How FT helps staff navigate change without breaking the bank

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Keeping pace with dizzying technological changes is difficult enough for media companies' management. But getting the entire staff on board—communicating how the changes affect the business and training employees accordingly—is altogether another challenge. The Financial Times, which has advanced an aggressive multichannel strategy, moving beyond its legacy salmon-colored pages to desktop and mobile screens, has developed a streamlined way to address the issue. The company made an early bet on Web apps and invested in responsive design while the publishing industry still was debating the merits of HTML5. It continues to launch new products, this year introducing a breaking-news feed called fastFT. More than a third of its revenue now comes from digital channels, and its mobile audience drives a quarter of new subscriptions. That kind of transformation has a significant impact on the workforce, said Emily Gibbs, global head of internal communications at FT. So Gibbs spearheaded the 2012 development of a companywide educational event, dubbed the FT Digital Learning Week, to help employees keep pace with the changes that are reshaping everything from ad sales to editorial. “The idea is to support the transformation from print to multichannel,” she said. The second annual Digital Learning Week, held in September, featured more than 50 educational sessions developed for a global staff concentrated in London, New York, Beijing, Hong Kong and Manila. The price tag: £10,000, or about $16,000 U.S. “It's done on a shoestring budget,” Gibbs said. “We don't give away food or pay speakers.” The bulk of the expense went to a service that provided a real-time stream of London-based keynotes, Gibbs said. The live stream carries content to workers in other offices and also to overflow London-based staffers. The event largely is employee-driven, Gibbs said. The communications team builds the agenda around the results of a staff survey, which this year indicated that topics including Big Data, cyber security and social media would drive attendance. Gibbs leads the London planning and relies on regional contacts to help develop the agenda for other offices. Gibbs also built a network of FT leaders who provided speaker suggestions, volunteered to moderate panels and promoted the event within their departments. The word-of-mouth effort contributed to outreach via email, the FT intranet, banners and brochures. FT staff presented alongside speakers who represented companies such as Facebook, Edelman and social newcomer Vine. “It provided a platform for [staff who toil in] product development and data analysis to share their work with the rest of the business,” Gibbs said. More than 1,200 employees attended Digital Learning Week events in person, Gibbs said, and the event stream garnered 2,500 views from more than 20 countries. An audiovisual team captured sessions and edited the recordings for on-demand viewing on the corporate intranet. Employees started an in-house blog focused on digital best practices, and a permanent learning center will be added to the intranet. Moreover, the communications and human resources departments will begin to develop a formal digital accreditation scheme, Gibbs said. “This has become the catalyst for a digital training program.”
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