Promoting the Thirty-Something

From Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

That we have changed our business as much as we have in the last decade is an extraordinary tribute to some of our employees. Over a period of about six years we became a national newspaper, reaching hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of readers outside of our previous geographical base in New York. This meant we had to significantly expand our distribution, circulation, and printing facilities. This meant we had to win advertising contracts in a new way, to consistently help our people believe and achieve the goal of being “national” rather than “local.” We had to do this despite having tried and failed to make this type of expansion before, on many occasions.

Through all this, one of the things I’ve learned is that after you have clarity about where you want to go, once you have communicated that. and once you see real successes in acting by the new rules, nothing helps them to stick better, and nothing helps to create the new culture faster, than promoting out of the hierarchy.

When we were looking for a new head of planning a few months back, there were a number of candidates at the “right” level in the hierarchy who traditionally would have been most likely to get the job. They were good people, but they didn’t always demonstrate the new culture, what we call the Rules of the Road. They had been ingrained in the old school, and despite all the changes we had made, they still found it easier or more comfortable to act in ways that supported the past. not the future.

Collaboration is one of the Rules of the Road, but we still had plenty of candidates for promotion who were used to making decisions unilaterally. After all, it’s easier and it happens faster, but it’s not one of our new Rules.  We know that making decisions the old way keeps the hierarchy firmly in place, undermines what we have achieved, and will prevent our business from flourishing in the future. When people at the senior levels can act this way, it encourages others to slide back to the old tradition.

So for the head of planning position, we pulled up Denise Warren.  She was a “thirty-something.” She was working a flexible schedule.

This was considered a “big deal” in our organization. A person that young! A flexible work schedule?! But that decision was a good one for us because it was based on Denise’s ability to demonstrate the Rules of the Road while also achieving long-range goals.

We are getting better at recognizing these people and promoting them. Obviously, we have to be careful to pick people who have the skills to do the job. This requires a good process that looks for many different attributes in a candidate. We have to be very careful that we do not create unnecessary animosity among those not selected, or those who had expected a friend would be selected. If people buy into the vision, if you are clear enough about why you are doing what you are doing, and if your rationale is right, most employees will understand even if they are surprised at first.

We have put our stake in the ground with regard to the new ways of operating, approaches that have helped us and that will be important as we go forward. The more people who demonstrate these approaches, and allow others to demonstrate them, then the more chance we have of making them stick.


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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