'Explain the Why' and Set Goals to Succeed in Your Change Process

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There's a memorable scene early in the new film, Spotlight, where Michael Keaton as Walter Robinson, head of the Boston Globe's special, 4-person investigative section, sits before the paper's new editor and boss, Liev Schreiber (Marty Baron). Keaton is telling him the way his section, called Spotlight, has always done things—they take a few months "trolling" for a story which is what they're doing now.

Schreiber, a wonderful actor, could easily have overplayed this. But he doesn't. Instead, he pauses. His look tells us all we need to know: Things have to change. (My friend who works at the Post, where Baron is now editor, said that Schreiber "took on all the mannerisms of Marty.") The world does not wait anymore. They need to choose a story and get to work; in fact, Schreiber just happens to have one for them.

I thought about this last night at our INFO Local publishers dinner as the subject of change came up. If you get a chance to attend, I highly recommend it. We had 18 publishers talking to one another about how they do business. (Upcoming ones are taking place in Atlanta, Annapolis, Boston, DC, New York City.)

A former publisher spoke about the difference between a business willing to accept change and one that doesn't. "That's everything to our success with them." He complimented his boss for recently approving a new way of planning. "He just said, 'that sounds like a better way.'"

Almost any time I write about a publisher success story, the common denominator is that they have driven change.

"We had to break the print legacy," Chad Smolinski, senior vice president for U.S. News & World Report, told us at June's SIPA Conference. "We've gone from running a magazine to being an online publisher to being a consumer decisions company." They now get 30 million unique visitors a month and 150 million page views, he said. "We're still evolving." 

Interestingly, though, they stuck with their name for the cache it brings. "The U.S News badge has ended up being a must-have currency. It has proven its value to consumers."

"Over the last 18 months, we've had to rip up everything we used to do. There has been a real culture change here," Ben Wood, the group marketing and subscriptions director for Incisive Media, told me earlier this year. Incisive changed the way they sell, from single subscriptions to enterprise, and from transactional-based to relationship-based. "The shift will allow us to build better long-term, sustainable client relationships."

Peter Goldstone, CEO of Hanley Wood, has shepherded a huge change there. "We've always been integrated, but now data is the connective tissue and helps them understand what the best message to send to the best person at the right time. Companies have to reinvent themselves. Our sales is completely integrated. We've had to reconstitute our entire company."

Dietmar Schantin, founder of the Institute for Media Strategies in London, is in the change business. To initiate change, he says, you must explain the why. "This is very often not done. [The message is] we have to change and do it differently.  When we work with companies, we explain the why and then how. The transformation project looks completely different if you do it in that sequence."

Next, Schantin wants goals not visions, and for people to get out to training and networking events. "Training, education, coaching, job shadowing and, yes, even counseling are as much a part of the process [as] rolling out new digital products," he wrote.

He wants you to take a fresh look at everything you do. "We see plenty of examples where the editorial conference is kept at 10:30 a.m. simply because that's how it was always done when it was a print-only process," Schantin wrote. "Except that doesn't make sense anymore in a digital environment where the first usage peak is at 8 a.m...."

And don't judge by age, he said. It's more a change mindset. Provide the necessary tools and choose the right leaders. "The biggest surprise for me [from visiting media companies] was the extreme lack of management leadership skills," Schantin said. "Transformation comes down to leaders. Some leaders don't want to accept help. The role of decision-makers changes profoundly during transformation."

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…