Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Different rules for different people

One of the toughest things about management is trying to deal with the personal lives of the newsroom staff. When you're a reporter you simply assume that the same rules should apply to everyone, with no gray areas.

But in reality, you often need 25 rules for 25 people.

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is not familiarizing themselves with the personal lives of the staff. By that I don't mean they need to go out and party with them, though I've had a ND who did just that. I mean a manager needs to know a little about each person's life off the clock.

Then it's "let's make a deal" time.

For instance, let's say I've got an anchor whose daughter is the valedictorian graduating from college Friday night during ratings. Normally, there's a no days off policy during sweeps, but this is special.

Meanwhile, my best fill-in anchor is a dayside reporter who I know goes out with her fiance every Friday night.

I could, if I was a heartless manager, simply change the schedule without talking to the substitute anchor. But if I know a little about everyone's personal life, I can use that knowledge to make everyone happy. So I appeal to her, telling her this is a really special event for the main anchor. I sweeten the pot by offering her something I know she wants down the road... some time off to prepare for her wedding, even though she's blown all vacation days on her honeymoon. So I tell her she can leave early every day the week before her wedding as soon as she's got her package in the can.

In these tough economic times, raises are few and far between. But sometimes there are things more important to a person than money.

Suppose I've got a 5pm anchor with a new baby. His wife is a teacher and gets home at three. But if I switch him to the 11pm newscast and let him come in as soon as his wife gets home, the couple can tag team the new kid and save a fortune on day care.

If you're single and see some of this stuff you may think the ND is being unfair to you because you have the most flexibility of anyone in the newsroom. In reality, a manager is sometimes just trying to make the personal lives easier for the most people.

That doesn't mean you won't get rewarded down the road. Everyone needs a favor eventually, everyone wants a promotion. NDs favor those who are team players, don't complain, and pitch in to help other staffers navigate life's little conflicts.

On the other side of the coin are the NDs who simply couldn't care less about your life off the clock, and see every staffer as a cog in a wheel.

That's why it's so important to make sure you have a connection with the ND when you're on a job interview. It's important for you to work in a place where you'll further your career, but having a manager who understands your personal life is a factor you can't measure in dollars or market size.


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