In and amongst a folder of ancient station valuation reports, I came upon a misfiled page from an unknown source listing nine common mistakes made by executives.
One of my "truisms" is that management is not a title but a skill. Too many people think that because they have been given the authority to make a decision, they have the ability to make those decisions.
With that preamble, let's get to the list. As Mark Twain said, "Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more."
1 SEEING PROBLEMS, NOT GOALS
Skilled managers wade into a problem with the focus on what, not who, is wrong. If you've surrounded yourself with competent people, the culprit for your inefficiency or dilemma likely involves process.
Make sure your employees know explicitly what is expected of them and the best ways to accomplish those things. They'll usually meet you there.
2 MISSING THE LONG-TERM PICTURE
The "boss" leads staff to get things done right now. The "manager" knows where he or she is taking everyone in present tense but more importantly in the future--to that ultimate business destination. The "owner or the corporate officers" must know what's over the horizon for the organization, and have a plan to take everyone to a successful and growing future.
If you have no vision of where your organization must travel to prosper and grow, your days may be numbered.
3 OPERATING WITHOUT ROUTINES
I found an apropos saying in a fortune cookie: "Every truly great accomplishment appears at first to be impossible."
Football players at two major universities run onto their home fields by passing under signs that say, "Play like a champion today." Each of us should pass onto our business playing field under a sign that says, "Think quality today."
Quality in execution is what sets organizations apart, the good and the bad. Staff needs to know what is expected of them in the way of goals and deadlines and how best to accomplish this and meet organizational standards. Quality should be routine.
In my radio ownership days, we had manuals for operations at each and every station, covering contingencies. One was the "shift manual." Some employees worked alone outside of office hours, and the "shift manual" acted as a kind of written supervisor, listing duties, tasks and details for each shift and work position. It explained how to get the work done and acted as a security blanket for staff to know their job expectations.
Occasionally a person would be put into an odd shift. Because the people who worked for me were bright and aggressive in wanting to do their best work, the "shift manual" often was a good substitute for training.
4 HOARDING AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY
This style of supervision stifles expeditious execution of work. Staff cannot do their jobs until you make a decision and/or they cannot take the responsibility of independent action because that's your prerogative. This is like hoarding credit. You let the glory of success come to you while delegating the onus of blame to your staff for failures. If you desire a staff to dislike you, this is the best way to do it.
To be effective and celeritous, empower your staff to take ownership of issues within their job parameters and use their best judgment whenever possible.
5 LETTING THE GRAPEVINE TAKE OVER
One of America's only remaining manufacturing plants is the gossip mill.
Rumor is fact until dispelled; the time your staff spends speculating is wasted energy. Get the facts out and stay ahead of intrigue. In the transaction environment of any business or organization, it is also a matter of respect to share as much accurate information that affects people as soon as appropriate.
Erroneous information and the resulting doom-and-gloom environment can cut deeply into productivity. The best managers want team leaders and sectional heads to query them when rumors appear, to keep everyone informed and confident that the status quo, and their position within that, continues.
6 KEEPING THE STAFF IN THE DARK
What kind of information should you share with staff? Information that you know for certain and can tell them accurately.
Some information is sensitive and/ or still in development. Occasionally, information must be kept back temporarily, of course. But to keep your staff "off step" and without goals, or without being aware of purpose, is wasteful.
7 HIRING OR KEEPING THE WRONG PEOPLE
I've met too many personnel people who are interested mostly in covering their own butts. The selection process for their new hires never seems to be an evaluation of an individual applicant but an evaluation of outside approbation.
I saw an organization choose the director for an important TV commercial based on the school where the director got his degree. A degree never directed a TV commercial. Another candidate was highly skilled and had created several classic TV commercials--we're talking CLIO Awards. But that person wasn't Ivy League and so was not even considered. The final commercial was uninspired, almost sophomoric.
8 BUILDING AROUND INDIVIDUALS INSTEAD Of A Team
Of all the shortsighted strategies and management policies, this has to be the worst. Every capable manager builds skills in his or her team, and quite often one member in particular shines. But to make that person uniquely invaluable and the sole repository of the information or accomplishment of that part of the mission is an error.
First off, it is unkind to the person to typecast him or her, as his or her future often stops right there.
Second, it is dangerous to the business that someone can walk out with that section of the business, from financial figures to their unique knowledge or personal relationships with your customers.
If you have these situations, start building alternatives such as training to cover over vacations or cross training that person into another job so they have to share and train their existing work with others.
9 FAILING TO DEVELOP AND MOTIVATE PEOPLE
We are still in a time of "the greater fool."
A greater fool looks at a broadcast property that is successful, well managed, mature in the marketplace and a credit to everyone who works there, yet sees ineptitude and underperformance. The fool sees possibilities for endless growth that can only be effected by his or her unique vision and leadership.
The fool doesn't understand that people--people with energy, focus, commitment and skill--bring real success. Staff are the most important part of the equation.
The most satisfied staff feel like they are learning and growing, that they are on a journey to personal success and are appreciated for who they are and the work they do.
If you don't develop an environment where people develop new skills or enhance their existing capabilities--if all they have is the present--in their mind they're just passing through.
Motivation in American business is usually compensational. How are people compensated? One, in salary and benefits that are competitive and related to job goals. Two, through work that they love to do. Three, through the self-esteem that comes from recognizing them has having earned their spurs. You let them know that they are important to you and to the work effort.
There is no mystical science or knowledge required in order to be a skilled manager. One must keep his or her ego under control, then build good habits implementing sound management principles.
Charles S. Fitch, W2IPI, is a registered professional consultant engineer, member of the AFCCE, senior member of the SBE, lifetime CPBE with AMD, licensed electrical contractor, former station owner and former director of engineering of WTIC(TV) in Hartford, Conn., and WHSH(TV) in Boston.