Admitting You Have a Problem

A leaked internal report that looks at how the New York Times is performing in terms of its digital strategy has made headlines this past week.   The comprehensive report (dubbed by some as a manifesto), was commissioned by former editor Jill Abramson in what started as skunk-works that would come up with digital projects, but quickly expanded into looking at the paper as a whole and diving into great depth in benchmarking competitors, assessing NYT’s culture, customer centricity, capabilities needed to compete and the overall state of the industry.

My first reaction after reading the report was to applaud the effort. It takes guts and courage to shift gears from the denial stage and admitting to the world that you are no longer leading, but now lagging behind.

Internally, the document must have fulfilled its intended purpose at getting all of NYT’s employees on the same page. Often times, when companies are disrupted, employees bear the brunt of organizational changes, cost cutting and masking the extent of disruption by management that don’t always make sense. The employee’s first reaction is to disengage, or wait till the storm passes by. By getting the employees all on the same open and honest page, it helps level-set the current situation and clearly outline the plan of where people need to focus in order to successfully make the transition. By aligning everyone to an honorable purpose and mission, at the very least, NYT will create a common taxonomy to drive the change and may even attract some external talent from people who are up to the challenge.

While not meant to be leaked externally, there is no surprise whatsoever that it did. In fact, senior leaders at the paper were quoted as saying “Now the full report is out, and perhaps that is a good thing, because we are proud of the report and what it says.”   They just got a load off their chests -there’s no reason for them not to be proud of this work.   It can serve as an example to many other companies that are experiencing similar disruption on how to effectively manages that change, both internally and with the markets. While there’s no doubt that some companies will emerge winners and some will naturally fade away into irrelevance, it is never a bad idea to be transparent with your stakeholders and lay the cards on the table.   If anything, you will raise their level of confidence in your plan.

The lesson for leaders is that leveraging transparency and authenticity actually works. Whether you are just noticing a trend or have seen it for a while, don’t waste time denying it, engage your employees, customers, partners and suppliers in actively solving and driving change.  The faster you can get everyone on the same page, the faster you’ll be able to move forward.





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