The 3 b’s to win over your News Director.

A producer recently Tweeted me asking for an article on how to build a relationship with News Directors.  Frankly, I could write a book on that subject! But there are some basics easily put into a short blog.  First, you need to know, access to your ND varies greatly depending on market size, how many other managers exist in your newsroom and your ND’s temperament.  There are some fail safes though that will help no matter your situation.  We call them the 3 B’s:

  • Be subtle
  • Be consistent
  • Be loyal

Before we spell out these 3 b’s, let’s give you some insight into what ND’s often think.  Simply put, up to half the newsroom is “on board” helping out day to day, the rest are not loyal or don’t seem to pull their weight.  (Trust me on this one, I’ve heard many ND’s say it!)  That second group appear to fight the ND on everything by being argumentative.  The ND gives a critique and the person throws back reasons why it’s “the newsroom’s fault” something wasn’t done.  Then comes the “high maintenance” label  of being difficult or too needy.  This is especially true if you have valid points that, though probably unintentional, showcase the ND’s problem areas in the newsroom or even management style.  No one is perfect, including your ND.  We’re not saying you need to be a “kiss ass” and do whatever the ND wants all the time.  We are not saying your opinion isn’t valid.  It’s all in the delivery, which we will spell out in a moment.  The ND will have people on staff that they count on for their own gut checks from time to time.  You become one of those people with patience and by showing loyalty.  This all begins by being subtle.

Being subtle means being the person that sits back and listens to what the ND asks for.  Take, for instance, a staff meeting where the ND spells out the news philosophy of the shop.  You don’t raise your hand and ask a bunch of questions.  You want to hear not only what the ND says but his/her reaction to the flood of questions and instant critiques.  Once that’s completed, process what the point of it all seems to be.  A day or two later,  drop by the news director’s office and say something like: “So I was thinking about the meeting and want to make sure that what you are expecting is ‘XYZ’.”  Let ND answer and then thank him or her and walk out.  Then try and do what was asked of you.  After a few weeks pop your head in and ask for a critique.  Yes, you will likely get an honest answer that could be disappointing. Most ND’s recognize that asking for critiques is not the easiest thing to do.  The willingness to do so will show respect.  Now this is key:  Don’t ask for critiques all the time, just when there’s a philosophy change or change in your job assignment.  People constantly asking for critiques and therefore validation are considered high maintenance.  Remember the first B is to “Be subtle.”

Now that you have a clear idea of what the ND wants, execute it and “Be consistent.”  Strive to do it every day.  Keep your head down and just do your job.  The ND will notice.  You may not get a lot of pats on the back.  But that doesn’t happen often in TV news anyway. If you screw up one day, the ND may give you the benefit of the doubt if you’ve built this relationship.  You just might set yourself up for a promotion or at least an opportunity to ask for better assignments during your next review.  Consistently doing your job is another way to show loyalty.

That leads to the third B, “Be loyal.”  Before you start shaking your head and thinking to yourself “I’m not a kiss ass” know this: That’s not what showing loyalty is about.  Loyalty doesn’t mean planting smooches on backsides.  It means not going into the ND’s office and throwing fits when you just got royally screwed over.  That doesn’t mean you have to become the news room doormat either.  If something happens that puts you in an awful position, go in and ask for advice.  If the ND throws something back at you like “How would you fix it?” have a possible solution ready.  Spell it out, then accept the critique.  Thank the ND for listening when you walk out.  You need to do this even if the ND is a screamer.  (click here for more on how to handle bosses that scream.)  Showing loyalty means knowing your ND is going to screw up occasionally and you aren’t going to rub salt in the wound.  You will forgive it and move on in the best interest of the station.  If you see a situation that might really cause a problem, like a potential ethical issue, call the ND and give him/her a quick heads up.  Don’t call screaming about how you don’t appreciate being in this position.  The ND doesn’t care about your feelings.  You are replaceable.  (Never forget that.)  Stay humble and try to work with the ND.

News Directors can be very inaccessible and very hard to read.  You may never know if the ND likes you or thinks you are a hunk of junk.  But, all ND’s appreciate loyalty.  All types of ND’s will eventually notice if you make effort to just do what’s needed and try not to cause extra headaches.  The 3 B’s will benefit you, even if you can’t tell right away.  ND’s have given me good references throughout my career simply because I always tried to give them what they needed.

 

New Boss: Sucking up without being obvious.

Many TV stations, like many football programs are constantly changing the “coach.”  If the ratings don’t go up quickly the news director is gone.  That means a new chance to be fired, since the new boss will want to make an impact right away.  First impressions truly can make or break your future at that station.  So let’s talk star power.

All managers have one thing in common.  They want staffers that do not whine.  They want people that can change and adapt quickly.  To prove you can do this, research the new ND and see what type of news philosophy was implemented at their last station.  Did the place do a lot of consumer news?  Did the station cover a lot of breaking news?  What was the turnover like?  Calling and asking for an long time reporter or photojournalist to dig a bit will be helpful.  You want to ask what the ND liked to see from the staff. What kind of story ideas got the ND excited.  Try and find out if your new ND is a big football fan or has kids or a dog.  Now you have a leg up.

Listen to the ND during the first few story meetings.  See if the ND is getting excited over the type of stories you heard he/she will like.  The ND will give you clues about where the place is going next pretty quickly with offhanded comments.  Most people don’t listen.  They should and you will.  Next, adapt story ideas or input about newscasts to the trends you notice from the ND.  After a few weeks try and catch the ND for a minute and request a critique.  Don’t say “hey did you watch my show/package. etc. that day.” Just say: “I am checking in to see if you have any critique for me on what you’ve seen so far.  I am looking forward to taking my work to the next level with you.”  The ND will probably say he/she needs a few weeks.  That’s fine.  You just want the early impression to be that you are hardworking and eager to adapt to this person’s style.

Now let’s talk personal connection.  Remember you have intel on the ND’s personal interests.  Use it to make a human connection.  Let’s say the ND is a big football fan.  When you see ND in the hall or at the end of a meeting ask what person thinks of some headline, “How about that new recruit?  What about that last play in the last game?”  You get the idea.  Don’t linger.  Listen to the response and walk away.  You don’t want to force it.

You also need to make deadline and not complain about anything for the first several months; even if you are getting screwed on vacation time.  Stay out of the office and let other people seem difficult.  The ND is overwhelmed the first few months and doesn’t need to deal with any “little” issues.  Fair or not, your vacation time qualifies as little.

If you are in a meeting with the ND do not be the first person to run out of the room at the end.  Organize your papers, take one more sip of coffee, do what you need to linger a minute in case the ND starts small talking.  This is a subtle way to start building a connection without seeming obvious.

Remember ND’s are looking for employees who are loyal and willing to work hard.  So when you are asked to cover an extra shift or work late, do it without complaining.  You will get a chance to occasionally say no after the ND has been there awhile.  This is a way ND’s test to see if you are a diva or a battle tested, nose to the ground journalist.  We watched it time and again.  Staffers turned down shifts or complained about working late and the ND made a quick judgment call that the person was lazy and didn’t appreciate the job.  It was usually downhill from there.

The key in all of this is being subtle.  This is like dating.  Give the ND a taste of who you are, express some interest, but do not overdo it.  The people constantly in the office putting out will end up being the ones the ND takes advantage of and overworks long term.  The hard workers that stay out trouble survive and end up with some time to breathe.  You will keep the ND interested in seeing more.  That’s what you want.

 

Stop the screaming! What to do when your boss is deafening and demeaning.

If you haven’t already, you will eventually work for a “screamer” in television news.  It’s just a simple fact of life in the biz.  But that simplicity of fact does not mean reacting to it is simple.  Screamers are alarming, and not just for the ear.  It means the person loses control in key situations; very troublesome when this is the person who decides your fate.  The good news is that the screamer’s boss probably is aware of the temper tantrums and hopefully takes them and any tirades about staffers with a grain.  The bad news:  The screamer is usually not forced to calm it.  So the verbal abuse keeps on coming.

There is an effective way to protect your ears and your ego.  The more the screamer lets loose, the calmer you need to be.  You need to consistently do this, during public and private tirades.  Screamers expect to unnerve you.  It is a control technique for bullies.  If you want the person off your back, don’t indulge it.  Sit down, look slightly above the screamers head and watch him or her pitch a fit.  Whatever you do, do not speak.  The screamer is not interested in anything you have to say.  The screamer needs to get rid of pent up stress.  Once the screamer is done, say “okay I will keep that in mind.”  Then go back to work.

Sometimes the screamer will follow you and start up again with insults or questions like “did you hear anything I said.” Say “yes” to the question and ignore the insults.  Later, once the screamer is calmer, you might be called into that person’s office.  Hopefully this is when you can get some constructive criticism and explain any extenuating circumstances.  But if the screamer has a particularly insecure ego, you will not hear about the incident again.

This does make it harder to learn what “old yeller” wants.  You can still listen to the rants and try and decipher the point.  Just do not lower yourself to the standard of the screamer.  You need to keep your cool.  That can help you if things get really out of hand and you end up in human resources.  You also would prefer the tantrums happen in public even if it is humiliating at the time.   Witnesses can say it was the manager who lost control, not you.

Finally, no matter how tired you are at the end of the day, document the inappropriate conversation with the screamer as well as any follow ups.  Include the time of day and a witness list in your notes.  Remember human resources must have patterns and documentation.  If you end up in trouble, you can use these tantrums to buy time and demand a formal critique of your work in writing.  Your case:  How could you be expected to know what to do with the manager screaming at you incessantly?  There is a case to be made and, again, you have to be able to show a pattern of verbal abuse.

Now the caveat for your efforts:  The screamer will become disarmed at your calm response.  The screamer will end up noticing how out of line he or she is getting.  This will throw the person off and you will take control of the relationship.  After a few attempts at rattling you, the screamer will usually learn that you are tough skinned and probably not someone to mess with.  You will probably be left alone.   In some cases you will even become the screamer’s confidant.  We have seen news managers develop a strange need to then constantly impress and please the employee that cannot be unnerved.  You might even end up with better assignments.  There is always another sucker on staff that will scream back or cry.  The screamer will usually become focused on that person.

 

Go to Human Resources or keep your mouth shut?

We have seen some incredible talent get burned by making the wrong choice.  First let’s spell out why human resources really exists.  Headline:  It is not for employees.  Human resources is designed to keep management from being sued.  It oversees hiring, annual reviews and station policies to make sure the company is protected.  This knowledge is key.

If you are being harassed by a co-worker, you need to be able to make a clear case.  If management is after you, human resources is helping the effort.  However, human resources does still give you options.  You just need to play your cards right because the deck is stacked against the individual worker.  If you complain as a group, there can be safety in numbers and strength in message.  This is hard to understand for many workers, however, it is the simple truth.  Also you should never go to human resources before speaking with your direct managers.   This will burn you because you are not going through the chain of command and giving management a chance to fix the problem.  The only exception would be if your reason for seeking help is a problem with the news director.

So when do you go to human resources?  The answer is usually in your employee handbook.  When station policies are clearly being violated you have the right to complain.   This often involves a manager that is out and out ignoring written policies, like approval of vacation time or denying sick time despite having sick notes or other required documentation.  This means you must have a paper trail.  Written proof of one incident is usually not enough.  You must be able to show a pattern.  Again, the best bet is if several people have similar documentation and it’s all turned it in over a short period.

Now let’s say your job is being threatened.  Complaints to human resources might buy you time.  Again though, you must have documentation.  Let’s say management is complaining you don’t always come to work.  If it’s because a manager keeps changing your schedule and doesn’t inform you, that could buy you time.  So, in this example, copies of the schedules and the changes that caused the issue could go a long way toward protecting you.  Also, check your employee handbook.  Usually you must be given written notice of schedule changes.  If you are told there are issues with your job performance, take a look at your annual reviews.  If you have several past reviews that are strong and one that is weak, you may be able to buy some time.  Request that management give you an action plan to improve your performance.  Then follow up with human resources if management fails to give you such a plan.

Human resources can also be a direct link to the general manager.  Weigh this knowledge carefully.  If you just hate a manager and want to bring the person down, a complaint to human resources is a serious gamble.  You need clear cut proof the manager is not following corporate or station policy.  You also need several others who can corroborate your complaint.  If there are clear cut problems though and a group of people are willing to stand up, your chances of getting help are much better.  Notice we said help.  Do not expect a manager to get fired.  What you might see is policy change or disciplinary action.  In one case we saw a news director forced to seek anger management training.  No firing however.  Still it did help calm the waters in the newsroom.  But you must also realize that this process does not always happen in a vacuum.  Here’s one final note to think about:  That particular news director may have actually been told who complained.  So, think hard if you want your boss to know you complained about them later on down the line, when layoffs or other changes are needed.