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Human resources at media companies: nobody is perfect but a team can be

Making first steps in media HR management

Media companies are all talent – more than most industries success is about the people working together. Yet human resources and team management at media companies are woefully overlooked.

There are many reasons why media score particularly low on the HR management dimension. For one, they tend to focus attention on editorial, promoting talented content creators but not always training them as managers. Furthermore, unlike, say, IT companies, they are overwhelmingly local, meaning best practices don’t spread across the sector.

But as the fight for talent becomes ever more competitive, HR management is something that media will need to master. Here are a few insights from experts from the #MediaRevolutions session on human resources and managing media teams.

Mariia Kovalenko, Head of Research at The Fix. “Presentation of the 2021 HR benchmarking report for Ukraine’s media sector”:

  • Media lack professional HR research. In 2021, The Fix published a benchmarking report based on best practices from other industries giving an overview of team salaries and perks, org structures, HR practices and other key HR topics on the Ukrainian media market.
  • Even though the majority of media managers who took part in the research recognize the importance of HR, 67% of news orgs don’t have HR managers in their company, according to The Fix report. It’s especially problematic for independent media and digital natives.
  • An average turnover rate in the sector is 22%. It means that during one year almost a quarter of the team changes. This is a huge hidden cost for media companies. 
  • HR management should focus on growing and retaining top talent. This requires setting clear goals, creating a transparent evaluation system and ensuring professional growth within the team. 
  • Effective HR management in media is even more essential for non-editorial staff, like sales managers, IT specialists, administrators, who are used to more competitive HR practices, but whose needs are often overlooked in media organizations.

More from The Fix: From salaries to performance management: Insights from the Ukrainian Media HR report 2021

Yurii Kosholap (hromadske HR Manager), Daryna Shevchenko (Partner, Jnomics Media). “Hromadske HR transformation case study”:

  • At the beginning of 2020, famed Ukrainian digital media hromadske went through a HR crisis – a lot of people in leadership roles had left, staff meeting regularly turned into shouting matches and turnover reached over 100%.
  • Staff satisfaction was at very low. Among key reasons identified in a staff survey: most employees had never received proper feedback and had low trust in leadership.
  • The admin and commercial team were divided from the editorial by a glass wall and were struggling.
  • The newsroom consisted of a dozen projects run by independent editors and the team struggled to act as a single organizations with common goals.
  • What gave hope was that most employees still believed in hromadske’s mission and were eager to take part in the strategic changes of the company.
  • Here are some tips on how to navigate in such a crisis: 
  • Gather as much data as possible (conduct in-depth one-on-one interviews and surveys), try to make as much sense of the data as possible; 
  • Zoom out and create a feasible work plan for a longer term. This will not be solved in a week. 
  • Hire a professional HR or assign a function to someone who will specifically deal with team issues; 
  • Don’t rush into hiring, especially when it comes to leadership positions. If you have to – make sure you have your assessment metrics clear and are able to ensure a solid onboarding for newcomers;
  • Communicate all the changes and their motives to the team clearly and openly;
  • Set up a feedback system – support the team through their first feedback, encourage regularity, communicate the need for feedbacks as much as possible.
  • Develop an evaluation system that works for you – your team needs to understand why, how and how often they are being evaluated;
  • Be prepared that real changes in organizational culture might take months. A year after the beginning of transformation there are still some unresolved issues, but team satisfaction went up, the turnover went down and almost 75% of the employees receive feedback regularly. 

More from The Fix: It’s the operations, stupid – media transformation case study

Marina Svidki, General Manager PRO HR. “Outsourcing HR – opportunities and challenges”:

  • ProHR platform offers outsourced HR solutions for small and medium size companies.
  • Even though the media often lack HR budgets it is possible to agree on barter cooperation. ProHR agreed to take care of the HR function of Moldovan online news portal Agora.md in exchange for media promotion. 
  • Outsourced HR solutions would not cover all the HR needs of the company but would definitely lift the burden of HR administration and document flow.
  • When it comes to recruiting, an HR company can take care of the vacancy promotion, selection of CVs and the first interview rounds, but the decision-making and hiring will still be the responsibility of the media. 
  • Outsourced HR functions can also cover the development of internal systems, approaches, policies and processes. However the implementation of those will be left to the client company.
  • Outsourcing can be a good solution for making the lives of the managers easier, but the management of the company still has to make quite an effort to building a strong team: devote time to team communication, feedback, evaluation, training and internal growth of the team members.

More from The Fix: Five Online Courses for Media Managers

Open discussion – Why HR problems in media are often being pushed to the back burner and what media managers should do about it?

Daryna Shevchenko: 

  • Media managers are usually former editorial staff. Most have never been trained to become managers and haven’t seen any proper HR practices as employees as well, so when promoted they just fall into a trap of disregarding HR issues. 
  • As soon as the media become attractive business-wise, top managerial talent will start coming in from the other industries and bring along all the best practices, including HR management ones.
  • If you only have the resources to implement one change in your HR management – set up a feedback system, it will change a lot. 

Mariia Kovalenko:

  • Media industry is predominantly local and language bound. Tthere is hardly any experience exchange with the outside world  – best business practices just don’t get in. 
  • A positive work environment, professional recognition, and internal learning opportunities are often more important than the financial part of the compensation and have a much bigger influence on talent retention. 
  • Media should consider adopting effective HR approaches and practices from other industries, like IT or Consulting. The latter has a very clear and structured growth and feedback systems.

Marina Svidki:

  • People leave companies not because they are under motivated, but because they are demotivated. So first of all, managers should exclude all the demotivation factors, like team conflicts, stressful work environment, lack of professional recognition, disregard for work-life balance, uncertainty about the future etc.

Yurii Kosholap:

  • If you are promoting your colleagues to managerial roles – make sure they have an appropriate knowledge base and relevant skill-set to take up such a responsibility. 

    Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash
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