Sports and politics don’t often mix well. But in this instance, there are some similarities between the job that awaits the new President of the United States, Donald Trump, and the challenge that awaits any programmer, market manager or corporate executive.
When an individual lands a new leadership opportunity, they often feel a pressure to immediately make their presence felt. During the first 100 days of employment, all eyes in the building turn to the new boss, and whispers gain volume in every corner office and lunchroom, as many try to speculate and search for clues to the new head honcho’s master plan.
As tempting as it may be to try and change the world during your first week in power, there’s something valuable to gain from reading the room and processing the information you gather. Most executives don’t have their livelihood or the fate of their brand determined by their first quarterly performance. If you do, you may want to reconsider who you’re working for.
The challenge for a new boss is to slowly weave themselves into the fabric of the brand, and that’s accomplished by forming relationships with the staff, and discovering what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are. Your instincts may be to bring in people who you’ve enjoyed working with previously or install a different clock or content strategy, but it’s not always a good idea to interrupt success in progress.
It’s similar to an NFL defensive coordinator joining a new team and looking to change the entire defensive scheme when the players on the roster don’t fit what they wish to do. In that case you have two choices, get rid of all the players, or make adjustments to your personnel. Once you know who’s got the ability to shoulder a heavier load, then you can introduce new plays and coverage’s and begin to add your own touch. If you eliminate all of the talent and it doesn’t work, you’ll soon be joining them on the unemployment line.
I recognize that this isn’t as simple in politics where republicans and democrats seek to reverse what the previous party installed in order to assert themselves and deliver on the promises they made to voters while on the campaign trail. Fortunately in radio, you’re not performing a task with the eyes of an entire nation upon you, and half of them determined to reject your ideas and beliefs.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, if a crisis happens or if a difficult employee is dimming the spirits and affecting the performance of other essential staff members, then you’ll have to make a judgment on the best way to move forward. However, in most cases, you gain a lot of insight, and make your best long-term decisions by being patient, quiet, listening, and observing.
For those of you who are currently in leadership positions, in pursuit of taking the next step in your career, or if you’re an employee with a new boss and wondering why he or she is taking so long to let you know what they’re up to, here are seven simple things that good leaders do in new situations. Hopefully this gives you a few things to consider, and some information to process, as you adapt to changes in your professional life.
Get To Know Your People – The number one asset to any sports radio or television brand is its people. Without their talent, creativity, passion, and dedication, your brand is meaningless. They live their lives constantly thinking about ways to present a better show, and they crave knowing how their boss’ view their performance. No matter how big of a profile a performer has, they still love to be challenged and validated by people in corner offices, and staff members who they respect.
Before you decide what someone is or isn’t capable of, and what their character is or isn’t inside the workplace, spend time with them. Hold a scheduled show meeting, drop in unexpectedly to chat, take them out to lunch or dinner, socialize at a game or company event, and figure out what makes them tick. More times than not, they’ll let you in, and help you get a better idea of what makes them valuable or dispensable to your company.
Observe Without Reacting – Barring an inexcusable act or company violation, let your people get comfortable and operate without fear. If they feel you’re going to over analyze their execution and harp on each mistake or missed detail, they’re going to get tight, and it’ll show up in their performance. Nobody performs well when they feel they’re operating under a microscope, especially when it’s in front of a new boss who they’ve yet to form a connection with.
Instead, watch how they prepare. Learn how they attack segments. Listen to the way they execute the basic formatics of their talk show. Gauge how they’re received by the audience. Track their show to see if its flexible or predictable. And take some notes on how often they challenge themselves to present a unique experience for listeners, and be prepared to discuss it further with them in future meetings.
As an added bonus for those who are working with new on-air personalities, I’d recommend studying their involvement or lack thereof in being a brand asset for advertisers. Do they meet with clients? Are they familiar with the sales staff? Would they need a GPS to find the business side of your brand’s operation? How well do they understand their responsibility in helping the company retain and generate revenue? Do they take it seriously or consider it an afterthought?
All of these things will come into play at some point. If you want to make improvements and gain a person’s respect, you’ve got to have specific examples to support your feedback. This is why it’s critical to pay attention and allow some short-term sloppiness. It’ll make a big difference on how you operate and nurture your staff over the long-term.
Articulate Your Vision To Your Entire Team – Once you know your people, and have processed the way they operate, then it’s time to gather your group and express your vision for the brand, and the strategy you plan to use to help lead the team to its final destination. You must be confident, focused, and very clear and concise. Nobody on your team should leave the room without knowing where the brand is, where it’s heading, and what the final goal is. Your message needs to be delivered and understood by everyone from the on-air talent to the producers to the anchors and board operators, to anyone playing a role in the daily success or failure of the brand’s programming.
In sports, players play a game expecting that if they invest their time and energy, and train properly, that it will produce results. They don’t just play the game to have fun. That’s what kids do. Professionals play to win.
In radio, people have similar motivations. They’ll follow your lead and run through a wall for you, if you can show them how their sacrifices and hard work will personally benefit them, and the company. If you fail to provide direction and expectations, that’s when confusion and uncertainty takes over, and people become frustrated.
Prior to meeting with your team to share your thoughts on the future, I’d encourage either writing a script, jotting down a few notes, or presenting a visual presentation (whatever you feel most comfortable with) to help keep your message on point. All future decisions and conversations will revert back to this meeting, so make sure you leave no stone unturned in getting the rooms attention and support.
Hold People Accountable – After you’ve established your expectations, goals, and standards of operation with your staff, the next step is to hold them accountable. That’s often easier said than done. Everyone is quick to promise an immediate fix when you identify something they’re doing incorrectly, but check back two weeks later, and you’ll often hear the same bad habits continuing.
These get corrected through consistent feedback, listening, and measurable systems. Sometimes you can even introduce hokey methods and motivational tactics to help an employee get better. I’ve been known along the way to use a green pillow for a host who sits on the fence with their opinion and place a jar on the console and demand a dollar from talent whenever they were late heading to break. You’ll have different ideas or maybe this approach won’t suit your personality. If it doesn’t, don’t do it. It’s important to be yourself, because people will sniff it out when you’re not.
The ultimate goal is to find out how to reach people in order to get them to patch up the holes in their presentation. Many times in our industry, people who come up short do so because of a lack of discipline and failure to make adjustments. They create mental excuses for their inconsistencies or shrug off their mistakes as not being a big deal, rather than putting down their guard to figure out why certain problems keep happening. In sports, if a player keeps committing penalties to hurt the team, he either gets benched, fined or cut. In radio, not so much.
I’m not advocating you should part ways with someone because they’re bad at breaking on time, teasing or using audio clips to enhance their content, but if the difference between 1st and 2nd or 3rd and 4th is small, those minor details that they assume aren’t that critical, can actually make a world of difference.
Each leader has to figure out what is and isn’t acceptable to them, but accountability only works when people feel there’s a consequence for continued shortcomings. Don’t be afraid to expect more from people. The great ones will accept your challenge. Your role is to provide positive reinforcement, and acknowledge them when they do things right, but also point out opportunities for improvement when they mess up. Be sure to have evidence to support your opinions, and suggestions on how to help them get better.
Weed Out The Brand Destroyers – It’s inevitable that someone on your team is not going to drink the kool-aid and may even attempt to poison it. The sooner you weed these people out of your operation, the better. There’s no benefit keeping someone around who’s not going to buy in and is potentially going to infect others on your staff.
One of my favorite quotes by Henry S. Haskins is “Some people are like wheelbarrows; useful only when pushed, and very easily upset“, and this often applies to the members of your team who aren’t on board with your message.
In every building, the workplace is a sacred locker room. What happens in the locker room is a family matter, and the family works together to solve its problems without allowing noise from the outside to creep in and affect it. The strongest families have fights and disagreements, and that’s going to happen from time to time when you gather a bunch of alpha males and/or females in the same place and challenge them to be their best.
What isn’t healthy though is when team members violate trust and begin sharing information with competitors, newspapers or online sites, and other industry people. If an employee underperforms or makes a mistake, you can live with that. Those become teaching moments. But when trust is shattered, there’s no turning back. You stand to lose a lot more than you’ll gain by keeping someone around who has negative intentions.
If you haven’t read this piece on Mark Zuckerberg and his level of transparency with Facebook employees, I highly recommend it. Rarely do leaks happen at Facebook, and it’s because people in the company value their jobs and each other, and they fear being embarrassed and terminated for committing an act of betrayal. Every broadcast company seeks that too, which is why it’s vital to toss away those bad apples when they appear, no matter how talented they may be.
Add Reinforcements Along The Way – There will come a time when your brand’s performance isn’t in line with the expectations either you or your bosses have set for it. You may also be presented with an opportunity to add someone to the team who instantly makes you better, even if it creates an internal disruption. During these times you’ll take a deep look at your team, evaluate the feedback of your audience, and wrestle with decisions on whether to change course or stand pat. And the reality is, every great team and leader goes through change at some point, whether they plan to or not.
If you think back to the 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series team, they were in great shape in July, but that didn’t stop Theo Epstein from pulling the trigger at the trade deadline to acquire Aroldis Chapman. Maybe the Cubs could’ve held onto a few prospects and won the title without him, but why pass up an opportunity to get better when it’s available?
Feelings are going to get hurt from time to time, and change can cause you to have future problems with members of your team that may be executing well or who you have a good personal and professional relationship with. The bottom line, you’re in a competitive industry, and this is a performance based business. The higher you perform, the more money the company makes, and the longer leash everyone is given to retain the jobs they love.
It may be uncomfortable. It may be difficult. And at times it may be unfair. But when companies are faced with decisions on whether or not to make a move to enhance their performance, the good ones often take the plunge. The complacent ones find themselves later on wishing they had taken the risk.
Celebrate Success But Don’t Get Comfortable – You’ve laid the foundation, established the system, identified the right people, eliminated the bad ones, and have earned the group’s trust and respect, and now success is starting to find you. Rather than high fiving each other once and forgetting about it the next day, think about how you’re going to celebrate the special moments with your team. They will have a lasting impact on your people and organization.
Too often we focus on the challenge, and when we accomplish our goal, we’re on to the next one. But if you don’t stop along the way to enjoy the journey and appreciate those who have made it possible, then it leaves many unfulfilled. In sports, after a team wins a title they may pour champagne on one another, hit the town to party, or gather as a group and fly off somewhere to make it a truly memorable experience.
I’m not suggesting to send your entire team on vacation, but a simple happy hour, dinner, conference room celebration, house party or personal gesture goes a long way in telling people you value them, are happy for their success, and are excited to be on the same side with them.
Each individual has to decide their own strategy, and operate in ways they feel are most effective. Some do it thru aggressive action and a brash personality, others use a methodical style and reserved demeanor. Each way works. There is no one size fits all. Both Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy are Super Bowl Champions despite being very different people.
My only suggestion is to think before you act, and be sure in every decision you make. The ideas above are there to guide you should you need help along the way. Best of luck in setting the tone and developing a winning organization!