Digital Transformation at BusinessDay — Move It.
“Picture a huge, heavy flywheel — a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns … four … five … six … the flywheel builds up speed … seven … eight … you keep pushing … nine … ten … it builds momentum … eleven … twelve … moving faster with each turn … twenty … thirty … fifty … a hundred.
Then, at some point — breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.
Now suppose someone came along and asked, “What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?” You wouldn’t be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth?”
Good to Great — Jim Collins
The same has been true of our Digital Transformation journey at BusinessDay. But if I may, point to one push. Not because it was the most important, but because maybe it was the first real push. Prior to that, we were doing other important work like assembling the components of the flywheel. The “Digital Services” team since inception was 100 meters away from the newsroom. Until recently both teams operated as though we had two different destinies.
So off I went to Oslo and Stockholm with WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) to tour other newsrooms and meet with their respective editors and publishers. I had only one question, “are we doing this digital transformation thing properly?” I came back with three takeaways, and I proceeded to execute.
Takeaway 1: You need physical proximity
Studies have shown that in your office, you barely talk to most people who are more than 60 yards from you. Our digital services team was too far apart from editorial. Now if you work in new media, you might be wondering, “wtf is ‘digital services’?” A number of traditional media houses, hire a similar team as they begin to transition. At BusinessDay the Digital Services team was responsible for publishing online, social media, all web/app products, and managing subscribers.
Takeaway 1a: The move won’t be perfect.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. I had many disagreements with The Publisher of BusinessDay about where in the newsroom the team would be seated. I was pushing for a symbolic move to the middle (where the red rectangle is). The thinking was as follows, let’s make a big statement about really being ‘digital first’. It was inspired by the one of the newsrooms we became familiar with. This newsroom is literally centred around digital (see picture below). This didn’t work out for me. But i focused on the win, we moved!
Takeaway 2: Synchronisation
Ideally your reporters should have multimedia training, but in legacy publications this is not always possible. When that is the case the multimedia story tellers you hire, must wake up, eat and sleep with the journalists. You need to strive to be involved from story generation through to when the story is presented to the reader. This takes some work and coercion. On one hand, you need to show them what is possible for their story telling in terms of how much more powerful it can be in video form for example. On the other hand, you should feel empowered to involve HR and make multimedia storytelling part of their KPIs. Alignment of objectives throughout the organisation is important. And it will make your job easier.
Takeaway 3: Prepare to make enemies
Focus on the objective. Change cannot happen without some discomfort. You will meet resistance. Most of it behind your back. That’s fine. When you get to this point, smile, it means things are happening! Stay focused on the objective — digital integration. The name calling that I endured was amusing at first, then irritating, then I decided to channel that productively. I asked myself some important questions. Does everyone know what we are trying to achieve? Do they know what’s in it for them? Do they know they are invited to get on the bus? Do they now they can get down from the bus at their earliest convenience? I focused on communicating and winning trust by letting our journalists see how much better we were working together. Stay focused on the mission. It’s not your job to be liked (although it’s helpful). It’s your job to achieve the objective.
So far so good.We’ve cut down the amount of time it takes to get stories online, troubleshooting is faster, we’ve started experimenting in different forms of storytelling. We are headed in the same direction. There’s a lot to be proud of. There’s also a long way to go, but as usual, I’m excited for the journey.