One of the biggest challenges in starting the Daily News Innovation Lab was assembling the right team. The Lab was pitched to the Daily News’s CEO as similar to “Google 20% time”. In other words, no new staff, just staff interested and excited about the project who would help out in addition to their regular job responsibilities. How would I find others who would basically volunteer to take on more work? This was my process:
1. Start at the Top.
My first step was to make sure I had broad-based support from the Company’s executive team. Without their participation, I wouldn’t have access to other staff resources. Launching the Lab would require the backing of the whole organization. I wanted to make sure that the Company’s existing leadership understood the goals of the program, and could get behind them.
2. Identify Existing Innovators.
As I spoke to people in different departments, I quickly learned that there were already a good number of folks innovating in various ways. Lauren Johnston and Kristen Lee, for example, were introducing new tools to journalists in the newsroom. Julia Bernadsky was reimagining user experience. All I really needed to do was bring some of these people together. Existing innovators are already thinking about the organization differently, and, through their actions, have expressed a desire to be challenged in new ways.
3. Respect their Time.
In a world where everyone is overrun by meetings, I would be careful not to ask for time when it’s not necessary. The Lab team is made up of folks who have bosses in different departments, and tons of responsibilities and obligations outside of the Lab. In short, real jobs. Which, of course, is what makes them valuable members of the Lab team in the first place. So I invite team members to networking meetings and presentations whenever possible, but make it all optional.
There is no way to make a project like this work without collaborating. By acknowledging each individual’s areas of expertise and delegating, team members have taken ownership of the project. Not only that, since everyone is contributing, the project belongs to all of us. Everyone has a stake in the Lab’s success, and everyone takes pride in what we’re trying to accomplish.
5. Recognize Contributions.
I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to recognize the contributions of the Lab team members. One of the first steps I took in this regard was to secure titles for everyone who was participating. Titles are a zero cost way to for the Company to give employees something that’s incredibly valuable. And whatever an individual’s reasons were for participating in the Lab, it always helps to receive some recognition.
6. Provide Opportunities.
There is so much to explore in the startup world- so many events and activities happening all over New York. Encouraging team members to attend these events (at the Company’s expense) not only raises the profile of the Daily News in the startup community, but also provides the individual team members with opportunities to learn, grow and explore. Supporting team members’ interests in what’s happening in the broader community benefits everyone. The Daily News name gets out there, new ideas come back to the Lab team, and the individuals develop their contacts and grow professionally.
7. Celebrate Small Victories- and Share Them.
Along the way, there have been many victories for the project. And each one is a victory for every single Lab team member. I am quick to share good news, and the enthusiasm and excitement of each step forward along the way.
What else should I be doing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.