Wednesday 11 September 2013

Tim Brooks Keynote: Drowning - or Waving?

We are delighted to welcome delegates to our annual International Conference and Awards. This year we will provide coverage of the event on Twitter so follow the #alpsp13 hash tag. We'll also provide summaries here on the blog.

The day kicked off with a keynote from Tim Brooks, CEO of BMJ who reflected on the struggle that every organisation has with technology driving change.

Who am I to talk?
Brooks is a journalist by training, but has experience of working at The Guardian, IPC Media, Time Inc and Emap amongst others. He was a Visiting Fellow at London Business School before joining BMJ, which provided a different perspective of how people learn. He has seen first hand the challenges traditional media companies face. At BMJ, they have over 60% of revenue now derived from digital, up from 10% in just a few years, and they are seeing growth from international markets.

Modern life: bloody complicated
Brooks observed that it is impossible to talk to anyone who is not facing an increase in the speed of activity, greater need for flexibility, an increasing number of variables, ever more complex interdependencies and an increasing range of novel - or unpredictable - phenomena. Fast is the new slow. Being a manager today is a lot like ongoing agile development.

'Doubt is not a pleasant state: but certainty is a ridiculous one.' - Voltaire

Why is change so hard?
There are cultural obstacles that are easy to overlook. Good news culture can be corrosive: issues that are causing difficulty get filtered out as it goes up the organisation, so that those with senior, strategic responsibility aren't getting the full picture.

Skills and decision making are key, but corporate leadership were/are not digital natives. Leadership by definition has vested interest in the status quo. And digital natives are not naturally drawn to legacy environments. Marrying digital skills to an enterprise's established skills or vice versa challenging and time consuming.

Do those who know have a voice?
Brooks drew on the example of Emap in the 80s. They noticed that classified regional newspaper sales were falling across the board. Rather than fire the sales team, they talked to them - as highly skills professionals - to find out why. The message was clear: local radio was taking sales. The solution? They sold their regional titles and bought into local radio.

There are a number of structural options an organisation can adopt. The prevailing wisdom is if you are going to make a transition to the new you have to keep it separate. But there are a lot of different options for company structures and it is difficult to predict which is the right one.

Make sure you use the right metrics. Don't get trapped by your own perception of what your business is: the customers' perception is more important.

Looking for answers: the newspaper industry
The UK has the most competitive newspaper market in the world because it was the first into the market in Victorian times. Shrinking, dying industries start doing strange things, but when you look at The Times and The Guardian, they have strong readership and there is healthy rivalry.

Agility, agility, agility
Sky has been brilliantly agile. They have portfolio agility and strategic agility. When LoveFilm came along they untethered their content so it can be watched on mobile devices.  This was a massive change to their business model and one that was full of risk. They structure their businesses for different markets - keeping film and print differently.

'There are always two parties, the party of the past and the party of the future; the establishment and the movement.' Strategy as Revolution - Gary Hamel

What's in it for me?
While Brooks was at The Guardian, they opened up weekly open meetings for all staff to come along to discuss a digital related issue. It was amazing how they gained fresh insight into issues from unlikely sources. He stressed the importance of remembering what's in it for the people you work with. Treat staff as volunteers. Talk and listen. Honour the rule of 5 (in marriages if there are five or more positives to every negative the marriage will last). Treat your staff the same way. Look after your team. Tell people what you want them to do, why you want them to and thank them for it. And don't forget you. The balance between self, loved ones and work crucial.

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