When people first welcomed The Weather Channel into their living rooms across the nation in 1982, the Internet as we know it today didn't exist, there were no tablet computers or even laptops, and few people had mobile phones. Since then, the Atlanta-based company has grown from 75 employees to more 1,000, its programming can be seen in over 100 million U.S. households and its app is the second most downloaded app (after Facebook) on iPads and smartphones.

"The media landscape is changing. Consumers are engaging with content. We are poised to help create this new digital landscape," said Sylvia Taylor, The Weather Channel's executive vice president of human resources, during a session at the 2012 Society for Human Resource Management conference.

The Weather Channel's desire to be a player in this new digital landscape, coupled with its purchase in 2008 by a consortium of NBC Universal and private equity firms Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group, forced The Weather Channel to reexamine and transform its culture while maintaining its core values.

Taylor said the company first outlined its culture imperative - why it needed to change.

"When we look at the emerging digital media landscape, we recognized that in order to seize upon what we perceive to be a great market opportunity, we needed to operate differently," she explained. "We needed to double our velocity and our capacity. To do that, we needed to become a culture that was more decisive, more action-oriented, more risk-tolerant, more inclusive and more accountable."

It's not been an easy journey, and it's one that is still ongoing. "Transforming a culture for any organization is a daunting task," Taylor said. "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."


Steps to success

Taylor outlined seven steps she used for changing the culture at The Weather Channel, while emphasizing that culture change is a constant work in progress. "We're not perfect with it, but we're learning some things," she said.

1. Build the case for change. What's driving the need for change? Internal factors? External factors? For The Weather Channel, it was both. In January 2012, the company got a new CEO, quickly followed by a new COO and new chief global revenue officer. Externally, customer feedback told the company that while consumers were satisfied, if the company could do a few things differently it would be better positioned to gain market share.

"These factors in combination contributed to our case for change, both internal and external," said Taylor.

2. Align senior leadership. You must have an aligned senior leadership team for a culture transformation to have a chance for success. "For me, the senior leadership team needs to be aligned on the 'what' - what are we trying to do, where are we trying to go - and the 'how,'" said Taylor.

The new CEO, David Kenny, conducted a series of decision-driven leadership team meetings. He set ground rules and expectations. "Going in to these meetings, he said 'this is what we will decide on, and this is who has the decision, who has input, who can make recommendations,'" explained Taylor. "When we had these meetings, we were very clear on what we had to do." In fact, the phrase "Who has the D?"- meaning who has the decision - became commonplace.

From these meetings and survey feedback, the senior leadership team defined four priorities the culture needed, along with a two-sentence description of each priority to ensure everyone was on the same page.

3. Build commitment and ownership at every level. Employees need to feel like they're part of the change, Taylor said, and they need to be heard. Managers also take responsibility for the culture change because they're accountable for its execution.

The Weather Channel encouraged ownership of the change through focus groups conducted by an external party. "We treated our employees like customers," she said. The company segmented employees by level and asked for their advice about how to transform the culture. The end result was a culture action plan that had accountability, and ownership was present at every level in the organization.

4. Take action. When you start talking about a culture change, employees will start looking for change. "That action needs to be quick, and it needs to be visible," said Taylor. At The Weather Channel, the senior leadership team has adopted a motto: First do, then say.

The company held an open, conversational forum with the new CEO for all employees, which Taylor said went a long way with the workforce. "It made a statement to our employees that we are committed, to our core, to what we do and what we're all about: a passion for the science of weather and a commitment to hold dear the public's trust," said Taylor.

In addition, The Weather Channel started integrating teams and introduced a decision-making process called RAPID (see sidebar). "The outcome of these quick, visible actions created a buzz inside the company," said Taylor.

5. Align the ecosystem. Taylor refers to the ecosystem as those HR processes and systems - rewards and recognition programs, performance management, leadership development, onboarding, talent acquisition - that can nurture a culture transformation.

"We did something called integrated executive scorecards, where we basically said to senior executives 'We have the same goals, so we should have the same shared key performance indicators,'" said Taylor. "The head of content and head of product should have the same KPI - number of page views - for example." Use of the scorecards then cascaded down to other levels within the company.

6. Remember change management. Think of it in two parts, Taylor explained. First, manage the stakeholders. Second, manage the execution. "I like to make it visible," said Taylor, who uses a simple calendar. "It gives employees a roadmap, allows them to see milestones, celebrate accomplishments and, if you are responsible for executing this change, it allows you to see where you might have bottlenecks when it comes to resource management."

7. Create a communication plan. Make communications work for you to manage the culture change. "In the absence of communication, people will fill in the void with the worst case scenario," Taylor said. The company uses its intranet, Yammer, company ambassadors and managers.

"Our managers are critical, and we make sure they're informed first," said Taylor. "We then hold them accountable for sharing those messages with the workforce."

Taylor also outlined some tools she used to implement culture change at The Weather Channel. To start the process, The Weather Channel hired an external consultant to survey its top 25 customers, namely advertisers.

"We needed to know that our customers see us the way we see ourselves," she said, adding that the company also surveyed its internal service departments, like HR, IT and finance.

The Weather Channel used focus groups, which Taylor said she found "very useful in giving real-time information about how the workforce is feeling. We focused in on every segment from VP level to individual contributor."

Taylor also sought out what she called "organizational mavens," those employees whom everybody talks to.

"They know what's happening in every nook and corner of the organization, and they can tell you. They were willing to share a lot. And, in turn, they go back out and share a lot," she said.

Finally, the company used a senior leadership meeting with the CEO, COO and all their direct reports to ensure alignment in the C-suite. From there, the company took the top 50 leaders to an offsite meeting to give them an opportunity to have some input.


Who has the D? The Weather Channel implemented a decision-making process called RAPID, which is designed to increase transparency and accountability. The process recommends that for every strategic decision, the following roles and responsibilities be assigned:

* Recommend. Who is responsible for making a proposal on a key decision, gathering input, and providing data and analysis to make a sensible choice in a timely fashion?

* Agree. Who needs to agree with the proposal?

* Perform. Who needs to execute a decision once it's made?

* Input. Who gets to provide input and relevant facts on the proposal?

* Decide. Who serves as the single point of accountability? Who brings the decision to closure by resolving any impasse in the decision-making process? Who commits the organization to implementing the decision?

Source: Bain & Company, Inc.

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