Why Book Publishers Must Change Culture to Evolve Their Businesses
Book publishing professionals will gather in New Haven, Connecticut July 31s to August 5th to attend the Yale Publishing Course. The course provides insights and tactics that will to help mid-level editors, marketers, and production staff rethink their day-to-day processes and reassess company-wide strategies. Top book publishing executives and consultants will lead courses, offering their perspectives on an evolving industry as well as strategies to adapt and thrive in the face of change. The last day to apply for YPC is July 1st.
Carolyn Pittis is one of the YPC faculty. She is managing director of business consulting firm Welman Digital. Pittis will lead a session on how publishers can embrace new products, revenue streams, and processes by realigning their culture, reevaluating how teams collaborate, and establishing new measures of success. Following Pittis explains why a strong and effective culture is key for businesses in transition.
1. Why is the YPC session you’re leading valuable to book publishing professionals?
Increasingly the day-to-day work inside book publishing houses is a blizzard of fast-paced action to compete to acquire, produce, and distribute the best content. The advent of many digital and social media technologies that are now essential for the publishing process have largely added more tasks for many employees. Publishing companies often struggle to create space for longer-term strategic planning, marketplace analysis, and business data analysis. If some of their employees are doing this work, it is often not shared widely and frequently. For ambitious and high-performing employees inside these companies, it is often difficult to find sufficient time and community to reflect, gain insights and define substantial shifts they may need to take to insure the health of their business -- and of their career -- in the longer term.
My main contribution, I believe, is to challenge people to change how they think about what work they do, how they do that work more collaboratively, and how they measure that work -- as one means to accelerate achievement of goals.
2. Why is it important for book publishers to reassess and evolve their culture?
Culture is largely misunderstood by many as the "soft" province of the Human Resource director -- and often as an impossible task for an overworked few. In fact, it is the most powerful tool for business execution and innovation -- but one that needs to be consciously invested in. To make culture change more actionable in meaningful ways, avoid judgmental terms like good or bad. I suggest evaluating whether a culture is "aligned" with what a publisher says they want to do in today's marketplace. If a publisher wants to simply do what they've always done and are doing well -- no change to strategy, products, services, promotion, pricing -- and their culture is working to deliver this dependably and with high levels of employee and customer satisfaction, then "don't mess with Texas!" Celebrate alignment.
If a publisher is evolving their strategy -- for example, how they make money with what products and services for whom -- then part of that is evaluating whether or not the culture is creating an environment that supports this. Many publishing cultures are optimized to be a machine of output of familiar products for familiar customers. If a company wants to keep that machine humming while ALSO doing the "new stuff," then a company needs to be very clear and coherent in their messaging about how this "and" work is going to get done and be supported.
That is why it is often perceived as "hard" to innovate -- many book publishing cultures haven't had the structure, vocabulary, processes, or even physical space to do things fundamentally differently. This is not a failure of the rank and file, however, but the absence of "systems thinking" -- understanding how the way people work with whom -- plays a huge role in how companies succeed or fail.
3. What are some of the ways that executives can assess their culture and make changes to improve it?
Ask. Your. Customers. And. Employees.
Survey them, including the Net Promoter Score question: "Would you recommend our company to another author?" Or "Would you recommend our company to a friend?" Review the results against who you say you are as a company, and what you want to do. Define the gaps. Identify internal leaders to help define and execute simple changes. Focus on delivering simple things and gaining momentum rather than trying to do everything all at once. And MOST importantly, create measures that you can use at least monthly to show whether progress is being made. Measurement has a way of turbo-charging human focus and understanding, if done well, and of streamlining communication. There is no learning organization without measurement.
4. Where do you tend to see book publishing companies fall short in terms of culture and motivating their staff?
There is an enormous disconnect between the day-to-day activities of the average employee and the measures of success a publisher typically uses. Financial measures are not connected to operational activities for most people. Because operational measures are often not valued in tangible ways -- output, efficiency, collaboration metrics, etc. -- any improvements that employees create on their own, or as requested, may be easily overlooked by managers or executives. A really efficient mid-career editor or publicist who gets everything done on time, for example, and is easy to work with, and works reliably to develop authors and content, may be almost invisible in an organization that is heavily dependent on big books. But that editor or publicist might actually be an MVP if you looked at their combined contributions. You can't create a real meritocracy without some sort of comparative measures that value all types of contributions.