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RAOOI: A tool for change management in newsrooms

Performance results are the primary objective of change, not change. Getting people to commit to performance results, not to commit to change, is key – and that’s what RAOOI is all about.’

Widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading management thinkers and advisers, Doug Smith, who also serves as an Associated Consultant to WAN-IFRA, has contributed to performance results, innovation, strategy and change in scores of organisations across more than 60 industries in all three sectors: private, government and non-profit.

He is the lead author of  Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting into the Game of News, a manual that guides news enterprises in the key strategic steps needed for journalistic and financial sustainability, and the architect of the principles and design for Challenge-Centric, Performance-Driven Transformation Programmes (SM) guiding leaders to use a focus on performance results to drive innovation, capacity-building, and growth in organisations and communities undergoing profound disruption.

Smith and his colleague Charlie Baum crafted RAOOI (Resources, Activities, Output, Outcome, Impact), a tool developed to help newsrooms effectively navigate change – and one that has proven most popular in the Table Stakes challenge.

For example, the tool is used currently by the participants of Table Stakes Europe, a performance-driven change management initiative for local and regional news organisations, a WAN-IFRA programme supported by the Google News Initiative Digital Growth Programme

What is RAOOI?

“There are two bodies of work that matter to newsrooms trying to transform themselves for the 21st century. One, RAOOI, is a methodology that I and colleagues created over the last 25 to 30 years to address behaviour and skill-based change; it’s what we call performance-driven change,” explains Smith.

The second is Table Stakes, created for the news industry in particular: “These are principles of strategy for the news enterprise; strategy that requires performance-driven change to implement,” he adds.

 

‘From the ’90s to now, there’s been an acceleration of forces of instability. Across industry, across government, across societies, we are experiencing challenges and problems that have two characteristics: an increase in complexity of the problems, and an increase in the complexity of collaborating or figuring out how to move forward with the problems.

Change and the cognitive conundrum

The digital revolution that kickstarted the transformation of global media 30 plus years ago is ongoing and, thanks to the introduction and rapid adoption of AI, is set to continue its disruption of media processes and platforms, increasing the demand and necessity for solid management practices that can ride these changes.

“Forty, fifty years ago, management practices were grounded in stability; from the ’90s to now, there’s been an acceleration of forces of instability. Across industry, across government, across societies, we are experiencing challenges and problems that have two characteristics: an increase in complexity of the problems, and an increase in the complexity of collaborating or figuring out how to move forward with the problems,” notes Smith.

He points to those working in news media shifting to digital platforms as an obvious decision over the last 20 years. “However, this means that the people who are already employed – the executives as well as employees – in an existing enterprise, have to learn new skills, new behaviours, new attitudes, new ways of working with one another, as well as others outside their enterprise, in order to implement the changes.

“I began seeing this pattern emerging that we were increasingly facing: ‘We don’t know how challenges’, where decisions, while necessary, were not enough, as existing employees had to learn new skills. So, the distinction between decision-driven change versus behavioural skills-driven change became evermore crucial.”

This, says Smith, is the central challenge confronted by newsrooms. “It’s written deep in all these challenges, so the question becomes: How do you manage and lead in a situation where decisions are not enough; where they don’t implement themselves? Because ideas do not implement themselves; people do. And typically, it’s the people who already exist in an enterprise.”

An alternative approach to education, training – and its management process

Successfully implementing change today requires a new approach to education and training, believes Smith. “From a Western perspective, our inherited approach to education, through instruction, is actually really well captured by something called the Mug and the Jug theory of education, with the teacher as the jug filled with knowledge, and the student as the mug that gets filled.”

As co-author of Sources of the African Past: Case Studies of Five Nineteenth Century African Societies, Smith is knowledgeable on African cultures from the 18th and 19th century, and cites the education of 18th century Lesotho king Moshoeshoe as a source of inspiration.

“That was not the mug and jug theory. It was experientially-based education. The difference is that in the mug and jug approach there’s a deep pattern of belief that once we’ve made decisions, we then train people.”

The challenge here, notes Smith, is an inherent resistance to change, and a reluctance to adopt new methods and processes.

“Research showed that in any particular society – and therefore organisation – confronting profound change, five to 15% of people are early adopters. Five to 15%, at the equivalent percentage, are ‘Over-my-dead-body’ resistors, and the rest are in the middle, on the famous fence – and the battle, their force, is on the fence.

“They’re not resistant, but they’re reluctant. They’re scared, they’re anxious… And one key thing that gets people who are reluctant to say: ‘Okay, I’ll give that a try,’ is when they see that it works.”

This is borne out by the successful implementation of RAOOI in Table Stakes Challenges – and why it has become a firm favourite amongst the range of tools and resources in the programme.

See Also: Change Management with Table Stakes – Producing success stories that drive the effort 

Smith points to the underlying principle behind RAOOI as the beacon for its success: “Performance results are the primary objective of change, not change. Getting people to commit to performance results, not to commit to change, is key – and that’s what RAOOI is all about.”

RAOOI and the Table Stakes challenge

Table Stakes forces teams to analyse every action that is taken along clear categories: Is this just an activity, is this an output (like a new dashboard or different news desk setup), or does it produce an outcome (like new subscribers, additional revenue)? Or can you even attach an impact to it, like a new community centre or a cycle highway being built because of the relentless exploration and coverage of audiences’ needs?

About Table Stakes

The term table stakes is a poker metaphor and refers to the amount of money a player must bring to have a seat at the table. In this case, the “table stakes” are seven essential skills required for journalism enterprises to thrive in the 21st century.

Developed in collaboration with some of the country’s most important news organisations, the in-depth program helps news enterprises find a path to a sustainable future by teaching them how to change their practices, develop new products, reach new audiences and better engage their communities.

The Seven Table Stakes

  • Serve targeted audiences with targeted content and experiences
  • Publish on the platforms used by your targeted audiences
  • Produce and publish continuously to meet audience needs
  • Funnel occasional users to habitual and paying/valuable loyalists
  • Diversify and grow the ways you earn revenue from the audiences you build
  • Partner to expand your capacity and capabilities at lower and more flexible cost
  • Drive audience growth and profitability from a “mini-publisher” perspective’

Doug Smith is a guest speaker at the upcoming 2023 Digital Media Africa conference from 13-14 September.

Get your tickets here.

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