Sustainable culture change for media companies must start at the top

Many change experts say it is useless to talk about culture change without talking about strategy and organisational structure.

So let’s talk about both.

Strategy, structure, culture: These three form an interdependent triangle for change. Any attempt to change culture without developing a strategy and structure is doomed to failure. And any attempt to implement a new strategy without working on structure and culture is also unlikely to succeed.

The strategic change drivers: A need for new business strategies has emerged in the media business, while developments in the area of digital have led to radical product changes.

The traditional product — the newspaper — has diversified into various new products, including Web sites, mobile sites, apps for smartphones and tablets, social media channels, and — not that far away — solutions for smartwatches, smartglasses, or other wearables.

The pace of product changes and modifications has increased tremendously. And, ironically, an industry always proud of being fast and high-paced now seems a little hesitant and sluggish when faced with the prospect of changing itself.

Other players seem to be faster, bolder, and more innovative.

Disruptive competitors such as search engines, news aggregators, and social media platforms are challenging the business model of traditional news companies and changing some of the rules of the game.

The structural change drivers: Steve Buttry already has provided some good examples on this blog of structural changes in the newsroom aimed at supporting the strategic shift to digital. In addition, new working methods — already established in digital businesses — are finding their way into media and news companies.

Agile product development methods, such as Scrum or Kanban, have become more widespread and are fostering new ways of cooperation and leadership.

The speed of technological development, platform changes, and software evolutions means we need to find new ways of managing digital products.

In addition to changes in organisational structures and working procedures, there are other technological drivers affecting the structure and connectivity of the workplace; new collaboration platforms inspired by social media technologies are changing the way we deal with and share information and changing how we communicate with and approach colleagues.

Enterprise 2.0 solutions are good examples of a structural change that supports strategic shifts. But, again, these attempts will only succeed if they go hand in hand with the corresponding culture changes.

The drivers of cultural change: We often talk about culture as a necessary derivative of strategy and structure. But in some areas, the direction of influence is the other way around. Some cultural changes even require structural change and to some extent also strategic change.

New types of employees might be such an example: young graduates (Generation Y or millennials) are bringing different value sets and expectations to the workplace. These digital natives are looking for different ways of working, communicating, and balancing their work and private lives. And organisations must adapt to this trend.

“Always sweep a staircase from the top”: My personal conviction is that trying to change culture from the bottom up will not work. “Grassroots revolutions” have been few and far between up to now. 

And when we look at typical corporate life, it requires a very convinced and convincing top management if sustainable change is to be achieved.

The simple fact is if managers — whether they’re in editorial or commercial areas — do not believe in a common change in vision and goal, it will not work.

Over decades, news companies have made a good living using a stable product and business model. Despite the creative nature of the work and the product, it is probably not unfair to say that transactional managers were necessary to maintain and optimise this status quo.

But now?

In times of radical, partly disruptive change, we are facing new leadership challenges. Transformational leaders are needed to share an engaging vision and navigate people through unsteady waters.

But, first, we need managers who really understand the changes taking place. 

About Tilmann Knoll

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