Changing The Times

Cynthia Augustine, a member of this year's HR Honor Roll, is helping the New York Times Co. remake its culture for a new era.

By Andrew R. McIlvaine

Cynthia Augustine isn't just senior vice president of human resources for the New York Times Co. She's also president of the company's broadcast group. But while that sounds like a lot to handle, Augustine takes her multiple responsibilities in stride.

Augustine's varied job duties are reflective of the ongoing changes at the New York Times Co., the $3 billion parent of the New York Times. Although newspapers enjoyed a boom in advertising revenue during the latter half of the'90s, the ad-market doldrums of the past couple of years have forced newspapers like the New York Times to cut costs and search for new sources of revenue and readership.

At the New York Times Co., this has led to a focus on building greater synergies among its properties, which also include the Boston Globe, a number of smaller regional papers, eight television stations, two radio stations, 40 Web sites and interests in two paper mills. For example, the broadcast group might share newsgathering resources with the newspaper group, and vice versa, while newspapers, broadcast stations and the Web sites might cross-promote each other's products and services.

It all boils down to sharing best practices, working together and overcoming traditional barriers -- much easier said than done, of course.

In her role of HR chief, Augustine (who also serves on the firm's five-member executive committee) has been instrumental in making sure employees fully understand the transformation that's taking place. Not surprisingly, her day begins early: She customarily arrives at her midtown Manhattan office from her home in suburban Montclair, N.J., by six-thirty in the morning and usually leaves no earlier than six-thirty at night. Despite the long hours, however, she seems energized by her job.

"The people are wonderful, the work is intellectually engaging," she says. "You become so immersed in what you're doing that it doesn't feel like work -- it's a lot of fun."

Road Rules

Although Augustine is a relative newcomer to the HR profession, she's on familiar turf at the New York Times Co. A lawyer by training, she worked in the Times Co.'s legal department from 1986 to 1993, dealing primarily with employment law. She left the company to join the law firm Sabin, Bermant and Gould, where she made partner. Then, in 1998, she was asked by the Times Co.'s leadership to rejoin the company to head the HR department.

"It was a risky career move, considering I'd just made partner at the law firm, but I realized I had a tremendous opportunity here to remake the HR department, which had had a pretty narrow employee-relations focus during my previous time here," she says.

When she accepted the job, Augustine expected to spend 90 percent of her time dealing with matters such as ERISA and labor issues. She was in for a surprise.

"In fact, 90 percent of the job is spent on [organizational development], with maybe 10 percent devoted to ERISA and the like," she says. "I guess I'd been a bit arrogant, thinking I would know all about the job."

Much of the OD aspect of Augustine's job involves working with the company's various divisions to develop leaders, build cross-functional teams, remove boundaries between divisions and educate employees -- all in the name of supporting the Times Co.'s new mission, which is encapsulated in a laminated 8-1/2-inch by 11-inch card that was distributed to all 12,050 employees.

In addition to spelling out the company's "Core Purpose" and "Core Values," the card features a section labeled "Rules of the Road" (the rules of conduct that all employees are expected to abide by, including "Treat each other with honesty, respect and civility," "Strive for excellence -- don't settle for less" and "Information is power; share it.").

Further, it contains a diagram listing the company's various properties, their relationship to one another and their business objectives. The New York Times, for example, is expected to expand its global circulation while extending its brand to other media, including cable and broadcast stations, while broadcast stations are expected to partner with newspapers, cable and radio.

"Ours is a two-pronged strategy," says Augustine. "We want to expand our national and global audience through a variety of media outlets, while becoming the dominant multimedia outlet -- Web, newspaper and broadcast -- in each of the local markets we serve."

The message is communicated to the workforce through Web casts, newsletters and town-hall meetings between employees and executives, says Augustine. A recent survey revealed that most employees understand the company's strategy and their role in it, she adds.

Beyond simply spreading the message, however, Augustine focuses on helping the Times Co. develop leaders who are adept at working with people from across the company and sharing ideas for best practices. She oversaw the creation of a "leadership competencies profile" that lists the distinguishing attributes and professional characteristics of a successful Times Co. leader. Under the program, executives receive an assessment of their leadership skills via 360-degree feedback and are assigned coaches to help them enhance their abilities.

Augustine also created a "masters" program, in which experts throughout the company are identified and asked to share their knowledge with the rest of the organization.

"We identified business practices that were vital to our future success, such as customer-relationship management, project management, production and value-based pricing, then we surveyed the entire organization to find out who the 'masters' in these particular areas are," she says.

Once identified, the masters meet with other employees via on-site presentations and Web casts to talk about their areas of expertise. They also communicate with employees via e-mail and assist with e-learning courses designed around their areas. In one example, IT staffers throughout the company learned about project management from non-IT staffers at the New York Times, which was identified as having the best project-management methodology in the company.

"It's a lovely way to increase the knowledge of everyone within the organization," says Augustine.

Augustine is also championing "boundarylessness" within the HR department and the company at-large. Part of this strategy involves identifying centers of excellence and then applying their practices throughout the organization. At the New York Times newspaper, for example, Augustine says the paper's recruiting and hiring function now serves as a model for the rest of the company.

However, achieving a state of "boundarylessness" requires waging an uphill battle against years of tradition, she adds.

"There's an old story at this company about how the New York Times circulation director would call the production chief every day to tell him how many newspapers to print for the next edition," she says. "These two worked two floors away for more than 20 years, yet they never once met in person, and that's kind of how this company used to operate: your team was your department, and you didn't much care about the other parts of the paper."

Augustine's weapons in her battle to eliminate boundaries include off-site seminars in which executives from different areas of the company get together to learn about each others' businesses. She's also encouraged the formation of cross-functional "optimization" teams, comprised of representatives from all areas of the company who work together to find ways the company can cut costs in electricity, phone usage and IT expenditures in order to avoid laying people off.

"Good ideas can come from any area of the company," she says. "We want people to understand that we're all on each other's team."

In the near future, Augustine, who was made president of the broadcast group in 2000, will oversee the cross-training of two groups that have traditionally been the most divided: the company's newspaper and broadcast news staffs.

"Our idea is we have great people in our newspaper organization and great people in our broadcasting organization," she says. "Why not bring these people together and cross-pollinate -- have the broadcast people teach their methods to the newspaper people and vice versa?"

Oct 6, 2002
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