Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Principal's office

The News Director wanders over to your desk, wearing a stern look. "Can I see you in my office?"

Your heart jumps into overdrive as you follow your boss into the office. The newsroom goes quiet. You're told to take a seat. The ND closes the door and closes the venetian blinds, a semaphore code to the rest of the newsroom that you're about to be chewed out. Your mouth goes dry and you break out in a cold sweat as the executioner takes his seat behind the desk.

And just like that you're back in the third grade, sitting in the Principal's office for chewing gum in class.

Sound familiar? Some of you probably broke out in hives just reading that.

I once went to a management seminar and we spent a good deal of time discussing office meetings. Specifically, we wanted to get across to the newsroom staff that just because the door is closed, it doesn't mean anything bad is going on. Lots of people offered lots of suggestions.

I tried them all. None of them worked. You close the door, and an employee gets a white knuckled grip on the chair, awaiting a shot to the heart.

Or someone wanders into your office to simply discuss something private, closes the door, and the rest of the newsroom assumes management is unhappy about something.

Finally, I bought a coffee pot and put it in my office. I brewed a pot every afternoon, and various people would wander in for a cup, many just sitting down for a quick chat about stuff other than news. A few started buying flavored coffees, so we had our own little Starbucks. After a while, people would start coming back from the field and asking me, "Uh... you gonna make some coffee?"

That broke down some barriers, but there is still always an element of mistrust, an "us versus them" mentality that pervades newsrooms. Funny how we're supposed to be a news team and often have better relationships with the competing crews in the field than with our own co-workers.

It all goes back to a statement I hear from just about every client. "The only time I get any feedback, it's bad. If I don't hear anything, I assume I'm doing OK."

And that makes people actually afraid to go into the ND's office.

A while back I had a spunky intern. On her first day she poked her head into my office, looking terrified as she introduced herself. "Uh, I hope I'm not bothering you. But could you assign me something to do?"

In that case, she took the first step, and dropped by just about every day.

Since I don't expect managers to go out and buy coffee pots, maybe it's time for the rank and file to take the initiative like my old intern. Perhaps wandering into the ND's office (assuming he or she is not a confirmed cylon) just to chat might help break down the barriers between management and employees. Trust me, News Directors who have worked their way up into management miss the social interaction of a great newsroom. Having someone drop by to talk baseball, or to discuss the latest episode of Star Trek, or to show off an engagement ring always made my day. Because in those moments we were just people, not managers or employees.

You guys want feedback? Looks like you'll have to take the first step. Perhaps turning the ND's office into a classroom instead of a punishment chamber might turn things around a bit.


turdpolisher said...

great advice, grape . . . especially the cylon part.

-The Grape said...

And remember...

Regarding cylons... there are many copies.