Fairfax Media : Using brainpower to help ACM transform its business

In August 2014, Fairfax embarked on an unprecedented 18-month transformation of its Australian Community Media (ACM) business and enlisted Learning Quest to provide change management training support.
According to Change Management Lead Julie Cockerill, the program has not only set a new standard for implementing change within the organisation by enabling people to adapt to new ways of working faster but Learning Quest has played a key role in this success.

The amalgamation of three previously separate business units – Fairfax Community Media, Regional Media and Agricultural Media – ACM was under significant pressure following a decade of ongoing structural change within the media/online industry.

$60 million in savings were required to make the business sustainable, and that meant re-evaluating everything that the business has traditionally done.  To succeed in a continually changing environment, a radically different operating model, organisational structure, technologies and processes were needed, as well as a new leadership team.

John Angilley, who took over as ACM Director a few months before the transformation started, says effective change management and treating people with dignity and respect were his key priorities from the outset of Project Transcend.

“We had decided on a ‘spill and fill’ approach for all senior positions, and all vacant roles would be advertised to ensure the right skills and capabilities for the future were embedded in the business,” says John, “and from the outset we wanted to create clear rules of engagement and a unified culture.

“Our people are not just a resource; they’re an asset and an integral part of the communities in which they operate.  It’s a no-brainer that the return on investing in them would be multi-fold.”

ACM was restructured into six new regions: ACT & NSW South; NSW Central; Newcastle & Hunter; North Coast NSW, Queensland & Northern Territory; Victoria & Tasmania; South Australia & Western Australia.  Several weeks before the restructure consultation period for each region, all employees were invited to attend Learning Quest’s half-day Change and Me workshop and managers are invited to the Leading Others Through Change workshop.

Change Manager Sarah Kennedy says nobody in the room knows if they have a future role with the company when they attend the session(s), so there’s usually a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty.

“Learning Quest helps to prepare people for the difficult conversations that are about to happen – so they have techniques to not only deal with their emotions and reactions but also a common language to talk about what they are going through.

“Connie Henson and her team at Learning Quest have a deep understanding of the strategic direction of our business and close relationships with our leadership team. The content of the workshops is adapted not only to our business needs and audiences but also any themes that emerge from the workshops; most external providers don’t do that.”

Editorial Director Rod Quinn says the level of change his teams are undergoing is beyond anything seen in newsrooms in the past. “A fundamental reinvention of the way things are done is taking place,” says Rod.  “We are not fiddling around the edges; we are turning things on their head.

“Learning Quest provides our teams with a cognitive roadmap for understanding what they are feeling and experiencing as well as tools and techniques to help them through it.  This can help them regain a sense of control.

“People appreciate that the company is providing this training, which helps them to cope with changes both at work and in their personal lives.”

Commercial Director Rodney House says a key benefit of Learning Quest’s courses is providing everyone with a common language for talking about a change that has helped to reduce confrontation and conflict – both peer-to-peer and direct report to the manager.

“Putting the science around change has provided me as a manager with confidence in my approach – to not over-react to a situation or over-support someone when they’re not ready for it,” says Rodney.  “This brain-based approach is something I haven’t seen before, and it’s assisted the managers of our newspapers where everyone is affected by the changes.

“We’ll be able to use these tools for the rest of our careers as well as outside of work.  They even help me to deal with my four-year-old.”

Director John Angilley says this people-focused approach to change management is clearly working.

“The new leadership team has done a great job at steadying the ship during this tumultuous time, and Learning Quest has really helped us build on our individual strengths and weaknesses both through a series of off-sites and through ad hoc advice.

“Without Connie Henson and the Learning Quest team’s help, we wouldn’t be where we are today on our transformation journey.”