisational processes. The importance of focusing on organisation, people, and work processes is now a part of our everyday efforts.”

KPI fulfilment driven by change management

A central aspect for NTM is making sure processes and activities to drive change are actually executed according to plan. Simply put, competence activities need to create a tangible effect.

According to Hedenström, this is not as complicated as it may sound if beginning with solid KPIs: “As a matter of fact, a lot of our quantified metrics and business KPIs are possible to move with change and competence,” she said. “Many KPIs can be related to how we acquire new knowledge and actually do our work in different ways. What we do is monitor our KPIs and then work actively with competence action plans, learning programmes, and active coaching to move those KPIs.”

Asking the market

To NTM, measuring is the solution to understanding whether change management is a driving effect in the market among readers and advertising customers. “A key to understanding the market effects is working with metrics, polls, analysis, campaign monitoring, actively workshopping with customers, and such activities,” Hedenström said.

The market-centred way of understanding if a company is successful in driving change is also the philosophy of Peter Backström, former head of learning and development at Swedish local media company Mittmedia. Backström has a background working with global companies in different industries.

“To have a chance to survive, the media industry must drop a traditional inside-out perspective and stop holding onto old ways of looking at our position,” he said. “The first step is to adhere to a customer-first perspective and start analysing what digital-age customers expect and demand. That work needs to include a new take of customer journeys in B2B and B2C, updating the touchpoints by which we create our relations with customers.”

To Backström, understanding need demands is only the beginning. “Conclusions can’t stop with analyses in company reports collecting dust. It all needs to be converted into real action and changed behaviour to create a tangible business effect,” he said. “We need to update and recreate processes, knowledge, decision making, and company philosophy.”

In his opinion, success in change management can be understood in terms of how the market actually perceives effects. “The media industry must be so much closer to the market, not only in understanding the needs of customers but also understanding whether changes have created actual effects for customers. We often claim that we are the ones best fitted to understand customers by design, but often that’s nothing more than a legacy claim,” Backström said.

Management buy-in and activity are key to real change

Both Hedenström and Backström agree management is crucial in driving real change. “Managers need to buy in on the importance of change, must be given tools of change, and also must be required to drive change and new competence in the everyday processes and interaction with co-workers,” Backström said. “The continuous change isn’t a once-a-year or even once-a-month event but a hard, focused, and natural part of everyday operations. Taking time to manage actual work processes is as important as writing great journalism or selling tons of ads.

For NTM, leadership is key, Hedenström said. “We’ve been establishing an in-house management academy, based on value-based leadership. We believe that managers on all levels are keys to creating real and consistent change. Change is enabled and boosted by active leadership.”

NTM’s leadership-for-change-philosophy includes topics related to management programmes. “We’re running a programme where participating managers are given a specific task. They partake in study visits at other companies, and the conclusions of the programme are given as solid recommendations for top NTM management,” Hedenström said.

Where collaboration fits in

In the world of digital transformation, media sector collaborations are seeing the light of day. In Germany, a number of publishers and e-commerce companies are forming an alliance on digital identification.

In Sweden, the most recent example is an alliance of media companies around the concept of “early bird,” a collaboration solution for delivering e-commerce goods through paper distribution infrastructure.

Hedenström and Backström agree that cooperations and common solutions among media companies are desirable. “In my opinion, the media industry has changed a lot in this aspect during the past two years,” Hedenström said. “Nowadays, there’s a collaboration-friendly approach among media companies. We’re more and more prone to share insights and practices in strategies, operations, and development. In the future, there’s probably room to accelerate cooperation with even more defined goals.”

For Backström, collaborations can and must be about people-centred and competence-related matters. “It’s important that we have a common standpoint and analysis of how digital transformation actually affects media companies. How our employees can understand challenges, and how we can meet those challenges in changing mindsets, knowledge, and work processes toward a customer-centric approach,” he said. “In my opinion, that driving force is the only way traditional media companies can survive.”

About Thomas Sundgren

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