3 pitfalls of driving change at news media companies

It is almost impossible to function as a newsroom leader without having to implement some kind of change management. A change in business model, the shift from print to Web, the immigration from Web to platforms, and the constant growth in new technology forces you to adapt.

But how do you take your team with you?

Most newsroom leaders are comfortable with change because of the unpredictability of the work environment. But how do you cope with constant change, or how do you manage to overcome a big shift in workflow or move of resources?

In driving change, be on the lookout for these three pitfalls:

  1. Change fatigue.

    Be very careful to mould every single operation or strategy into a “change management situation.” Research shows people get exhausted when they are constantly exposed to change, especially if that change is “poorly thought through, rolled out too fast, or put in place without sufficient preparation.”

  2. Answer the question “why?”

    Communication is maybe the most important aspect of your change strategy. You have to be clear in answering the biggest question: Why are we doing this?

    Understanding the reason for change is an important psychological barrier to overcome. If people understand why, they will start to participate and contribute to the question: How are we going to do this?

  3. Embrace the naysayers.

    Lisa MacLeod, head of digital at Times Media Group in South Africa, recently gave a talk on how to manage change in newsrooms. According to MacLeod, editors should embrace the toughest critics and get them involved in the process – a strategy she calls “harnessing negative energy.”

In your focus on getting the team to adapt to change, don’t underestimate the impact this change will have on you. It takes a lot of energy to drive change – even more so if you engage with negative energy.

Why is it so difficult for us to change? Because change is inevitably the breaking of habits and the purposeful creation of new behaviour. If you understand the five steps involved in changing any behaviour, you might get some insight on how you progress with a project or why you are stuck.

Take the transformation from print to digital as an example. In the five steps of changing the “print” habit, you have to consider the following:

  • Pre-contemplation: OK, so a huge part of the rest of the industry is moving toward a digital-first approach. Maybe we should make the move. But what if it is not the right thing for us to do? We are still getting a lot of income from print. Why change this, especially if we don’t have any guarantee of success?

  • Contemplation: At this stage ,we realise digital is the future, but we still struggle to take action. Digital is important, but do I have to work digital first? Although this might look like progress, the problem is that one can get stuck in this stage.

  • Determination: At this stage, there is a clear vision and common belief in the necessity to make the change. Shall we move to digital first? Let’s do it!

  • Action: A plan can be brilliant but the success lies in execution. To make sure your team can move from determination to action, ensure they have the right equipment and skills to act. Do your journalists have smartphones and selfie sticks to enable them to file video from scenes? Are they trained in online editing, and do they have access to the newest technology to test user experience?

  • Maintenance: This is maybe the most important and often underestimated stage. How do you sustain the change? How often do you revisit, what do you measure, and how do you calibrate your strategy to maintain the new habits?

Getting your team to move from one stage to another is change management. Communication and constant feedback is the lubricant you need to enable this transition. Put a clear reason in place to motivate people. Focus on the answer to why you do what you do.

In an environment where change has become the new normal, remember what John F. Kennedy said: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

About Johanna van Eeden

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