Take charge of your company’s future by cultivating a culture of learning


In recent posts, I have discussed our industry’s struggle to embrace evolution, i.e. incremental, ongoing change to ensure survival. I have also discussed changes in organisational culture, particularly from the perspective of the advertising department.

My most recent post compared the historic willingness of our industry to make capital investment for modernisation and how, today, we are recognising the need to invest in developing/renewing our human resources for essentially the same reason.

Today, I would like to address how these imperatives (evolution, culture, and human resource investment) are connected from the perspective of the entire newspaper organisation.

I refer to a “culture of constant learning and constructive change.”

What does that mean?

A “culture of constant learning and constructive change” is the culture of an organisation that seeks to shape its future rather than simply allow the future to shape the organisation.

At a time when revenue declines and financial losses have caused so much deconstructive change, we need to seek and identify the constructive changes that will sustain us in the future. Simple cost-cutting is not a winning strategy; it is a short-term survival strategy.

It refers to a media organisation that:

  • Systematically evaluates new information, tools, trends, platforms, opportunities, etc.

  • Strategically/selectively adopts and adapts “valuable” change into its operational plans.

  • Sustains a dynamic but continuous path to growth and success (however it defines success).

Historically, the cultural dilemma of newspapers could be described as “institutional inertia.” Newspaper organisations tended to be monolithic, unchanging or change-resistant, and slow to respond to outside stimuli.

Now, as we struggle as an industry to address revenue losses, the cultural threat is more akin to “institutional ADD” (Attention Deficit Disorder).

In seeking a solution to our problems, we are so distracted by each new “hot” product, platform, or opportunity that we change course too often and too dramatically, thereby failing to effectively pursue a long-term strategic path.

Reality: There isn’t one solution today, but many that must be integrated into a cohesive whole.

New platforms, tools, strategies, and technologies should generally be viewed as part of incremental, integrated change. However, instead of integrating change, there is a tendency to abandon current tools (out with the old) and focus exclusively on the newest “fad” solution (in with the new).

Each new initiative should be assessed to determine how it fits into the overall plan/strategy. Is it incremental? What (if anything) does it replace or displace?

And since no organisation can be or do all things, we need to recognise those opportunities we choose to defer to the future or reject altogether.

It is no secret that the pace of change in technology, consumer behaviour, and best practice is unprecedented. So the value of learning as an ongoing process integrated into the culture of your organisation should be obvious.

But I do not mean that we learn for the sake of learning, rather that we should be strategically committed to the daily process of keeping our knowledge and skill sets current and competitive.

Here are some thought starters to consider:

  • Call it what you will, but do you have a “think tank,” “skunk works,” or otherwise named multi-disciplinary team evaluating trends and opportunities?
  • Who is responsible for identifying the best of “what’s new” and if it might help us be different/better?
  • Who determines how we integrate new initiatives, how they fit with what we already do?
  • Who is evaluating what we already do and what is no longer of sufficient value to be continued?
  • Do you cultivate a lifelong learning culture among the rank and file members of your organisation by providing:
  • Daily releases of relevant, new information about your business, audience, market, etc.

Professional development (please don’t call it training) programs to address both organisational and career needs:

  • Online courses/Webinars.
  • Traditional classroom-style learning.
  • One-on-one coaching and/or job shadowing.

And while you are at it, be sure that your culture allows for the public recognition of individual and team success and achievements.

In challenging times, with so much negative/disappointing news, we need to strive even harder to celebrate when there is cause to do so, because we also want to have a culture of success.

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