Consider these 6 factors when building a culture of experimentation in media companies
Digital Strategies Blog | 21 March 2022
Every once in a while, I pick up one of the books from my shelf and refresh my mind with the key messages annotated. A couple of weeks ago, the chosen book was Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis, who coined the term “growth hacking.” It is personally one of my favourite frameworks for day-to-day tasks.
After a quick recap, it made me think that, more than the framework itself, the process of building and promoting a culture of experimentation is key for companies to succeed and innovate in such dynamic and uncertain times.
If that isn’t enough in and of itself, another motivator is the fact that the majority of new generation professionals are willing to take risks and confront the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset. If they find a culture that allows them to think about how to solve problems and take risks with autonomy, the results might be worthwhile when it comes to revenue-related and employee satisfaction goals.
These are the six factors I think are key to either creating a culture of experimentation or improve on what it is already started for better results.
1. Democratise data
Regardless of the fact that “data-driven” is used as a buzzword, data democratisation has a key role in allowing teams to solve companies’ problems autonomously while generating positive results.
Make sure data in its various formats is accessible at a company-wide level. Consider implementing online and collaborative tools such as Trello, Google Drive, Sharepoint, and Confluence, as they break down siloed structures, promote more engagement, and make the information flow.
Lastly, work with your compliance and legal teams to put together a data policy for all employees so the company and its information are protected.
INMA recently did a report on the topic, which might be helpful: The Benefits and Risks of Media Data Democratisation.
2. Allow and stimulate a risk-taking environment
More than ever, a substantial portion of employees are keen to contribute to strategic discussions and also take risks addressing business opportunities. While it has to do with personality, this also can be stimulated if the right approach is chosen.
Let employees know they can and need to take risks. Communicate effectively and regularly with teams so they understand the importance of the experimentation agenda. Explore the fact that there is inherent risk in this culture.
If possible, I suggest using gamification and, of course, a reward programme that recognises the ownership and risk-taking initiatives at both the employee and team levels.
3. Give teams problems to solve, not preconceived assumptions
One of the big mistakes I see in corporations — from start-ups to global companies — is when leadership prevents employees from thinking. What often happens is that leaders provide teams with preconceived assumptions and biased opinions so the team can validate them, but they are starting from a base already steeped in bias.
Don’t do that if you want a team to come up with innovative ideas that will generate impactful results. Rather, give them autonomy to create possible solutions based on a given problem or opportunity. I personally like Ideo’s technique of framing questions and planning execution steps.
Most of the time, the outcome will consist of creative and useful ideas that can be used in more than one initiative. Give them a try.
4. Make it part of the team’s routine
If Malcolm Gladwell is right, it requires 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert or master performer, according to what he wrote in his bestseller, Outliers.
Supposing this is true, tests and experiments must be part of our routines so they turn into a natural habit. For that to happen, I encourage scheduling bi-weekly review meetings so teams can present progress, learnings, and results to the sponsors (ideally a mix of C-level and executive leaders).
If possible, consider creating a company-wide monthly review so the broad team can learn what is happening and become engaged in growing the experiment army. Based on what I’ve seen in the past, this is a good way to create engagement.
5. Celebrate small accomplishments
Speaking of review meetings, one of the best ways to empower teams is to recognise progress and results, whether sales increase by 50% or a process is automated with marginal gains.
Celebration doesn’t have to include budget-consuming initiatives. Consider creating a logo for the programme, an online repository, and recurrent communication pieces. Give achievers options like paid time off, courses discounts, and extended weekends, for example. Most importantly, celebrate progress and make it public to the company.
6. Don’t expect a silver bullet
Most initiatives will fail. Teams should know this and expect it so they don’t get frustrated. This is how we learn from experiments. “Fail fast, succeed faster” should be the motto written on your walls.
Rule No. 1 for the culture of experimentation and growth hacking? There is no silver bullet.
One last piece of advice
Don’t try to create an exceptional environment with perfect conditions to start. This will only be frustrating when you realise the execution is more important than the ideas. Take advantage of existing templates (Airtable provides a comprehensive one), best practices, and use cases to avoid the pitfalls of taking the very initial steps toward a culture of experimentation.
A bonus tip: Call it beta so everyone involved is aware that perfection should not be expected.