Are You Growing Your Skillset, or Becoming a Cog in a Machine?

I’ve been reading about how companies such as Demand Media,, and Suite101 – those “content farms” – train their contributors on writing and web skills. These companies put a strong focus on creating efficient systems to organize a large group of people to do specific tasks.

Dan Blank

“Early on we decided there would be four pillars of types of courses which will be reflected in 101 courses: editorial; marketing to a growing audience; technical skills, because publishing online means putting tools in the writers’ hands; and then information that is specific to, such as how our referral program works.”

The article makes it clear that these companies can’t require contributors to take the courses, and that while they feel there is positive results, they didn’t share much hard data on their effect.

But this had me considering how traditional media companies and publishers train and evolve the skillsets of their employees. Those in book publishing, magazines and newspapers. Many of these companies are smaller than they were five years ago – with each staff member doing multiple roles. Some may be doing more work to make up for “reduced headcount,” and others may be doing more work because of the changes in media.

For instance: a magazine editor who now must post articles to the web, not just print, send out a newsletter, and organize online contributors. This is not just more items they are responsible for, but a wider range of skills, some editorial, some management, some technical, some marketing, some print media, some online media.

How are companies not just giving these employees more responsibility, but more opportunity to excel at these tasks? Like the Demand Media’s of the world, traditional media companies need to scale systems and processes across a wide range of brands. So they put in systems for content management, for email, and the processes behind them, which clearly makes sense on many levels.

But are these staff members evolving their skills, or are they becoming cogs in the machine? Let’s take our print magazine editor example.

  • Are they learning how email newsletters drive business forward, and becoming experts in email marketing – or are they merely filling in a template with “content” that came from print or the website?
  • Are they learning the process of product development online – how to test and determine what makes a great homepage and article page – or are they merely racing to fill it with “content” that originated with a writer who would have written it the same for print?
  • When sourcing bloggers, are they digging into web analytics and researching who has existing influence in online communities, or are they tapping the same sources in their network – columnists from print who will now write print columns online?

This is in no way, shape, or form a complaint against templates, editors, print, or anything else. My concern is simply this:

How do we help those in established media companies grow their skills and evolve their careers? How do we take them from being cogs to controlling the levers of the machine? How do we increase employee satisfaction, not just their workload?

I can’t pretend to look into the future and think that large media companies in established markets (books, magazines, newspapers) will be larger. Likely, they will be smaller. But how can we make them hotbeds for talent, groups of vibrant people who are growing, who are pushing boundaries, who feel they are being not only respected for what they’ve done in the past, but respected enough to help them navigate a changing media landscape and grow their skillset for the future.

How do we get them to say “I am not a dime-a-dozen, I am Willy Loman.”

If you feel I can help you evolve the skillsets of your organization, give me a call: 973-981-8882. Here are some other ways you can connect with me:


  1. Great post, Dan. As a teacher and administrator, a key takeaway for me is the idea and importance of increasing an employee's skillset & job satisfaction vs increasing their skillset & workload. There seems to be an unspoken policy in our upper administration that leads to what my boss calls the hamster wheel-effect: the more you learn and do, the faster you have to run to keep up. In short, more opportunities are available but the opportunities to excel are few and far between.

    – terry

  2. Terry,
    GREAT points. It does seem as though “satisfaction” is not talked about often enough. Even beyond employee satisfaction, businesses measure page views, sales, social media 'influence,' but rarely measure whether customers are truly satisfied. They assume that if a sale is made, the customer must be happy with it. That if an employee doesn't quit, they must be satisfied. Dangerous assumptions.

    Have a great day!

  3. I've been writing about this myself for sometime too – getting “Free from the factory”

    In a knowledge economy, must let ourselves be people – not parts. Parts in a machine cannot self-fix, self-develop or self-evolve – but people can.

    The defining difference today, as opposed to the industrial age, is that a company is now defined by it's people more than it's process. It's about the strength of your team, not the speed of your machine.

    Yet people still treat themselves like they are cogs stuck in a production line.

  4. Scott,
    “Free from the factory” – love it. Actually, everything you said is spot on – THANK YOU!
    Have a great day.

Leave a comment