objects-may-be-closerBy Craig Jackman

I have a confession to make. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t been doing very well at one phase of my job. Sure, I’ve produced some nice spots the clients liked, saome really good promos the PD liked, I’ve stretched the boundaries on some of the things I voice, and I’ve written some promos that I’m really proud of. There is one more area of my job though, and that is my role of supervising the other Producers at my cluster. It’s that area that I need to work on.

OK, it’s not as if I’m overseeing a staff of hundreds, it’s a team of five Producers, including myself. For the first couple of years as a “Manager”, my management style consisted of keeping track of everyone’s vacation time, making sure the time sheets were correct when submitting to payroll and keeping supplies ordered. Every year we would go through performance reviews where we would discuss the year past and subjectively score how we did. I wanted to set up an environment where they could be creative, then get out of the way. Basic, but not good enough to grow as a department or as individuals.

In addition to all the creative aspects of my job, my role as a manager has five basic roles: communicate both up and down the “food chain”, set clear goals for the department, manage and monitor department performance, coach and develop people, and lead by example.

The change in how I look at this manager part of my job came from the top. A companywide staff survey revealed that many Managers were failing in the eyes of their teams. For a start, as a Manager, I was required to do a monthly department report for senior management. The GM obviously wanted more than “...we’re the little engine that could, just chugging along...”, and being a former Sales rep, wanted some objective numbers that he could track over the year.

The first objective thing I’ve included in our monthly report is a 90-day plan. Every 90 days, we sit down as a team and decide on three things that we need to give extra emphasis on. For example, our on-air system only plays back at a 44.1k sampling rate. If we don’t resample 48k national spots to 44.1k before we put them into the system, they are going to play back incorrectly. So for one item, for 90 days we will make an extra effort to ensure that national spots are put into the sys tem at the correct sampling rate. At vacation time, we might have an item to get everyone to make sure they write a detailed “cover me” note to the other Producers. At the end of 90 days, we can look back objectively and see how many well we improved on what was important to us. In these examples, how many incorrect spots we had, or anything that popped up during vacation that should have been in the notes.

Another thing we can look at objectively for the monthly report is tracking the number of commercial voice tracks that we send out to some of our smaller stations, and their growth month to month and year over year. Of course, the obvious number we can track objectively every month is how much money we are spending or not spending.

One thing that has come up in every performance review is how everything is so subjective, and my subjective view on how a team member did over a year may not be the same as how they saw it. It didn’t cause heated arguments, but it did cause some disagreements. By the nature of the position, much of what we do is subjective. It’s not like Sales where you can set a dollar amount and see where you come at the end of the year. How do you objectively judge creativity? You can’t say be 40% funnier or do 20% fewer revisions! This year, I made a personal goal to take the time halfway through the year to go through with each Producer to review what we talked about at the top of the year. In that discussion, I added an objective goal that we can measure at the end of the year. All Producers are supposed to keep a running “Sounds Good” file of spots and promos that really turned out well. The new performance goal is to put at least one spot or promo in their “Sounds Good” file every week. If the goal was set with 25 weeks left in the year, I can look forward to going through at least 25 spots in the file at the end of the year. The purpose here is to celebrate the small victories we win over the course of a week, and to increase everyone’s confidence in that there are things to celebrate weekly. A hidden advantage is that when it comes around to awards entries next year, we don’t have to search to find spots that deserve consideration.

Another goal that I have given the team is to find one way to do their job more creatively or innovatively. They don’t have to change the world or reinvent the wheel, just find one thing that nobody has looked at that we can do to improve. Unfortunately, a little subjective when I’m trying to get more objective measures in place, but one team member has already hit it. He devised a better way for everyone to track spots that are in Production by using a shared task folder in Outlook. We can also use this to track that we are keeping the retail production workload equal. Management likes it as it’s free, using underutilized features of existing software, and that we can extend it to other departments, like Sales, who need to follow progress of a spot through Production. It’s a great system that works really well, and is miles beyond the old clipboard on the wall that we used for years.

I have been bad at coaching someone else’s development, as I’ve been far more focused on my own, yet it’s something that needs to be done. I now make sure to take some time to check in with the team to see what I can do to accelerate their development, from on-line computer courses, to job exchanges, to something not even remotely related to radio production. Outside interests and experiences apply in developing your career, and I would rather be involved with a group that has an interesting and widely varied collection of interests. Perhaps an objective goal next year will be to take a development course.

Objectively, I can look back over the past year and see the areas where and how I’ve improved my performance as Manager for my team. The one thing I can pride myself on is always leading by example. One of the things I’ve tried to do is to be a barrier to divert some of the stuff that rolls downhill. I want to put things in context before it gets to my team. I want to be sure that my people get all the information they need, without getting distracted by information that really is not going to affect them in how they need to work. Of course, you know what else flows downhill, and as much of that I can divert the better.