Any of us who have been in this business for a while have stories of blunt, over-the-top, and often crass, managers we’ve worked with over the years. I vividly remember a program director who was annoyed with two clients that insisted on voicing their own commercials although they were terrible at it. After mentioning it several times to the AE, he took the manner in his own hands, walked into the prod room during their recording session and said, “Is there any way you can do these where they don’t suck.” I’m sure he’d be fired for that today, but at the time he just got a stern talking to.
Personally, I first started managing more than a couple people when I was twenty-three and I made more than my fair share of mistakes. I had a reputation as a straight-shooter, which I was way too proud of, and that led me to cut to the chase with almost robot-like precision leading to predictable results. If someone didn’t have what it takes to be on-air, that’s exactly how I would word it. In airchecks or reviews I would run down a laundry list of everything they needed to work on.
Nearly twenty years later we live in a world where we’re all more cognizant of how we speak to our colleagues and subordinates. But, although it is important to be tactful in how we critique employees, we still want to make sure we’re not encouraging bad habits. Everyone says to wrap critiques in compliments if you want them to land well and be acted upon. I agree with that on one condition, as long as we’re not consciously, or unconsciously, identifying the things people want to hear and praising those. It’s an easy trap to fall into because it’s a great way to manipulate people into doing the things you need them to do to serve the company, and often their own, interests. But doing that will typically encourage or reinforce the bad habits that employee has developed.
A better approach is to identify and compliment a few things the employee is doing well that truly help them efficiently and effectively accomplish the tasks they’ve been given. Then choose one main actionable thing for them to work on improving. Stay on that thing through subsequent meetings, or reviews, until they’ve raised their game, before moving on to something else.
That’s how I’ve approached air check reviews for the past few years, but I believe it can apply to any manager/employee meeting or review. To be fair, I do go more in depth and mention multiple things on the one-time aircheck reviews people pay me to do because I want to give them their money’s worth. But on regular, weekly or monthly meetings its best to focus on one. Getting people to change any habit is challenging, so movement on a single item at a time should be looked at as a win.
What do you think about telling people what they want to hear versus telling them the truth? Also, what’s your approach to employee reviews? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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