IIS Recap: Challenges of Recruiting, Building and Retaining a High Performance Team

Written by Peter Bowley

How do media and business information companies build teams that can not only execute, but build a Christen Clayton-like innovative organization? Will the Chief Digital Officer role exist in 10 years? What strategies and tools are the pros using to find and attract “A players”? At IIS 2014, Cormac Cullinane (Time Wartner), David Lord (ESIX) and Judy Chin Wong (Gartner) had the answers.

David Lord cited a number of practical tips. Firms that have fewer than 20 HR searches/year would benefit from using a retained search consultant, over an internal search group. However, firms can still become a sophisticated buyer of HR search services. It can take months to years to recover from a wrong hire, which is an important reminder that if no one is really managing the search process they fail.

All speakers discussed the imperative to hire executives to “drive change”. David advised a good search takes at least 3 months, and companies need to understand if you don’t give the process a chance to work, you reduce your chances of getting an “A” player. Cormac, Time Warner’s VP of Worldwide Executive Search discussed that technology has permanently changed the talent acquisition game. While LinkedIn may become “the world’s largest recruiting firm”, Judy also uses texting which candidates often respond to more quickly, especially Millennials. David said referrals have higher success rates, usually outperforming non-referred hires. Cormac and Judy reminded the audience great talent is usually comfortably employed, not looking for a job. To find “A players”, they recommended generating referrals by pooling employee contacts – in brainstorming sessions and utilizing existing employees who attend industry conferences.


Peter Bowley is currently an MBA student at Columbia Business School. Prior to business school, he started NEBSA, an educational company to help international students prepare to study in the U.S. Previously he worked in a Latin American farmland investment fund.

IIS Recap: Navigating Radical Business Transformation

Written by Michael Davis

Interviewed by Allen Schoer, Founder & Chairman, The TAI Group.

Consider your top business priorities: Maintaining profitability, engaging customers, managing talent, building loyalty, innovating for the future, building high performance teams, and many more.

For Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage, they all resonate. In fact, if you put them together, they sometimes conflict. So what’s most important to the CEO of a $2B organization with 5,500 employees in more than 20 countries that is pushing its way through a restructuring?

Organizational culture. According to Hansen, he can only move Cengage forward – and transform the company – if he creates a culture where people feel empowered to make decisions.

In a wide ranging conversation led by Allen Schoer, Founder & Chairman, The TAI Group, Hansen stressed the importance of shared values, transparency and alignment.

Beginning with the end in mind, Hansen shared his belief that alignment is linked to productivity. When individuals feel connected to each other and the organization’s purpose, they start to feel like they can have impact. With impact comes a willingness to make decisions. People and teams feel empowered and momentum starts to build.

To help achieve alignment, Hansen focuses on exposing connections between people. He asks team members: “Why are you here? What connects you to our organization?” The answers are often multi-layered. By digging deep, Hansen has been able to uncover shared values, which encourages dialogue and understanding, and leads to better functioning teams.

A business school professor of mine once quipped “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” and Hansen agrees. When business is good, it can be hard to change. Cengage’s business realities, while difficult, present a real opportunity to precipitate change.

In sharing his insights about how to innovate when people are uncomfortable and motivate during uncertain times, Hansen came back to culture. Culture produces organic change efforts. With teams working together, their joint efforts led to structural changes and new approaches at Cengage. For example:

● Using a “two in a box” management technique where two individuals are jointly responsible for a project, a product and technology team agreed to be measured by the same criteria.
● As the two teams focused their attention on serving customers, the group realized they needed someone to assemble their collective intelligence. Together, they created and funded a new VP of Research position.

As another example, to help drive cultural change in the trenches, Cengage has strengthened and empowered its district sales managers. They are now able to act as “CEOs” of their territory and have broad authority over product discounts, customer service level agreements and resource allocation.

When asked about what’s working to promote change and key learnings, Hansen shared the following:

● Promote visible examples that reflect the change you are preaching.
● Individuals who say they support change and then behave differently are the hardest to turn around. People who are important and productive, but not on board, may have to be let go.
● Incentives are over-estimated as a motivator. Individuals and teams are far more motivated if they feel listened to and believe they can have an impact.
● Successes and failures both contribute to positive culture change as long as people feel listened to.
● Business leaders can kill culture by behaving differently than the values and changes they espouse. Leaders have to be very careful to not undermine the culture.

At Cengage, revamping the culture is a work in process. Focus is shifting to become more user centric. Product development is happening faster. Hansen estimates he and his team are about 30% of the way through the change they are trying to achieve. As the culture and focus take hold, attrition rates are coming down and a new optimism is emerging.


Mike Davis is a sales and marketing professional in the software and information industry. Most recently he served as Commercial Director at Digital Science, a business unit of Macmillan Science and Education. Follow Mike on Twitter at @mdavisri and connect on LinkedIn.

IIS Recap: Media Techtonics

Written by Kevin Worth

The media panel (aka Media Tectonics) did not disappoint. Stocked with experts, there was a thoughtful exchange of views how to develop business models to pay for quality news/content and make a decent return.

Some argued the next generation of media companies are the native digital models that are just emerging on the scene and have already amassed audiences the size of long standing players. Their advantage is through telling stories in a much more compelling creative digital-centric manner.

Others pointed out that technology has fundamentally changed the landscape with lower barriers to entry and a loss of pricing power leading to thin (or no) margins for everybody in the future, so that once cash cows will be small businesses going forward.

Not covered in the discussion was the core questions of who are best investors/owners that will build the great media companies of the future, but it was clear based on the panel representatives and given the on-going media tectonics, it’s more likely to be wealthy private investors (e.g. Jeff Bezos) with long term vision than public entities with short-term pressure.


Kevin Worth is an innovative leader in the media and information services industry and founding CEO of The Deal, a highly respected media and information company.

IIS Recap: Publisher Impossible: Disruption from Within – Are You Ready?

Written by Michael Davis

Greg Merkle, VP of User Experience at Wolters Kluwer, kicked off the first day of IIS 2104 with a keynote focused on innovation. Specifically, how can you operationalize continued innovation and growth while running your existing business?

Merkle is part of Wolters Kluwer’s Global Platform Organization (GPO), a group responsible for concentrating research and development efforts across the company into a single, global technology platform. Merkle and his team help business units to develop products that are focused on meeting the needs of customers, or as Merkle explains, “our true users are our customers’ customer.”

Inside the GPO, Merkle’s team operates like a centralized agency. They provide information architecture, interaction and visual design, content strategy, user research, and front-end development services to business units across Wolters Kluwer. They strive for simplicity and market fit, to develop user experience as a brand attribute, and to incorporate user insights early in the product development process.

To understand customers, Merkle advocates using your product the same way customers do. In other words, become your customer. To facilitate understanding, Merkle maps customer workflows, and both listens to and observes customers. While conducting surveys and asking questions is useful, watching customers work and conducting contextual inquiry is extremely valuable. Observation can provide insights that straight feedback sometimes misses and, as a result, lead to “little shifts” in innovation.

To jump start innovation, Merkle and his team pair up with a business unit for an intense three-day PreVis, or pre-visualization, session. Sometimes called Business Unit Impossible, Merkle works together with a product team to envision and define the customer journey and translate that understanding into actionable concepts for improvement.

Functionally, PreVis sessions help bridge the gap between a business unit and the technology team that supports them by asking both groups to consider their ultimate customer.

● Who are their users?
● What user problems is the team solving?
● Where will growth come from?
● What is the competitive landscape?
● What product deficiency and customer issues does the team know about?
● Are there known sales challenges, perceptions and barriers? How is the product sold?
● How is the product discovered?
● What are the core metrics?

The goals of these questions are to bring internal teams together, define how value is being provided, generate ideas for improvement, and set the stage for product innovation. The output from a PreVis session typically includes:

● A clear problem definition
● Early user and market validation
● A competitive matrix
● High level product requirements
● Technical scope and a product roadmap
● More accurate product sizing
● A defined minimally viable product (MVP)

After conducting thirteen PreVis sessions globally, Merkle had some insights to share:

● Intuition plays a large role in uncovering unmet customer needs, and that’s ok.
● Observation and intuition combined form the true center of innovation.
● Engaging teams in PreVis sessions creates a proactive curiosity about customers.
● Ask teams to think about connections in data as early as possible.
● Use real content in your wireframes. It helps people understand new ideas and concepts.
● Aspiring to a new normal creates discomfort. Disruption requires empathy. PreVis sessions can help individuals overcome their fear and orient to the future.

In addition to the product improvements and results that come from each session, Merkle sees some themes emerging from PreVis sessions:

● Wolters Kluwer is building capabilities that can be used by any business unit globally.
● The sessions are breaking down perceived differences in customer needs across markets.
● PreVis is creating a platform strategy that responds to best in class capabilities.
● The GPO acts as an open innovation center. Capabilities can be applied as needed.
● Disruption is a constant. It’s disrupt or be disrupted.


Mike Davis is a sales and marketing professional in the software and information industry. Most recently he served as Commercial Director at Digital Science, a business unit of Macmillan Science and Education. Follow Mike on Twitter at @mdavisri and connect on LinkedIn.

IIS Recap: Hosted Buyer Events: Matching Buyers with Sellers

Written by Brad Mehl

In this session, Dana Lupton, Executive VP at Questex Media, shared an intriguing model for growing an events business: hosted buyer events. In these events, vetted VIP buyers are selected by sellers and over the course of the event 1:1 appointments are held. Buyers select the companies they want to meet and the schedule is handled by Questex.

Dana asked the audience

“How long would it take you to get 25 VIP buyers at your most valued prospect companies?”

As a CMO, that got me listening. As we all know, buyers in nearly every market are overwhelmed by an endless stream of sales calls, content marketing and event invitations. Getting a captive audience with your “A”leads can be challenging—and nothing sells like in-person interaction. This dynamic presents an opportunity for publishers, but the keys to this model lie in the details, as Dana explained. Here are some of her tips for conducting hosted buyer events:

• It’s a different sales model— sell guaranteed ACCESS to select buyers instead of guaranteed square footage.
• Sell a White Glove experience— VIP treatment at world class venue.
• Separate your sales groups—have one for traditional conferences and another for. 1:1 hosted buyer events. “The pitch can get confused between the two. Keep them separate.”
• During the event, conduct team building activities. They create bonding among the participants.
• Feature a supplier showcase, in addition to 1:1 meetings.
• Have a system for scheduling 1:1 buyer/seller meetings and develop a real process.
• Manage the risk associated with hotel contracts by starting the process early, and waiting until you have a critical mass of attendees before you commit to booking the venue.

There are three approaches to hosted buyer events:

1. An in-show feature of an existing conference to generate additional revenue
2. Co-located event that piggybacks off another industry event happening in the same city at the same time.
3. Stand alone hosted events in a destination/resort environment— for deeper engagement among a highly targeted audience

Hosted buyer events can be done with small teams, though it was clear that having an experienced leader with a vision is required. Boiling it down, 40% margins are doable with a well managed event. And when it’s done well, the value to sellers is hard to duplicate in any other media. As a digital marketing native that’s hard for me to admit but the results Questex shows are hard to argue with.


20140205-151740.jpgBrad Mehl is president of Boundless Markets, which provides data-driven overhauls and upgrades of marketing and sales functions for business information and SaaS companies. He has over 20 years of experience in growing revenue and leading digital transformation at leading business information companies and early stage ventures.

Disruption Myths

In my previous post based on SIIA’s recent Information Industry Summit #IIS14, ‘New Business’ Models, Not Technologies, Drive Disruption, I talked about the huge challenge facing existing business information and media companies when they go up against startups: VC- and angel-funded business are expected to spend money, not make it, until they are established (and some existing players are destabilized).

Diane Pierson, principal of the new consulting firm Wheels-Up Innovation, firmly addressed the practical issues around changing an existing organization in her presentation, The Five Myths of Internal Disruption. I found one of the first stats she offered oddly encouraging: 75% of startups fail within the first year, but (only) 70% of all internal disruption activity ends in failure. In spite of the financial advantage that comes with VC or angel funding—which, of course, varies widely in magnitude—existing companies actually have a slightly better chance of getting something new off the ground.

I am sure leaders of existing companies can vastly improve their chances of creating something new, whether it’s a product or business model, by leveraging all the assets that have made their companies successful, but, they must also understand that disruption is a delicate, highly volatile undertaking.

One of my favorite quotes of #IIS14 was Pierson’s definition of internal disruption: “The willful and intentional introduction of conflict into an existing organization for the greater good.”

Most people don’t like conflict and few know how to handle it productively. CEO, presidents and other top executives are no different in this regard, I have found.

Someone must be the designated Disruptor, the champion of change, Pierson said. This person may come from within the organization or, as often happens, from the outside. A CEO must expect this Disruptor to be a lightning rod for conflict, as well as a catalyst for change, and the CEO must determine his or her own tolerance for conflict before putting a Disruptor in position.

All too many times, I have seen top management abandon their own hand-selected Disruptors when complaints start coming in. Maybe they expected conflict to accompany change, but they were not aware of how much conflict they themselves could withstand. “Your existing organization is watching you to see how strong your resolve is, how far you want to go with this disruption, and how quickly you will move,” Pierson said.

You might not realize it, CEO, but if you waver on the course that you have set—because you are destabilized by the backlash—your organization will sense it and they will withdraw support in subtle ways from the Disruptor and his or her projects.

CEOs can take steps to prevent that situation, though. Pierson pointed out that Disruptors, who probably have a pretty high tolerance for conflict, will need to be reined in, coached or redirected by the CEO. “Make sure disruptor knows what his or her decision rights are,” she cautioned.

Pierson also pointed out that people whose responsibilities are not involved in disruptive activities—such as customer service, production, sales—can be left out, and those who are immersed in disruption, particularly the Disruptor, should learn to appreciate people who are not part of the change team. She noted that there are generally two types of people in organizations, the changers and the builders. Changers like to create new things and they usually like to move to another challenge once they have set change in motion. The builders in the organization will (eventually) take up the new activity and make it better—because that’s what they do.


Marie Griffin Marie Griffin, principal, Marie I Griffin Consulting, is an independent business-to-business writer, content strategist, editorial manager and conference programmer. Follow her on Twitter at @griffinsider and her blog at griffINsider.com.

IIS recap: Sensors, Wearables and the Internet of Things: A Revolution in the Making

Written by Michael Davis

20140205-132914.jpgChances are you know someone benefiting from a connected device. Think of your friends with fitness bands or the people you know who program their DVR remotely. Matt Turck’s presentation on Wednesday afternoon highlighted the emergence of connected devices and how our interaction with the physical world is changing.

Simple devices are becoming more sophisticated. We’re moving from fitness bands to devices such as connected contact lenses that can help diabetics monitor their glucose levels.  Google’s $3.2B purchase of Nest Labs, makers of a connected thermostat, has helped to validate the market, and momentum continues to build.

According to Turck, we’re now entering a classic hype cycle, with market research firms and interested companies predicting huge markets and revenue opportunity.  We’ve moved beyond Internet 1.0 and 2.0, where we connected computers and people together, to a new phase of connecting everything else to the network.  Welcome to Internet 3.0 – the Internet of Things.

Key points from Turck’s presentation include:

● The Internet of things is about much more than fun consumer devices.

● There are huge business to business opportunities and enterprise applications.  For example, connected manufacturing floors, energy grids, healthcare facilities and transportation systems.

● Connected devices can communicate with each other wirelessly.  They do not need to be connected to the internet.

● All things become data.  Where we have sensors we can collect information.  Devices are easily programmed and information can be passed back and forth through APIs.

As a result, nearly everything becomes social.  Network interaction is being built in to our systems.  The data being collected helps us understand usage patterns and generate new insights.  Every company is becoming a software and information company.Why is this trend happening now?  Turck cites five reasons:

● Mobile adoption & growth

● The emergence of big data and cloud computing as enabling technologies

● Open hardware

● Crowdfunding and

● The availability of 3D printing for prototyping

While there is lots of entrepreneurial activity around the Internet of Things, activity is not restricted to startups.  General Electric, Honeywell, Siemens, Comcast, and many others are all pursuing innovative solutions.  Hot areas include home automation, wearables, the industrial internet, and robotics.  Equally important, the ecosystem needed to support the development of such solutions is coming together.  For more information, visit Turck’s Internet of Things Landscape, version 2.0.

As with all emerging technologies, there are potential issues and unanswered questions.  With more connected devices and data online, the need for secure, protected solutions will be ever-present.  And while the Internet of Things represents enabling technologies with enormous potential, it remains to be seen if it can evolve out of the living room into a true global network.

So what happens next?  The coming months will be filled with exciting announcements of new ventures, funding and solutions.  There will also be casualties.  Hardware will fail, organizations will stumble and privacy will be compromised.  Overall, the emergence of the Internet of Things represents an extraordinary opportunity to innovate and create value.  In 10 years’ time, if we’re successful, we’ll look back and all this technology will be ubiquitous and invisible.


20140205-132257.jpgMike Davis is a sales and marketing professional in the software and information industry.  Most recently he served as Commercial Director at Digital Science, a business unit of Macmillan Science and Education. Follow Mike on Twitter at @mdavisri and connect on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mdavisri.

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