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By Jeff McHugh

I’ve been fired. So I have a strong dislike for firing people.

In business school, we were taught that the failure of an employee is usually a failure of management. Any time we cut ties with a media personality, I ruminate on the exact point where it all went wrong. I lose sleep over it.

What I’ve realized is that more often than not, where it went wrong was on the day that person was hired.

Case in point: in hiring a morning host for a new rock station, I found a wonderfully funny guy who had a reputation for mild drama in the hallways; wrecking in the station van, voice tracking so he could arrive at the studio later, that sort of thing. He also had little interest in focusing on anything but the on-air show.

The operations manager wanted a reliable jack-of-all-trades who could host mornings, be music director, manage the website, and voice track other stations. Yet he insisted on hiring this erratic, creative sociopath and for me to “hold him accountable.” I politely but candidly reminded the OM that he had a strong aversion to drama and that he valued systems and precision over creativity.

I could not talk him out of it, and sure enough we fired the talent less than two years later.  The station failed as well, but the talent went on to deserved success in a less rigid environment elsewhere.

Take away:  The “round peg/square hole” idiom is true; do not buy a Ferrari when what you need is a Camry.

Case in point: we hired a well-known, charismatic personality who was one of the most talented people I had ever worked with. We knew that along with his special gifts this guy had a reputation for a weak work ethic, a harsh temper and a tendency to promise management one thing but to do the opposite on the air. We thought the risk was worth the reward.

We also believed that our big star was such an audience draw that we could surround him with novices and still find success (We had blown our budget on his salary anyway.) The young team did not have the experience to compensate for the host’s lack of preparation or the courage to speak up against his abusiveness.

The show was never more than an also-ran in the ratings and was a constant drain on the organization. Ultimately, the whole team was sacked.

Take away: It takes a village. Remarkable people always come with remarkable shortcomings. Compensate by surrounding them with strong players and help them be successful with firm structure.

Case in point: I was brought in to coach a heritage show that had been wildly successful in diary ratings, but failed spectacularly with the introduction of PPM just after they were hired. Despite that, the show was highly resistant to new ideas and seemed to believe their own press, telling me “This city just loves us no matter what we do, so if you consultants will just leave us alone…”

I learned later that the well-meaning market manager (from a sales background) had sold this team on his station under the umbrella of “just do what you guys do,” without framing the challenge of launching their show on a new station, in a different format and under the then-unknown effects of PPM. The hosts never evolved and went from million-dollar contracts to being completely off the air today.

Take away: Set clear expectations up-front. Discuss best-case and worst-case scenarios and how the show might change in response to ratings shortfalls. Agree on specifics like work hours and content planning guidelines and put them in writing.

Tip for 2016: Hiring accuracy is an area where every organization should strive to improve performance and as the old saying goes, there is no success without measurement.

Start a spreadsheet on your desktop and start tracking your staff turnover rate from year-to-year. If you’re losing more than 10% of your talent annually, you may not be doing enough to retain people, or you may be hiring the wrong people to begin with.

Photo Credit: Flickr.com/www.flazingo.com

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