By John Pellegrini
He* (not his real name) was a nice guy; he was just out of his league. He was in charge of a department in a particular company that handled part of the billing. He got along fine with just about everyone on the staff. Except there were occasional lapses when things weren’t billed correctly. However those were small mistakes, and things were usually taken care of in the proper order, and everything was all right. Then, the company started getting busier. More orders began coming in. More contracts were purchased. And his department was making more mistakes. Invoices weren’t sent out, or sent with colossal mistakes that cost the company huge amounts of money. Products weren’t being delivered because orders weren’t being processed correctly, if at all.
He complained that the huge amount of new business was causing all the problems. His department could not keep up with the level of the new business coming in. Several of his assistants quit in frustration. Morale in his department went to zero. He became more and more angered at the fact that still more business was coming in and creating even more problems. He complained that no one would give him time to get things sorted out or give him the personnel and computers necessary to fix the problems. He became quite agitated at any mistake, and nothing angered him more than having to train the new people he had to hire to replace the ones that quit in frustration. He was very annoyed that the new hires had to be shown things several times, even though he knew when he hired them that they had no experience in his department’s functions.
Several times management suggested ways to fix the problems in his department. Each time, he angrily informed management that, “IT CANNOT BE DONE!” All the suggestions that they were calling for were “impossible to achieve.” “You cannot fix these problems because the entire system is malfunctioning,” he said. “I’m a victim of the system you have forced me to work with,” was another way he put it. “You cannot fix that which is broken beyond repair,” was another favorite saying of his. He had many different ways of telling people that what they wanted was impossible to achieve. This went on for a few months—management suggesting ideas to fix things, and him telling them it was impossible to do whatever it was, or that “IT CANNOT BE DONE.”
Do you find yourself in sympathy with our story’s protagonist? Do you find yourself saying, “Boy, do I know how he feels?” If so, then may I suggest that your whole outlook and philosophy toward your job should be changed quickly. May I suggest that if you are feeling full of empathy for this story’s protagonist, then you may be in trouble where you work? You see, our story’s protagonist was fired. And not a moment too soon!
His attitude got him fired. His refusal to rectify the situation resulted in his being fired. They hired a new head of his department, and within a week, the new head of the department did everything the old manager had been asked to do and said couldn’t be done, and fixed all the problems that the old manager had insisted could not be fixed. The old manager’s remaining employees love the new manager because the new one didn’t gripe and blame everything and everyone else like the old one. The new manager got the problems solved in a way that everyone liked and could work with. You see, you cannot continue to tell your bosses that something cannot be done before they finally decide to replace you with someone who says not only can it be done, but then goes out and does it with relative ease.
Some people might scoff and say, “well the new person was obviously better educated at these problems, so why blame the previous guy?” That’s the whole point. If the old manager had bothered to take an interest in improving his knowledge of his job, the way the new manager did, then the old manager would still be there and would have fixed everything himself, and wouldn’t have been fired. Your continuing education in your career is YOUR responsibility. Nothing is IMPOSSIBLE. There is not a single problem in the universe of business that “CANNOT BE FIXED.” Maybe you can’t or don’t want to do it, but they can always find someone who will, with or without your participation.
Are you feeling pressured by your managers to do better? Are you being told that your department is making too many mistakes? Are you being told that improvements must be made in the way your department handles things? Understand something: management isn’t telling you this because they have nothing better to do. Management isn’t telling you this because they’re out to make your job more miserable. They’re telling you this in an effort to get the concrete out from between your ears.
How many times do you find yourself saying that certain requests management is making cannot be done? That it is impossible to do things the way they are suggesting? If you find yourself saying this a lot lately, you might want to start consulting the classifieds quickly. When the management of a company wants something done a certain way, they don’t care to be told that it cannot be done. Why? Because they know that it can be done, no matter what you say. You see, no matter how good you think you are, there’s always someone who can do something better than you in virtually every aspect of your job or position. That’s the reality when you work for someone else. You must perform to their expectations, and not the other way around. It never ceases to amaze me how many times this happens in so many different corporations. I’ve even been guilty of this attitude problem myself. However, I learned from my mistakes and have never repeated this problem; hopefully you will too, before you get shown the door.
Now, understand something vitally important. I’m not talking about problems resulting from technical limitations of your job. Everyone has those, and those kinds of problems are easy to address. “This job can’t be done right now, because we don’t have the technology to do it, but here’s what we need to get the job done, and once it’s in place, we can get what we want. And, in the meantime, here’s what we can do to get by.” Everyone is capable of addressing and working with those kinds of situations. What I’m talking about is an attitude problem that causes you to say, “This situation CANNOT be resolved. I say it must be done my way ONLY. You must simply accept things my way, the way I say they are, and don’t ever try to change my way of doing it again. And if these mistakes continue, too bad; it’s not my fault.”
Here’s what I mean. The old manager that I was telling you about could have easily solved the problem himself. One of the biggest causes of the mistakes that were being made was that his computer system was antiquated and wouldn’t do many of the new functions being required. The new manager came in, told the company president the problems with the computer, and they were fixed within a week. That was all the president of the company wanted. He wanted a solution that could be implemented and corrected.
But the old manager didn’t see it that way. He decided that any changes in his department’s operational system were a personal affront to his ability as a manager. “Things are just fine the way they are; it’s all YOU people who keep piling up more and more work, that are making the problems,” was one of his favorite explanations. The old manager didn’t want anything to change, especially his workload, and he bitterly resented any increase in the amount of work he was required to complete.
What do companies do? What is their function? To make money. How does a company make money? They generate profits. Is making the same level of profit year after year with no increase a sensible way to do business? Of course not. Companies are expected to grow, and profits are expected to grow. Anyone who invests expects his or her investments to grow in profit, right? Of course. The old manager used to love watching the company’s stock on a daily basis to see how well it (and his stock in the company) was growing. He used to sit at his office computer with the daily stock quote Website displayed, and would be the first one to email everyone with the latest increase or stock split that the company had.
What does something do when it grows? Does it get bigger? Does it increase? Does it have a greater volume in size? You bet! When a company gets bigger, the amount of business it does increases to create this growth. More profits are the result of more work. More profits result in an increase in the workload. That’s the way businesses make money.
However, the old manager, bitterly resented the fact that as the business grew, his workload increased. Oh, he loved the fact that the profits went up, and with the increases, his profit sharing increased. But HOW DARE THEY make him work more for it?!?! He was outraged about the increase in demands of his department, and he was angry about having to correct more mistakes all the time. Rather than do the sensible thing, which would have been to alert his bosses to the fact that his computer system needed upgrades, and he could probably use an increase in personnel in his department, he simply got angry with them for making him do more work. He wanted things to go back to the old way, the easier way, the way he was used to doing things.
It wasn’t that none of the problems in his department couldn’t be fixed, it was HE that couldn’t be fixed. He couldn’t accept the changes and increases in his department’s workload. So, they replaced him with someone who could.
You see, no one is irreplaceable. No one is so vital and important to any corporation that they cannot be replaced. Even presidents and general managers get fired and replaced. We see this happening in radio all the time. A new GM comes in, and the old staff is fired. We hear the usual excuses, “The new guy wanted his own people, and wanted his own airstaff, so they fired us.” Whenever there’s a format change they always bring in a few new people. And we usually believe those excuses. However, when there isn’t a format change, when there’s just a new PD or GM, staff dismissals are seldom the result of the PD or GM just wanting to have a new staff. I’ve been in many stations and seen many stations where a new PD or GM comes in and keeps everyone there.
“Well, sure”, you say, “they do that when the station’s successful.” Yes, and why is the station successful? Could it be that the staff is competent, professional, and able to make the changes necessary to continue ratings growth? Trust me, firing personnel is increasingly difficult, even in the no-job-security world of radio. You’ve got to have documented reasons for the dismissal, otherwise you could wind up facing a wrongful termination lawsuit. The truth is, it’s easier to keep the current personnel at a station than to fire them and hire new ones, unless there’s a format change.
So why do PDs and GMs do it? Could it be that the old staff isn’t interested in doing things the way the new PD or GM wants them to be done? Could it be because the PD or GM gets tired of hearing, “We’ve done it this way all along, and it was just fine for our old boss, and you’ll have to learn to accept things the way they are here?” Could it be that the new bosses want things done their way, because they have definite ideas in mind about how they see the direction of the station going, and in order to get there they need to have things done differently? Could it be that the owners brought them in because the owners want things done the way the new PD or GM are going to do them? And could it be that if you’re constantly telling them that you’re not interested in doing things their way, they’ll find someone who will do your job the way they want things done? HMMM, could be....
The single most truthful statement about radio, or any other business is this: If you don’t do what the boss expects you to do, you won’t have a job. No matter if you’ve been with the business since the dawn of the Bronze Age, and no matter how many times the previous boss told you that he or she thought you were a GOD and built a golden alter to worship you from, you’re only as good as today, and you’re only worth how well you are meeting your current boss’s expectations. And if you’re not doing it the way the boss wants it done, you can and will be replaced.
You may have perfectly legitimate reasons for why you do things in your job, or in your department. Your new boss may ask you to explain them, or may not. That’s their choice to make. But if they don’t agree with the way you’re doing things, they have every right to expect you to change to their methods, because they have more at stake than you do, and they’ve been given the authority by management to do things their way. You want things your way? Start your own business. As long as you work for someone else, you must do things their way. That’s the nature of the employee beast, my friends. That’s why you get paid. If you don’t like the methods your boss expects you to use to do your job, you’d better start looking for something else, because chances are your boss doesn’t like your methods, and is already working on replacing you.
And, that right there, is the most amazing aspect of this whole dilemma, to me. The fact that so many people (myself included) don’t see this situation happening. They refuse to do what is expected of them, and remain blissfully ignorant of the possibility that they will be fired. Then, when it happens, they’re in total shock! “HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO MMMEEEEEEE????,” they cry. Eleven years ago, when it happened to me for the first time, I did exactly that. Everyone was telling me that I had to do things differently. Idiots, I thought, how DARE they tell ME what to do! I do things MY way because MY way is BEST. Then I found out the hard way, the person who signs your paycheck, his way is the best way. The person who is responsible for hiring you, his way is the best way. The person who has the power to take away your job, his way is the best way. They fired me, and I couldn’t believe it! How DARE they fire ME?!? Are they STUPID? No, I was the one who was stupid. Fortunately, I grew up, got smart, and figured out the obvious. My friend, the one whose story I was relating earlier in this article, is older than me, and still hasn’t figured it out. Many people I know have found it out the hard way, but never learned anything from it. They’re the ones who are still unemployed, or working free-lance, or part-time, or independent contracting, or are weaving baskets at craft fairs, or (GOD HELP US) are teaching students “everything they need to know about radio” in broadcasting schools around the world.
The old manager didn’t see that changes were expected. The people who hired him weren’t there any more. The new bosses came in and expected things to be done differently. He felt he should only have to do what the old bosses expected of him. Why? Were the old bosses still paying his salary? No. Were the new bosses working for the old bosses? No. Had the old bosses been let go because their performances weren’t good enough? Yes. Did the new management announce that the old way of doing things wasn’t going to cut it anymore, and that a new level of performance was expected? Yes. Should my friend, the old manager have seen that since his bosses were let go because their performance wasn’t good enough, his would probably come under review as well? Yes. Should he have discussed this with the new bosses and tried to determine how they expected him to do his job? Yes. Should he have expected new guidelines to be made on his job description and performance of those duties? Yes. Did he do either of those? No. Did he complain, criticize, and ridicule his new bosses when they eventually did ask to review his job description and performance? Yes. Did he look like a hero to his new bosses when he did that? Do you need to be told the answer to that one?
*He really isn’t just one person. He is a combination of several people I’ve known throughout my life both in and out of radio. He is also, in some aspects, me back when I was fired eleven years ago. But the story is identical in every situation, especially when it comes to the results. Keep this information at the top of your mind in every job you have, and you’ll usually wind up in very good shape with your employer. Or, go in business for yourself. That’s the beauty of Free Enterprise; everyone is free to try (and fail or succeed).