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Why media companies must structure corporate culture around talent

By Kirk MacDonald

Pyrrhonian Partners

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


There are three ways to be a disruptor.

  • Fully harness the talent in the workforce with an organisational learning resource.
  • Apply technology as a competitive advantage with a research and development financial commitment.
  • Pick a tangential industry to disrupt with a project management budget.

Generally, leading companies balance all three.

I was recently at a customer relationship management update meeting, and Salesforce’s project lead reminded a full boardroom table that “process comes before technology.”

That triggered a principle I’ve come to strongly believe in after learning some hard lessons: Organisational learning comes before profit.

In reality, neither hypothesis is widely practiced.

I want to focus in on the idea that harnessing talent in the workforce is one of three major practices in gaining a competitive advantage. And that in itself is quite a challenge. Google has mastered the art of fully harnessing the talent in its workforce through objectives and key results (OKRs) over the last 20 years.

Not only are the forces of consumer habits working against legacy media companies, but so are multi-generational workforces. According to the guru of OKRs, venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins and author of the recently released book Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs, Millennials want to know how their work figures into the big picture. And they want constant feedback without being micromanaged.

Baby Boomer managers are having a hard time getting their arms around an increasingly large body of Millennials in the workforce and their collective attitude about how they are treated and developed as professionals.

The single smartest thing I ever did (along with many dumb things) is engage a “Millennial mentor” 10 years ago. It changed my entire outlook toward my management style, attitude as a senior executive, and connection with a vast number of Millennial employees. I owe Greg Messinger, the co-founder of AdTaxi, a debt of gratitude to this day for his patience, insight, and transfer of knowledge both from a technical and leadership style perspective.

This infographic from Chess Media Group would not have resonated to the degree it did when I discovered it on my Twitter feed from MIT Sloan Management Review had I not had the context of what Millennials expect in their work environment.

  • First principle: Employees deserve a voice in shaping their work environment.
  • Second principle: Employees deserve to work anytime, anywhere, and on any device, and not be hamstrung working 9-5 in a corporate office on company equipment.
  • Third principle: Employees should be accountable for sharing information and not hoarding it.
  • Fourth principle: Disruptors value collaboration and automated technologies, not e-mail and Excel.
  • Fifth principle: Innovators cast employees in an ongoing democratised learning and teaching environment and not in corporate learning boredom.

The sum of the principles puts a spotlight on solving big problems for customers, rewarding innovation, and using successes as building blocks for a sustainable and high-performing business.

In the past, it was up to employees to fit into a management culture. Today, it is up to management to architect the company culture around the talent it attracts.

If that fails to happen, the consequences are severe. High churn rates and average talent will not answer the bell when it comes to optimising innovation.

Steve Jobs put it this way: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what do.”

Apple inverted the management pyramid long ago. It’s time for all companies to adopt a new paradigm given the generational redistribution of the workforce.

The Organization Man as envisioned by William H. Whyte in 1956 no longer exists.

About Kirk MacDonald

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