New York Times and Paid Content

The New York Times has announced a new paid content model for their online content. The announcement is here:

A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions –

The upshot is that occasional website visitors will not have to pay for anything but people who read many articles online with the Times will be asked to pay after using up a monthly free quota of content.

There has been a lot of hue and cry about this, just like there was when they tried to charge for their opinion content way back in 2005 or 06. Here is my take:

Any company like the NYT can be successful with a paid content model. The problem with this change is that they are removing content from their most loyal readers online. They are not offering anything new to their best prospects, they are removing what draws them in the first place It is also rather complicated which will suppress sales a bit.

Why not offer new value to your most voracious online readers and charge for that? The Wall Street Journal does just that with the top end of their online subscription options, providing new in depth content in focused areas. I might pay for an online subscription that provided access to more photos for each article (or the NYT’s photo archive, which is massive), podcast interviews with reporters on the ground where the news is happening, etc. Use what you have to create new offerings that you’ve never provided before but can scale in the online world.

Getting people to pay for something they already had for free is simply a tough row to hoe when there was no expectation set of that free access being temporary.

Opening the Books to Staff

Great story in the New York Times today as part of their series on small businesses. The post is about how a new factory owner revealed and explained the financials of the company to the staff and placed accountability on them to make the changes necessary to save turn the operation around. A choice quote:

Starting Over in Lexington: Blowing the Doors Off

Seeing an opportunity to diversify the plant’s products and clients, we took it over, saving 100 in jobs in the process. But we didn’t write a blank check: we told the employees that we would teach them financial literacy, that we would open our books to help them understand how the place works and think more like owners, and that the onus was on them to turn the place around. We also told them they had 36 months to turn it into a sustainable operation.

I talked about this in one of the e-mails sent as part of my Orgpreneur Weekly Tip (you subscribe, right?). If staff don’t know where the money comes from and how it gets spent they can’t predict or help with causes and effects that influence the bottom line for your organization.

Show staff the money! This factory in ‘blowing the doors off’ their revenue goals in part because the employees figured out how to make it happen. They were able to do this because they had knowledge they needed to do so and ownership of the results.

Assuming Risk

My friend Wes Trochlil pointed out his favorite definition of entrepreneur in a post today:

…someone who organizes a business venture and assumes the risk for it.

That really does get to the essence of it, especially the part that comes after ‘and.’

Entrepreneurship is all about taking on risk in order to achieve something greater. The classic business entrepreneur puts their cash, assets, time and relationships on the line when she starts a new enterprise. The risks for an orgpreneur, someone who works within an organization in an entrepreneurial way, are different.

Orgpreneurial risk can include:

  • Time.
  • Budget.
  • Staff.
  • Status.
  • Relationships.
  • Employment.

Rarely if ever does an orgpreneur put their house on the line when they start something new. The risks are significantly lower when working internally while the gains do not have as much direct financial reward for the individual.

So, why take on the risk inside an organization? Many people chose not to. But what a boring professional life! The risks for an orgpreneur are hardly fatal and, if you should lose your job over something (very rare), you have the skills and value to be back at it in short order even in the worst of economies.

The value of orgpreneurial risk taking internally include: achievement and tangible results; personal satisfaction; motivated teams; contribution to your mission; looking forward to work; career advancement; preparation for better work somewhere else.

The other benefit to taking risk within the organization is that you will achieve things, you will be more valuable. You will be more secure in your position and career than if you never took a risk internally. Taking no risk is simply too risky for anyone working in organizations today.

Fly the Airplane

I just finished Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in which he discussed how instituting checklists can reduce risk and increase positive results in many areas of management and operations.

One of many stories that caught my eye in the book was that of the checklist for engine failure in single engine Cesna planes. These craft, flown by a solo pilot, have a set series of actions that the manufacturer recommends taking when the engine fails, giving the pilot the best chance possible of getting the propeller back in action.

The first item on the checklist? FLY THE AIRPLANE.

Solo pilots become so absorbed in restarting the engine that they are prone to forget flying the gliding craft so that when they do restart the engine they haven’t already nosed over into the ground.

This is a very important point when in crisis, either professional or personal. We have to keep flying our planes. Whether that is making sure important tasks are still being completed during overwhelming crises at work or taking care of healthy family members even while caring for another who is critically ill.

If we don’t keep flying the plane we won’t have much left to work with once the crisis has passed. And they all do pass eventually.

As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.” Keep flying the plane.

Mid Year 2010

We are officially half-way through the Year 2010.

How’s it going? Hit your goals? Made good progress? Delighted someone yet? I hope so!

There are 6 months to go in this year which feels like a lot of time, just like it did in January.

Take a moment by yourself or with your team and identify one thing that you absolutely want to make sure is achieved this year. Map out the next three actions you should do to move it forward. Put them in your calendar, freeing up time for it if necessary.

If you don’t make it a priority, who will?

Launch Lessons from Five Guys Burgers

A new Five Guys burger restaurant just opened in our town, which I had been eagerly anticipating. I used to eat at the original restaurant in Arlington, VA, back in the early 90s. When I stopped in to the Salisbury shop for the first time they had been open for about four days.

I got my order and sat down at a table next to a guy who was wearing a Five Guys t-shirt but without the demeanor of someone who flips burgers. As I unwrapped my burger I noticed it had all the wrong toppings on it. It must have shown on my face because suddenly I hear from the next table, “Not what you wanted?”

I said it wasn’t, he confirmed my original order and then headed back to the kitchen. A few minutes later he was back with a new burger, another round of fries, and offered his apology.

Great customer service, no? I asked if he were the owner of the store and he said he was. He was doing something very smart for a business leader: he was sitting in his store during peak operations in the first week, watching how it went. Taking care of my individual burger was nice but the real important thing for him as the owner was that he had evidence of a broken process, poor training, or a simple one-off error. It was data he could act on, discovered during the shakedown cruise of his restaurant.

The first cruise of a new ship is often called a shakedown because components that will fail early usually do so during that first cruise. They identify those problems, fix them, and then have confidence that the rest of the ship ought to hold up for the normal lifetime of those components.

Same principle applies to launching a new restaurant, a new product or a new service. Pay a lot of attention during the shakedown run. Stay close to the action and see what isn’t working as planned. Being close lets you catch these items quickly and do something about it.

Growth and…

Every organization goes through growth spurts, like a teenager with growing pains. Sometimes they are intentional and sometimes they are happenstance.

The most successful organizations don’t just say, “Growth!” They ask, “Growth and then….” They plan what is next for those people they just brought into their orbit.

You’ve added a new member. Great! What are you going to offer them next?

You have a new customer! Wonderful! What other product or service is a natural offering for them to move up to?

I talk about accelerating engagement like this in depth in the cover story of this month’s Associations Now magazine: Accelerating Engagement Online and Beyond.

Growth and…then what will you do next? This question should be a significant part of any marketing campaign. Have that plan and offer in place so you don’t waste that newly engaged person you spent so much effort to attract.

Getting Off The Bus

Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great that one of the keys to being a great organization is to have the right people on the bus even if you don’t know where they are going to sit. Great talents will overcome the ambiguity and become productive quickly while the talentless will provide little even with assigned seats.

Let’s say you are the talent. You are on the bus. Hurrah! But, wait a minute: the bus is on fire, running on flats, and about to plunge off a cliff!

Time to find yourself a new bus. Going down with the ship, er bus, is heroic in novels and movies. It’s a waste of your potential in real life.

Ogpreneurs, high talent and motivated people, can do a lot but no one is a miracle worker. Life is short and the time we have to truly make a difference is more limited than we like to consider.

Only stay on a bus that is going somewhere you want to go and has a reasonably good shot of getting there with your help.

A Lone Wolf is a Dead Wolf: Why You Need a Pack

Wolves are pack animals. A lone wolf quickly dies because only with the support of a unified pack can they bring down animals with which to feed themselves.

Likewise, the lone wolf in an organization may have some limited success but it will be the exception rather than a consistent pattern.

You need your own wolf pack within and outside the organization. Who do you rely on? Who can help you to get things done, to get that new product or campaign out the door? Extend this to external providers as well. The more useful people with whom you have relationships the better you’ll able to put together a team that cannot be beat.

And always remember that it should be a reciprocal relationship. No pack will have you long if you only take from others. Be generous with your assistance, advice and aid when needed.

Organizational Politics is a Means, Not an End

When I worked on staff at associations, I was quite good at navigating organizational politics, particularly later in my career. What I realized was that organizational politics is simply a means to an end rather than the point of work. Once I figured that out, it was quite liberating and actually allowed me to engage in less politics while being more effective.

A critical part of managing organizational politics is understanding whether you are arguing about goals or about methods. Make this part of the conversation. Do we agree on what we are trying to achieve? If not, resolve that before moving on to determining how you will achieve it.

I have personally seen groups arguing about methodology when they had no agrement on what they were attempting to achieve. Going back to resolve the goal would often evaporate the original conflict because it was suddenly and obviously irrelevant to the clarified goal.

If you don’t clarify the core of the argument like this the only way to ‘win’ is by retaining your turf. This rarely creates value for the organization nor your mission.