Broadcast Management Roles
From the School of Journalism
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-COLUMBIA
July 23, 1991
Prof. Charles Warner
TREAT EMPLOYEES LIKE VOLUNTEERS WITH A MISSION
The typical broadcast station general manager, news
director, or sales manager is a good manager, but not a great
manager, in my opinion. And my opinion is based on dozens of
visits I make each year as a consultant, sales and management
trainer, and speaker for radio and television stations, state
broadcasting associations, and broadcasting and cable networks.
My opinion is also based on my experience at the annual
Management Seminar for News Executives conducted at the
University of Missouri School of Journalism and sponsored by the
Radio Television News Directors Foundation. The feedback we
receive each year from news executives who come to the seminar is
typified by the remarks of one veteran news director who said:
Participative management...probably is the wave of the
future in our business (but)...Maybe you should have a
seminar for General Managers, telling them to be a bit more
tolerant of what a news director must deal with on a day-to-
day basis. Too many GMs look upon a problem in the news
department with a simple solution. Fire the ND!
I agree. Too many general managers have a short-term,
quick-fix, bottom-line perspective, especially in this highly
competitive era of diminishing news audiences and increased
competitive pressures for higher newscast shares on ever thinner
budgets. The solution to the competitive problem lies not in
better technology, but in better management both at the station,
sales, and news department level.
Better management starts with dealing with people before
dealing with budgets and bottom lines. It means using a
participative management style rather than the typical
authoritarian management style. It means treating people
with kindness and respect, and, most of all, trusting
them. The idea of trusting associates (I like the term
"associates," it is non-hierarchical) to do their best
and treating them courteously and with respect for their
basic human dignity is a concept that is getting some traffic lately.
In the July-August 1989 issue of the Harvard Business
Review, the writer many experts refer to as "the father of modern
management," Peter Drucker, wrote an article titled "What
Businesses Can Learn From Nonprofits." Drucker writes that some
of the best managed organizations in the country are nonprofit
ones: the Salvation Army, churches, and the Girl Scouts. He
makes the point that nonprofit organizations have to achieve
measurable results by spending a minimum amount of money and
getting a maximum amount of effort from unpaid workers--from
If you are a news director or sales manager, think about how
you would have to manage your current associates if they were
volunteers. That you had to manage them like they could leave
any time they wanted to, like they were only working for you
because they loved the work, like they are working only because
enjoy working for you, and like the main reason they work at all
is because they want to work for an organization that makes them
feel like a winner and that is accomplishing something important.
Ask yourselves the following questions:
1. How many of the people that work for me now would work
for me if I were running an after-hour volunteer
organization? (You had better win over these potential
defectors or they will not put out any extra effort for
This list is of critical importance, because it becomes your
blueprint for changing your managerial behavior.
2. If all of the people who work for me were volunteers,
would I treat them differently?
3. In what ways would I treat them differently?
For many years the broadcasting business was glamorous,
highly paid, and hard to break into. It is still difficult to
land a job, especially in most newsrooms, but the business does
not offer the same glitzy magic or the relatively high wages it
once did, except for a handful of superstar anchorpeople and
network and large-market reporters and salespeople. So what is
the answer for managers who have to fill their units with
motivated journalists and salespeople? If you cannot pay them
more, get them promoted more quickly, or make them feel like they
are working in a go-go, cutting-edge industry, then you had
better make your people feel as though you are committed to their
welfare and success.
The critical notion is commitment. If you communicate to
people that you and your company are committed primarily to this
year's bottom line, then you will get exactly the same commitment
in return: people who are committed to their own bottom line,
their paycheck. On the other hand, if you communicate to your
associates that you care about their welfare, their self-esteem,
and about doing something important in the world, then they are
apt to respond with a commitment to you and to your department's
A mid-March, 1990, issue of BusinessWeek featured a cover
story titled "Profiting From Nonprofits." The article listed
four lessons that companies could learn from successful
1. Smash the hierarchy. Convince associates that their jobs
are as vital as the chief executive's.
2. Use the directors. Set up board committees to oversee major
lines of business and help plot strategy (news directors can
set up strategy boards inside and outside a station to
brainstorm on ideas for kaizen, or continuous improvement).
3. Tap the grass roots. Encourage associates to try new ideas
and to clear the way for ideas and change to move up in the
organization (participative management).
4. Create a sense of mission. Clearly articulate a vision of
higher purpose so every decision flows from the
5. Overhaul incentives. Have associates set yearly goals and
reward them for progress in reaching each objective (news
directors can help reporters set knowledge, story, or beat
objectives, sales managers can help salespeople set activity
and learning goals).
Frances Hesselbein, the highly successful executive who
turned around the Girl Scouts, was quoted in the article as
saying, "If you're the Girl Scouts, IBM, or AT&T, you have to
manage for a mission."
Does your company, station, or department have a mission
statement? Do your people know what you stand for? If not,
write a mission statement. You cannot manage for a mission if
you do not have one.
The May, 30, 1994, issue of Fortune reports on a survey
conducted by Bain & Co., a consulting firm, that indicates that
the most popular management tool are mission statements, with a
94% usage. If this many companies have mission statements, then
there must be something to them.
Once you have a mission statement that communicates to
people a sense that they are doing something manifestly important
(like protecting our democratic way of life or improving the
community's quality of life), then you can manage for the
mission, earn their trust, respect, and cooperation. When your
associates buy into the mission, they are apt to work as hard and
with as much commitment for you as they do for their PTAs, their
churches, or for their sons' and daughters' athletic teams.
Back to Episodes Page
Back to Mr. B's Main Page