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Assign people — and money — to support innovation

You must dedicate a pool of financial and human resources for innovation and name a cross-functional team to guide innovation across the enterprise.

This is an excerpt from “Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting in the Game of News,” published Nov. 14, 2017. Read more excerpts here.

You cannot transform yourselves in the absence of innovation and change. Doing so requires shifting your strategy, work, workflow, roles, skills, technology, tools and organization and culture in ways that embraces the Table Stakes described throughout this report – including this Table Stake #5’s mandate to find new and different kinds and sources of revenues.

It is highly likely that folks across your enterprise from leadership to the front lines already know innovation is a watchword for moving forward. What’s less likely is that your top management approaches innovation in the manner they would any other crucial strategic imperative: by allocating a specific pool of human and financial resources to the challenge of innovation and asking across that functional team to run the effort with regular updates to top management and the rest of the enterprise.

In dedicating a set pool of resources to innovation, top management must figure out:

  • How much time folks ought to be expected to spend on innovation. Consider the mini-publishers described in Table Stake #7, “Incs,” obsessions or desks, audience developers and social media editors, technologists and tool makers, newsroom leaders such as the executive and managing editor, folks from marketing, sales and communications – and so on. The mandate to innovate might differ for different folks. What’s key, though, is to declare and then hold folks accountable for some allocation of time and effort – whether that’s 10% of their time, 20%, or whatever. In doing this, avoid self-delusion. Anything less than 10% is a fantasy. Finally, if there are some folks (e.g. on the innovation team) who should dedicate full time – or all but full time – make that clear.
  • What specific performance and learning goals to set for teams and individuals working on innovation. It’s key that top management – ideally with the input of the innovation team along with, if relevant, HR – put explicit innovation goals into individual and team performance plans. Progress against these goals should be monitored through: (1) regular team reviews; (2) innovation initiative reviews; and, (3) personal performance reviews.
  • How much financial resource to budget for innovation. This is the most difficult decision – especially for metros, locals and regionals hard pressed by shrinking revenue and other constraints. Innovation is not cost free. Consider the Dallas team that innovated GuideLive. Yes, much of the bet turned on dedicating the team’s time and effort. Yet, they also needed access to money to pay for work with the local partner who helped create Serif, the CMS that later was adopted by the newsroom as a whole.

In putting together an innovation team, top management should:

  • Pick folks based on innovation skills, experience and perspective along with cross-functionality and seniority
  • Keep the team small (e.g. 3 or 4 folks instead of 7 or more)
  • Either establish – or ask the team to establish – an aggressive purpose/vision for the effort along with the outcomes or results that answer, “What success looks like for that purpose?”
  • Ask the team to come back within 3 to 5 weeks with a proposed plan for leading and managing innovation across the enterprise