Torn sweaters and story meetings

We were tasked with creating a new training course that focussed on improving the skill of pitching stories in a story meeting. The story meeting is a daily gathering at which ideas are “pitched” to the producers by reporters and journalists. The producers then decide which ideas will be turned into content and stories, and which media will be used to present the story. I would argue that the story meeting is the nexus of the news organization. A healthy and productive story meeting is critical to its success, but story meetings are often identified as having issues: lack of stories being pitched, stories not being newsworthy, lack of focus, and lack of direction from leaders. An overview of the training course was approved by the corporation’s learning department and was scheduled to be delivered to the news team in a mid-size city. 

Before we cemented the content of the course, we undertook a qualitative research campaign. We conducted one-on-one confidential phone calls with every member of the team in the newsroom of the mid-sized city.  These phone calls not only gathered data with which we shaped the content of our course, but it fostered a readiness for change in the leaders, reporters and journalists. Weiner (2009, p. 3) points out that sharing stories, talking about experiences and gathering information through social interaction can promote readiness perceptions throughout a group. While the students showed interest in the training, there was also skepticism based on past experience. Acknowledging and validating these perceptions allowed us to gain trust and create a sense of readiness for the course. It also led us to expand the scope of the course to include a critique and recommendation for changes in the structure and format of the pitch meeting. By expanding the focus to both sides of the pitch meeting (those pitching and those evaluating the pitches), we gained not only a more comprehensive scope to improve the situation, but also gained the trust of the reporters and journalists by incorporating their concerns into the mandate of the training. 

The University of Florida outlines a list of factors that contribute to readiness for a blended learning project. Their core elements certainly apply to all change management. First, stakeholders must share a common understanding of the task at hand. This common understanding will create clarity and avoid confusion when learning and change are implemented. The University states that the project must be aligned with institutional goals. This is true if you want buy-in from management. They also suggest that in order for the change to be lasting, there must be an effective organizational modern in place to support it, and that staff must be capable to keep it running in the long term. All of this suggests that when you start with one element of training, you’re likely to be more successful when you pull back the lens and look at how it fits into the bigger picture of the workflow, corporate culture and overall purpose of the organization. Taking a holistic view often requires more effort, but can yield more sustainable change. As Cormier (2017) illustrates it “The problem is that when you pull one string on that system to try and fix it, you tend to tear the sweater somewhere else. SO much easier to just call the thing broken so you don’t have to put your shoulder to the wheel and do long term sustainable change.”

 

Cormier, D. (2017, December 8). Our schools aren’t broken, they’re hard [Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2017/12/08/our-schools-arent-broken-theyre-hard/

University of Central Florida (n.d.). Institutional capacity and readiness [Blog post] Retrieved from:

https://blended.online.ucf.edu/2011/06/07/institutional-capacity-and-readiness/

 

Weiner, B.J. A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Sci 4, 67 (2009). Retrieved from:  https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

 

 

One thought on “Torn sweaters and story meetings

  1. Hi Jeff

    Thank you for such an inspirational blog post. It completely resonated with me. I do not have any work experience in a news organization; however, I do have experience working with management professionals to help them develop their leadership skills.

    Your blog included some key phrases that I use with management when I try to explain to them the role of leadership. In your blog post, Goodes (2020) stated that “acknowledging and validating perceptions allowed us to gain trust and create a sense of readiness” (para 2). There were several fundamental leadership terms you used, specifically acknowledge, validate, gain trust, and create sense of readiness. It occurred to me that whether we are trying to create a new training program, or we are trying to develop leadership skills in others, we are developing and/or exercising change management skills.

    Your blog provided me an ‘a ha’ moment!! According to Al-Haddad & Kotnour, in order to implement change, leaders must be familiar with the different perceptions and cultures in an organization. Therefore, if a leader is going to develop their leadership skills, (and let’s suggest that by developing skills we are in fact ‘changing’ something) then, based on your blog, Leaders must (a) obtain feedback from others (peers) and acknowledge the feedback; (b) validate or at a minimum accept the perceptions of others; and (c) by doing so, the leader will build trust in their group and create a sense of readiness to change. This change is the development of their new or enhanced leadership style.

    Weiner (2009) stated that readiness for change is highest when [leaders] want to implement change and feel confident to implement change (p.3). I believe that a leader’s readiness for change has three distinct parts. First it involves the act of wanting something. Second, it involves having the confidence to make the change and third, it involves having relationships built on trust to support the change.

    Thanks, Jeff, for helping me see change management in a totally different way!

    Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: A model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234–262. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

    Goodes, J. (2020, March 7). Torn Sweaters and Story Meetings [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0107/torn-sweaters-and-story-meetings/

    Weiner, B.J. A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Sci 4, 67 (2009). Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

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