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Embracing Change

Seth HallenHPA President Seth Hallen recently published an article in the M&E Journal, entitled Embracing Change…

VUCA: Wikipedia definition as it applies to M&E

Volatility

The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts. Think about the rate at which new standards and formats are introduced.

Uncertainty

The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events. Not many predicted the impacts of OTT binge-viewing or Multi-Channel Networks.

Complexity

The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization. With so many stakeholders, formats, workflows and such a broad spectrum of consumer behaviors, this creates chaos and confusion for M&E professionals and ultimately consumers.

Ambiguity

The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion. Think about how many really smart individuals and companies in our industry have misread the market and failed in recent years.

Abstract: The rate at which our industry evolves is accelerating. Building and managing a company in an ever-changing environment such as ours comes with massive challenges. But there are some key principles that business owners and managers can apply that simplify the process of building a business that enables adaptability and agility to meet these challenges.

There are so many metaphors to describe the complexity within our industry. It seems like there are an unlimited number of cloud references, all cleverly comparing remote servers to the weather. Also weather-related, “snowflakes” are used to describe the infinite number of different workflows, unique but all perfect in their own ways. When it comes to formats, we’re in the Wild West, and when it gets real bad, we’re in a “war.” And it seems that a media and entertainment industry event isn’t complete until someone cracks a joke about the over-abundance of acronyms that we use to both simplify and compartmentalize our world.

Here’s another one: VUCA. But this one doesn’t represent a format or a standard or an organization. It represents a perspective. It’s a concept that the military began using in the 1990s when our armed forces were reinventing their strategies to meet the challenges of modern combat. VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. I am sure every M&E professional is immediately panged with the strong familiarity of these words.

There is a great deal of information about VUCA on the Web as it applies to many different industries so we won’t cover it in much detail in this article, but here is an overview of how VUCA is defined and how it applies to the M&E industry.

An interesting approach to take when evaluating your market and building your strategy is to think in terms of VUCA. Rather than struggling to fight these realities or hoping they simply vanish one day, it is important instead to modify your organization to accept this environment and create adaptations that enable it to thrive. In the words of Leon Silverman, General Manager of Digital Studio at Walt Disney Studios, “Its time to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable”. It’s time to forget about everything we know about running a company in a predictable market and its time to build adaptability into the DNA of your organization.

So how the heck do we do that? As it pertains to the rapidly evolving M&E industry, how does this method of analyzing our environment help you make decisions, manage risks, forecast, plan and move ahead? How can you foster a culture inside your organization that will be more capable of thriving in a VUCA world?

Culture

The overall success of any change management initiative is directly tied to how well the culture of the organization can evolve in line with the desired change.

Organizational leaders tend to think in terms of technical capabilities, infrastructure, P&L performance and market positioning. But while their heads are focused on those areas, many managers tend to forget how vitally important the culture of an organization, and the mindset of the individuals are to impacting their goals. Managing organizational culture is at the very core of managing change and impacting performance in all areas of your business. But the concept of culture, and how to manage it, is a source of confusion and mystification for many business leaders. Culture is such an interesting dichotomy in that it is intangible, subjective and immeasurable but at the same time is directly tied to measurable performance. How can we take an intangible concept like culture and translate that into tangible, measurable results?

Principles to impact cultural change

  • Promote cross-functionality as a mindset

The only way to thrive in an environment where it’s increasingly difficult to predict the future is to ensure that your teams are agile enough to change course and adapt quickly. Having agility is often seen as an infrastructural or procedural capability. Although there are certainly organizational considerations to being agile, it begins with ensuring that employees are empowered to think more creatively about how they can participate in solving the company’s challenges. This has a significant cultural impact in that it enables individuals to have a much greater role in positive change management. The initial mindset of many employees is that they work within a very specific scope of responsibilities per the job description they were given when they were hired. Even though they may have skills to contribute in additional ways, they may not feel empowered to move outside of what they perceive as their specific role. Embolden them with a cross-functional mindset whereby they look for opportunities that might be outside their “scope”. This helps the organization become much better prepared to evolve in step with shifting customer and market demands.

  • Think small

Smaller companies have certain advantages over their larger competitors. We see so many examples of how the nimbleness, agility and the ability to evolve quickly all play leading roles in successful disruption and market share growth. Leaders who work inside large companies often find it more difficult to mobilize and execute their ideas as quickly. But most of the trouble is rooted in the habits and perspectives of some individuals who have worked inside this large corporate environment for a long time. Regardless of your company’s size, anyone can adopt a small business mindset and gain some of the benefits. One effective way to do this is to ask your department heads to imagine their business unit as their own small company. Then encourage them to develop and execute their strategies in that frame of mind. Once you get them thinking this way, you will find the individuals in your organization better able to make decisions and execute more quickly and efficiently.

  • Always be new

It’s mind-boggling when we look back at our industry and recognize how much things have changed in such a short time. At this exponential rate of transformational change, we know that organizations that lack adaptability can quickly find themselves increasingly irrelevant to the current market. So an effective, and sometimes vital, exercise is to pretend you’re starting a new company every 6 months. Look at your current business base (clients, revenues, etc.) and make your best guess at where you’ll be in 6 months. Then decide exactly (and sometimes painfully) what you would ideally need to service your customers and how you would structure your “new” business. The insights gleaned from this exercise will guide your decisions on organizational structure, job descriptions, cost management and future revenue generation. It will help transform the culture and DNA of an organization to ensure that it can adapt and evolve at the same speed as the market.

  • Everyone knows everything

When an executive or employee is navigating a company in our dynamically changing M&E environment, there is great value in consistently ensuring you are aware of these changes through colleagues and peers in realtime. There is no better way to keep your “finger on the pulse” of the industry than by participating in technology communities, trade organizations and industry events. By engaging and interacting with other thought leaders, you will understand the broader shifts that are taking place as well as the nuances of change that may strike specific strategic ideas that you then incorporate into your own initiatives. No single person or company knows everything but the power of collective knowledge and community collaboration can only assist us in making sense of this VUCA world.

Seth Hallen has 16 years of senior leadership experience in the digital media and post production industries. With a proven ability to lead teams toward the successful tactical execution of strategies designed to capitalize on emerging trends and opportunities, he has been building profitable, innovative and market-dominant companies for over 25 years. Hallen is also President of the Hollywood Professional Association (HPA).

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