Here we are nearly 20 months into COVID and there's no industry-wide consensus about regathering back at the station, sticking with WFH, or operating in a hybrid system. In some cases, these decisions have been dictated by market size and the severity of the virus in the area. But in others, company heads have had to make difficult calls, balancing myriad variables.
While we may not know how radio's collective workforce will be deployed a year from today, we do know that station culture (or company culture, or that matter) has taken a hit during the pandemic. At some point, managers from all departments will have to consider morale, support, and other issues that impact a station's esprit de corps.
Pre-COVID, creating a strong culture was an aspiration. Now, it's an imperative. It won't be a simple Humpty Dumpty patching project of thanking the staff for their contributions these past two years, flipping a switch, and wishing things back to “normal.”
And that's why I selected a post from way back in 2017 that addresses these important issues. What is team chemistry – how do you create it and how do you preserve it? – FJ
OK, I admit it – I probably use more sports analogies than the next blogger. But it's hard not to draw parallels between the world of sports teams, managers, and athletic competition and the rough and tumble world of radio.
Amazingly, as the radio business has matured, consolidated, and rebooted, there is still much ambiguity about how to create the best company culture. Radio has evolved, but so has the rest of the media world. And today, building great mission-focused teams is table stakes in the quest to attract – and hold onto – the best and the brightest.
And not a moment too soon. It wasn't that long ago in radio when rank and file employees aspired to work for certain companies. I remember interviewing any number of on-air and programming candidates, many of whom had their sights set on joining Infinity, Susquehanna, Evergreen, and other companies led by iconic corporate honchos.
In recent years, however, thanks to layoffs, cutbacks, and economic hardships, those aspirations have became dampened by a radio industry in search of leadership. Coming off a very positive Radio Show, the industry appears poised to get its mojo back. And that positive spirit emanates from the top.
So who better to speak to this notion of company culture than great college sports coaches? Leaders like Nick Saban, Geno Auriemma, and Pete Carroll all set a distinctive tone, especially important to talented and gifted young men and women seeking a highly motivational environment.
And one of the best in class is most definitely Mike Krzyzewski – better known as Coach K – head coach of Duke University's legendary basketball program. From winning NCAA Championships to Olympic gold, Coach K “gets” culture and what it means to teams, companies, and organizations.
He recently wrote an article for Company Culture, outlining the key ingredients that go into that elixir of vibe, attitude, and spirit that separate the greats from the also-rans.
Like other iconic coaches – John Wooden, Bill Belichick, and Joe Torre all come to mind – Krzyzewski doesn't mince words or ramble. He gets right to the point.
And in his world view of working with immensely talented athletes and entertainers, here are his five keys that can help set that winning tone:
1. It takes time
You don't establish a culture in a hurry. It takes time, it requires standards, a true foundation, and “having a tradition.”
2. It doesn't perpetuate itself
Coach K points out that the process of creating a winning culture isn't about “set it and forget it.” The culture must be thought of as a “continuum” that requires care and nurturing, rather than something you initiate and then put on auto pilot.
3. It's not about tactics
He underscores that most teams over-focus on X's and O's – in radio terms, that's clocks, music scheduling, and contests – rather than the more organic process of creating a distinct and definable culture.
4. It's personal
Whether it's your air staff, your sellers, or your management team, it's paramount to get to know your people, rather than seeing them as items on a spreadsheet. Everyone in the organization is motivated differently. Showing them what success looks like and how they can contribute to the great goal is a key to an inclusive environment.
5. Listen to them
Coach K believes that different voices will reinforce the same central messages throughout a station or a company. In sports, new players join the team each year – not dissimilar to the turnover in radio. Having that culture, that history, and that tradition makes it easy for newcomers to quickly get with the program and learn the culture.
Earlier this year, I shared the wisdom of aforementioned UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden. Like Krzyzewski, you never saw him frantically running up and down the sideline or yelling during time-outs. Because his players believed in and exuded the culture, the in-game decisions they made became easier because they truly understood the organization's goals and what it stood for.
You can learn a lot from watching the activity and vibe on the bench, the sidelines, or in the dugout. The great coaches – like the top chief executives, market managers, programmers, and sales leaders – create that culture and let it flow through the organization.
A company culture is a delicate organism. Grow it and coach it the right way and you can build a world class organization built to last.
Postscript: Coach K's first year with the Duke men's basketball team was 1980. In those 40+ year, he has led the Blue Devils to five NCAA championships, 12 Final Fours, 15 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament championships, and 12 ACC regular season titles. He also coached the men's USA basketball team from 2006-16. He will step down as Duke's coach at the end of the current 2021-22 season.
Coach K's prescription for creating team culture is great, of course. But we're living in very different times. My sense is that his #1 – “It Takes Time” – is the most important, especially now. It takes a long time to build a great team culture. Post-COVID, it will take a while to get it back. For you managers, be patient with your people – they've been through a lot. – FJ
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