A number of Jacobs Media clients over the years have heard me make the “X-Men” reference about our professional staff.
My theory has always been to hire strong pros with skill sets different from mine – and from each other’s – in order to create and grow a powerful and effective team. In much the same way that each member of the “X-Men” has a special power or area of expertise, we try to hire staffers who bring something specific and unique to the table. Yes, they’re all strong at their core jobs, but also have that special “power” that makes them especially valuable to our organization.
He talked about how great organizations have leaders who exude the following skills:
1. A visionary – Someone who’s an idea person/strategist who sets the course for the entire operation.
2. A classic manager – Someone who essentially takes care of the organization, making sure that everyone’s doing their jobs and that initiatives are managed and measurable.
3. A customer champion – Someone who ensures the company’s basic product fits an important consumer need, and as a result, has a strong understanding of how customers think and how to serve them.
4. An enforcer – Someone who meets the challenges head on, who knows when it’s time hold ‘em, fold ‘em, or to simply face up to a conflict.
As Maritz notes, this doesn’t have to translate to four different people in an organization. Occasionally, you find someone with two of the four skills, but rarely three.
So thinking about Maritz’s “four corners” management philosophy, what types of individuals should radio stations employ?
I would argue that the visionary and manager positions are essential – and great stations have both. I would also posit that today’s visionaries in radio need to see the battlefield in two dimensions – the one that pits them against The Bear and FM 106.7 – traditional radio competitors; and the one that demands strategic thinking for the long-term challenges sparked by digital media competition. Too often, radio stations look down the dial at their competition, often ignoring other media options that compete for consumers’ time, attention, and passion (think Pandora).
Perhaps an area where radio sometimes falls short is in the “enforcer” category. Sometimes the GM has this capacity, but too often, this task falls to corporate who may or may not be sensitized to local on-the-ground issues. When too many strings are pulled by the home office, the local station runs the risk of becoming a franchise or affiliate, rather than a hometown hero.
The other shortfall position is often the “customer champion.” At most stations, this one falls through the cracks, and is rarely the domain of one individual. Often, many people pitch in together to try to satisfy radio’s varied constituencies – advertisers, listeners, and communities. But all too frequently, this is no one’s primary job, and often is a secondary or tertiary task for several managers and line employees. Many stations truly drop the ball when it comes to the customer experience.
If radio is to truly set a new agenda for itself as it deals head-on with the challenges from new media and digital, any residual arrogance from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s needs to disappear – and be replaced with a bona fide urge to understand and meet consumer needs. The “Here’s what we do – like it or not” attitude no longer cuts it in this on-demand, multi-media, digital playground in which we’re competing.
And finally, I would add one more player - or mandatory skill set - to the mix, making it a leadership pentagon. That's the marketing and branding maven. This is an individual who has a strong understanding of the available tools and platforms, and has a primary focus to leverage a station’s product in a myriad of places – some of which may have nothing to do with transmitters, towers, remotes, and :60’s and :30's.
One of the things that stood out at this year’s Marconi awards was that many of the winning stations (and probably many of the runners-up, too) have a visionary – a person who truly understands the product and its core values. Similar to what has made so many public radio stations successful, this dogged adherence to the brand essence and core values is what makes so many great radio stations great, along with that unwillingness to compromise on the assets and brand essence that keep them on top.
Most radio station organization charts made sense through the last few decades of the 20th century. But today, a cold hard look at the typical staff flow chart might call into question the logic and wisdom of certain positions that always been there, along with the lack of accountability in other areas where there are staff vacuums. It all becomes even more difficult in a more financially precarious environment where fewer individuals are being burdened with additional responsibilities.
Radio is, at times, tethered to what has always worked, rather than objectively looking at new opportunities where brands, personalities, and content may provide greater value, satisfaction, and results.
Look at your organization through Maritz’s lens – and perhaps add in my extra position player – and give your group an honest assessment. Where are these skill areas being successfully fulfilled and where are they woefully lacking? Can you redeploy certain individuals to other sectors where they might provide greater value to your operation?
Who are your X-Men or X-Women?