Culture as an ‘Internal Protocol’; Now’s a Time for Change, Digital Expert Advises

Do away with products that are not working. Triple down on data. Make cultural changes. “The trick is to layer culture change objectives into everything else you are doing.” Reuters’ Lucy Kueng wants us to use this new normal as a reset to build. “In terms of growth, find out where your audiences are in the social media eco-system and get your content out to them there.”

Kueng, senior research associate at Reuters and internationally renowned expert on digital disruption, published a new ebook late last year titled Transformation Manifesto: 9 Priorities for Now. It delves into how publishers can change for the better in the aftermath of the pandemic. She wants them to “seize the opportunities presented by the undeniable crisis we face, because those opportunities are truly huge.”

Let’s go over five of these priorities, with some of our AMPlification.

Move from nice-to-have to ‘must-have’; triple down on data. “You can’t move from want to need on guesswork,” Kueng writes. “You can only shift… by diving deeply into understanding customers and how you can become more important to them… Triple down on data, not just on the volume flowing into the organization but on the caliber of discussions around that data, on the insights derived from it, the hypotheses you develop and test.”

“To move your audience from individuals who visit the site to read a specific piece of content to loyal subscribers, you must know a lot about them,” writes Sean Griffey, CEO of Industry Dive. “This means that media companies must have access to data in a breadth and volume that wasn’t needed, or available, in the past. Without the ability to fully understand their subscribers, a media company will quickly lag behind—and lose subscribers to competitors.”

Seize the moment to do clean-up work that’s overdue. In the same way we have been cleaning out our homes, Kueng wants us to do that with our business—and stop doing things that aren’t successful. “We have been very good at starting things but terrible at stopping them,” she writes. Look at your legacy products. Are they “hangovers from a previous era but still resourced at glory day levels”? She also wants us to pivot in the way we do age-old processes. “Remote working clearly offers opportunities to rebalance fixed costs.”

“I think what happens a lot is that you say these things are important, but you aren’t really following it in leadership with your actions,” said Anita Zielina, director of news innovation and leadership at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “Then you have to really be willing to invest or shift money into building a product team. So it’s really kind of a transformation process than anything else, unless you’re building as a start-up. Of this means you ask yourself, ‘What can I stop doing to shift those resources into something else?’”

Your culture is unfrozen. There will never be a better time to change it. “Culture is incredibly efficient—it works as an internal protocol that silently influences actions and decisions,” Kueng writes. “Ensure digital voices (often younger and more diverse) have equivalent ‘voice time’ and that they are heard first.”

There’s no excuse anymore for a speaker lineup or committee that lacks women or young people or people of color. It just takes a little more outreach and digging—a look at your LinkedIn connections and their connections, or going through the week’s headlines in your niche. It will be well worth it because a diverse speaker lineup should also diversify, and increase, your attendees.

Take extravagant care of your teams. “Remote working is often a boon for productivity when tasks are known. [But] it is bad for innovation and setting up new things (and finding a workaround for this is the challenge right now)… Ramp up communication as much as possible. Gather everyone together more often. Remind them that they are part of a cohesive organization.”

Early on in the pandemic, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, told me something that turned out to be prescient. “Since the pandemic isn’t expected to end anytime soon, we have ordered kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc. Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”

Timing is the rarest of strategic skills. Now is the time. “Agility, innovation, optimism—these were the most critical traits for now, according to 22 CEOs surveyed in September 2020. This is a rare reset moment. COVID-19 has been a crisis on so many levels but it is also a huge opportunity: to rethink, to innovate, to shed things that need to be let go of, and to build for the future.”

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