Five tips for Dean Baquet on managing change at the New York Times


Document reveals urgent need for cultural, organisational and structural change at NYT. Planning and implementing a structured change management approach will help realise business objectives.

There have been many suggestions but no official explanation for why executive editor, Jill Abramson, was replaced by her deputy, Dean Baquet, last week at the New York Times. What is certain, however, is the mountain of cultural, organisational and structural change needed at the masthead. Here I offer my top five tips to Dean Baquet for managing this change.

5

Change Champion

Dean Baquet needs to become change’s champion. As NYT’s new executive editor he needs to drive the necessary change for the masthead in its desire to become digital first. This means more than merely being in agreement with the change. Successful change will demand Baquet be seen to be driving the change, supporting it and being able to explain to all layers of employee the urgency of the change along with the implications of not adapting to it. He needs to be involved and visible during all stages of the change.

2

Communication: Keep it coming. Keep it honest

Countless newspapers globally are struggling to define what journalism is today, what it might look like tomorrow and how to make it pay. NYT is no exception and Baquet needs to articulate the clear, compelling reasons for change, the objectives of the change and the implications for not changing.

In the book: ‘Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against the Brand Leaders’ Adam Morgan discusses the value monsters play in storytelling. Morgan argues monsters create drama, emotion and conflict – and they require a hero. NYT’s recent internal Innovation Report is a 96-page monster-fest detailing amongst other horrors:

  • An increasingly irrelevant pre-occupation with Page One.
  • An abdication of digital strategy by the newsroom – The paper’s Twitter account run by the newsroom. Its Facebook account run by the paper’s business side.
  • The identification of a “cadre of editors who remain unfamiliar with the web.”

As executive sponsor Baquet is best placed to fulfil the role of hero and communicate what needs to change to slay the monster. He will then need to ensure each line manager has the skills to answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) type questions at an individual employee level.

Communications need to be frequent, consistent, targeted for each audience and preferably face-to-face.

3

Structure the change

At the announcement of Abramson’s sudden departure, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher and chairman of the New York Times Company is quoted as saying: “the newsroom is about to embark on a significant effort to transition more fully to a digital-first reality”.  Baquet needs to add detail to this woolly desire of being digital first. He needs to define what being digital first will actually mean for the news outlet and for everyone working within it.

Once this envisioned future is fully articulated a structured, staged, change management approach needs to be implemented. An easy-to-apply methodology will not only speed up the change’s adoption rate but also keep the change ‘sticky’. It will help the change become entrenched and reduce the likelihood of reporters developing ‘workarounds’ or reverting to the old ways of doing things.

4

Put some money and time behind the change

Change is personal. People react to change in different ways adopting change at different paces. I cover this in my article Yays, No-Way-José’s and the Sways in change.

Successful change projects need change agent Yays at all hierarchical levels across as many functions a possible. A structured change management approach during the planning and implementation stages will help NYT identify the:

  • Total numbers of employees impacted by the ‘digital-first’ change initiative.
  • Names and numbers of departments affected.
  • Hierarchical levels directly impacted

Using dedicated change management staff will help:

  • Anticipate potential sources of resistance.
  • Mitigate any impact of resistance through easy-to-use plans.
  • Identify training needs required to perform within the digital-first culture.
  • Reinforce the change after the digital-first ‘project’ has completed.

5

Encourage involvement

Change management addresses the people side of change. To increase support and participation in change Baquet needs to encourage two-way communications asking employees to provide feedback.

He needs to involve employees both in editorial and in the business side of the news outlet in the decision making process. And, he needs to remember that those affected by change will spend most time worrying about WIIFM until they understand. Baquet needs to ensure that all line managers have the tools to pre-empt these questions and deal with them as and when they arise.

Middle management need to feel involved and valued in the change process, too. They are the subject matter experts and often play a pivotal role in transferring knowledge up the chain of command to executives and down to frontline employees. My article Middle Managers’ Four Fs in change resistance explores the four characteristics middle managers adopt when faced with change and how to get them behind change.

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