Thursday, September 11, 2008

Building Teamwork with Talent

I wrote this a few months ago for Kevin Robinson's radio industry newsletter, The Robinson Report. (Kevin will be my interview subject this weekend for Chicago Radio Spotlight). It was reprinted this week in the industry publication "All Access." I'm reprinting it here now for the local crowd. The intended audience is radio station programmers.

Since the beginning of radio, there has always been an uneasy relationship between talent and programmers. It's totally natural if you think about it. Talent is right-brained, creative and impulsive. Programmers are mostly left-brained, detailed and analytical.

The clash occurs when a programmer attempts to coach the talent. Left-brained programmers nearly always coach right-brained talent using left-brained techniques.

And then they wonder why it doesn't work.

I was a radio producer for 20-plus years. I always got along well with both sides because I'm a natural right-brained person and could think like the talent, but I was raised in a very strict family of left-brained thinkers, and therefore could also understand where the programmers were coming from.

I heard what programmers were trying to say during coaching sessions, but I also heard what the talent was hearing. It wasn't the same thing. Ninety percent of those problems could have been avoided by following three simple rules.

1. Leave your anal tendencies at the door

In your job, attention to detail is a necessity ... until you apply it to your coaching sessions.

You must let the little things go. You must. When the talent hears you constantly harping about something that he or she considers completely meaningless (you know what I'm talking about here; the stuff that makes them roll their eyes), your chances of getting them to listen to your advice on any other subject is gone forever.

2. Use the proportional rule
Yes, talent is sensitive, but you don't need to deal with them with kid gloves. You can say what you really believe. You just need to convey the positive as enthusiastically as you convey the negative.

If you think 90% of the show was good and only 10% wasn't, then you should be spending 90% of your time praising the stuff you liked, and only 10% critiquing. When you only accentuate the negative, you're subliminally telling them that you hate the show, even if you don't feel that way.

3. Listen to their ideas, don't immediately judge them

Way too many great ideas die because programmers don't listen. Often, a creative person can see the potential in an idea before he or she is able to put it into words. That needs to be nurtured, not squashed. Restrain yourself from pooh-poohing ideas you don't understand. Help them talk through their ideas instead. When the talent is unable to verbalize it to you, he will realize that it needs to gestate in his brain a little longer. Eventually, he'll come back to you later with a great idea, or he'll kill it himself.

The key is being non-judgmental. You're not against it. You're just trying to understand it.

That's it. That's all you need to do. If you follow those three simple rules, the talent will believe you are on the same team, which of course you are.

Once the talent believes he has a teammate, he or she will be more confident. Once they are more confident, their natural creativity will flourish.

Once that happens, everyone wins.