Managing change in the creative industries

September 21, 2009

Nathalie Harrison– Nathalie Harrison has worked in the broadcast and media industry for over seventeen years. A specialist in business change management in the media industry, her work has included major technological and production transformation projects for clients across the globe. Nathalie is currently Senior Business Consultant in the Professional Services division of Sony Professional in Europe. The opinions expressed are her own. –

The current economic climate has led an increasing number of businesses to seek new ways to improve business efficiency and function through change. When combined with technological advances, the media industry is one sector that has experienced record levels of change and faces some unique challenges when it comes to change management.

Burgeoning markets such as 3D, TV for mobiles and IPTV; the consolidation of content providers, distributors and aggregators; and the fragmentation of audiences has led to greater market diversity but also convergence which in some instances has limited the market opportunities. Meanwhile new outsourcing models; the re-location of broadcast and other facilities; and a decline in commercial and public broadcasting revenues, have all contributed to real grass roots change as the traditional media industry re-examines its business model.

All change management methodologies provide structure and tools to support organisations as they transition to new ways of working, re-skilling staff to operate new systems and preparing the organisation, culturally and practically, to adapt. But in media organisations maintaining a culture of creativity and innovation is critical to successful change; characteristics that can be threatened by increased processes.

Indeed, many broadcast and media organisations – public sector and private – spend millions on technology projects, but often do not invest enough time and resource in managing the people change. As a result those millions do not have the maximum effect: in other words, a significant percentage of the investment is wasted. We are involved with bids and projects valued up to 50 million euros, some of which can preoccupy an organisation for two to three years and have an impact on hundreds or thousands of staff; and there are even some projects in this industry which have threatened to or have actually cost senior managers their jobs.

We believe that clients need to consider their people from the outset as much as their technology and toolset.

From our experience of working with many of these businesses we have created a list of top ten tips for managing change in creative industries.

1.       Agree the business case before taking the change programme forward

Do not lose credibility by launching and re-launching the programme; this makes any final launch “underwhelming” but also increases the likelihood of conflict with other change initiatives and can result in “change fatigue”. By agreeing the phasing upfront the programme should progress easily with funding secured and dependencies identified.

2.       Understand the number of stakeholders involved in the programme and, more importantly, who is responsible for sign off

Agree at the start what the change programme will entail and how it will work alongside other technology projects underway. Ideally the leader of the project should help to identify the benefits and impact of the initiative. This will help when they need to explain the project to stakeholders and obtain buy-in.

3.       Make the change process consultative and encourage the participation of those affected by the change

Allow time to assess the implications of change for each community and ensure that the affected communities are involved in the resulting decisions. Individual community needs will differ and must be recognised if change is to be accepted and driven locally.

4.       Ensure that there is a steady flow of information into the business and that the style of communication is right for the audience

The means of communication cannot be underestimated in the creative industries. You are working with the experts and must be mindful of their skills and knowledge level. Tailor the information as a “one size fits all” approach will not work, and be honest about the difficulties.

Brand your programme and distinguish your communication from other business traffic by using distinctive visuals and a range of delivery mediums to keep your audience interested, and if funds permit, launch with an event.

Ultimately timing is key; be aware that premature information can do more damage than good but do not withhold all communications on this ground.

5.       Remember to nurture your staff

The media industry moves at a face pace but you must allow time for staff to learn new skills. Never underestimate the different ways in which people will respond to change and the variety of training that will be required as a result. Make sure training is targeted and bespoke when required and allow time for key staff to trial the change. Identify talented individuals; they will find new ways to make the change even more successful.

6.       Ensure that change happens locally

Change programmes are often most effective when run centrally but day-to-day business ownership should be held by local teams if it is to be put into practice. Be flexible about how the change is achieved and be supportive of local adaptations and problem solving. However, remember that those in the media industry are busy and therefore funding should be available for change work. Employees need to be taken out of the business to contribute to the change programme, without fearing the penalty of not delivering a day job.

7.       Anticipate the behavioural changes required to make the change successful

Provide a forum for feedback and listen, so that you can judge the level of awareness and commitment, as well as the success of your communications. All individuals should feel that they have been afforded time to assess the change for themselves and debate is a fundamental part of the acceptance process. You must learn to recognise and appropriately respond to the key stages of the emotional transition curve: shock, anger, rejection, depression, acceptance, readiness, approval.

8.       Put measurements for success in place in advance

Performance indicators and local cost implications need to be understood fully from the outset to limit surprises. Extra work required to produce indicators or metrics is likely to be received negatively. Regardless of the method chosen, in a competitive industry like the media you must always link back to the benefits and when possible tie back to market competition.

9.       Make sure that the technology works first time

Delays and problems extend the change period and add layers of frustration which in turn will damage the reputation of the project and impede success. Make sure adequate user testing has taken place and any issues are addressed in the training programme, and maintain an on ongoing dialogue with users.

10.   Don’t be tempted to start on your next change programme until the first is embedded and you have measured its success

Change is time consuming and tiring. Fatigue makes for cynicism even when projects have full support.

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