In 2020, the Financial Times (FT) had no environmental sustainability strategy. This, despite its position as a publisher, with over 22.4 million monthly readers, “holding other companies to account,” explains Hannah Sarney, the FT’s new Editorial Product Director.
Today, the company not only has a clear strategy outlined on its website, it boasts both an internal environmental group, and an environmental sustainability umbrella group.
This is only one of the many internal shifts within the 135-year-old publisher over the past three years that can be attributed to the work of the Next Gen Board, launched the year the pandemic first struck. It was a “trial by fire” for founder Sarney, and her first cohort.
Essentially, the NGB is a one-on-one, cross-departmental collaboration between 10 emerging leaders and the existing group management board.
“It’s a source of rapid, diverse and trusted feedback and ideas to run the business; I think trusted and trust is a big word that we work on with each group. It also acts sometimes as a shadow board on certain key strategic themes for our FTGroup Management Board, and a lot about silo breaking, and networking.“
“This idea is not unique; it’s one that’s come from a lot of different organisations that we researched. It’s a project that is always evolving and we’re always trying to improve it, as well,” Sarney explained in her presentation at WAN-IFRA’s Newsroom Summit 2023. She summarises it as “a forward-looking solutions focus group.”
An indelible impact
Four years in the making, and now in the application and selection process for its fourth cohort, the Next Gen Board has influenced and delivered significant changes, such as
a global diversity, equity and inclusive (DEI) task force
improved paid leave policies for women and parents
the FT’s full environmental sustainability strategy mentioned earlier
the introduction of employee network leave, giving employees time to work on employee listening sessions and retaining the company culture.
All this was, sparked by a tantalising question, and a personal commitment to inclusionary practices.
Reaching out: an inclusionary process
Sarney, who hails from New Zealand, joined the FT in 2018 as Senior Engagement Editor after a two-and-a-half-year stint at The Telegraph.
Her role in audience engagement had her working across departments: “which means I have quite a good handle on the different strategies around the company. It gives me a massive advantage in every conversation because I can spot gaps, link people up and help some of the projects move a bit faster.”
Her engagement in outreach activities extended that reach even further. In 2019, she joined both the Pride FT committee, as well as the 30% Club – where the idea for the Next Gen Board was sparked. Sarney was paired with a senior banker, who asked: “Do you see yourself on the FT board?”
Sarney’s immediate negative response was followed by the question that set the gears in motion: “Why don’t you change the board of the FT?”
She took up the challenge as a “fun research project,” driven by the impetus to share her experience of cross-departmental collaboration with more people, “without having to tie them all into my team.”
Now heading into its fifth year and fourth cohort – the first ran for two years; now it’s a 12-month programme – the groups have organically split into three work streams for each cohort. Key topics are developed, with overlap between them.
And already, the findings are notable, with significant progression of key topics within work streams.
Progress in motion
The Next Gen Board’s evolution is succinctly illustrated in Sarney’s presentation. For the first cohort, Diversity & Inclusion, Environmental Sustainability and Openness and Opportunity were key.
For the second cohort, the Inclusion in Diversity and Inclusion was key, due to the progress made by the first group and the company through 2020-2021.
Employer brand strategy and Silo busting also took focus here, as pandemic lockdowns lifted and people were either working hybrid, returning to office or both.
The third cohort – the first group to tackle the company’s finances – reflects the theme progression. Silo busting, Finances and Culture and Talent were key issues, reflecting a collective need to break down barriers between the groups, ensure job security and motivate staff retention.
Sarney emphasises that the Next Gen Board is not an automatic route to promotion – but the benefits to participants and the company alike, are manifold.
“Every single group gets a lot of training from our learning and talent groups. They get to really understand themselves, who they are, how they work, the kind of opportunities available, and a lot of leadership training.”
Key to its success is that the Next Gen Board doesn’t nominate a single chair. “The idea is that it’s a real learning experience for most people, so each month a different chair and note taker is selected; everyone gets a go at having that experience of how to bring things together and facilitate a meeting of that level.”
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