Effective Communication

Communications men, US Navy WWII Pacific Theater
Communications men, US Navy WWII Pacific Theater

In almost every broadcast company I have ever worked for, there is always some communications dysfunction between management and the technical staff. It is perhaps, inevitable given the different cultures. Most managers come from a sales background, where everything is negotiable. The engineering field is fixed in the physical world, where everything has two states; right/wrong, on/off, true/false, functional/non-functional, etc.  Try to negotiate with a non-functional transmitter, let me know how that works.

Engineering eggheads often couch their conversations in technical terms which tend to confuse the uninitiated.  While those terms are technically correct, if I said “Радио генератор инвалида.”  You’d say “Huh?” and rightly so.   If the receiving  party does not understand the terms used, it is ineffective communication.

The other mistake I often see, which irritates me beyond reason, is long rambling e-mails or other documents that fail to come to the point, directly or otherwise.  Time is a precious commodity, waisting other people’s time with long needless diatribes is ineffective communications.  Likely, the recipient will not read the entire thing anyway.  If a person gains a reputation for generating huge amounts of superfluous verbiage, then it only becomes so much background noise to be filtered out.  When I was in the service, I went to a class called “Message Drafting.”  This was back in the day when everything was sent via radio.  The gist is to get the complete idea across to the recipient with as few words as possible.  Think: “ENEMY ON ISLAND. ISSUE IN DOUBT.”  Clear and concise, six words paints the picture.

The key to effective communications is to know your audience.  If you are writing a white paper for a bunch of MIT graduates, use all the appropriate technical terms.  More often than not, however, as a broadcast engineer, our intended audience is more likely station management and/or ownership.  Their backgrounds may be sales and finance.

In order to get those technical ideas into the heads that matter, a good method is to use the lowest common denominator.  If the general manager is a former used car salesman, car analogies might work.  The transmitter has 200,000 miles on it, the tower is rusting out like a ’72 Pinto, and so on.  Almost anything at a transmitter site can be compared to a vehicle in some way.  Find out what the manager’s background is then figure out what language he or she speaks and use it.  You may say, “But he is the manager, it is up to him (or her) to understand this stuff.”  You are not incorrect, but that is not how the world works.

Secondly, use brevity in communications.  Managers are busy, engineering is but one aspect of the radio station’s operations.  If written, provide a summary first, then expound upon it in follow up paragraphs if required.  If you are in a meeting, give a brief presentation then wait for questions.  Always have a high ballpark figure in mind when the inevitable “How much?” question comes along.

Don’t assume that the manager will follow through with your ideas up the chain of command, always follow up a few days later.  If it is important, continue to ask, in a friendly way, if there is any progress on the issue.

There are so many ways to communicate these days that failure to communicate is almost unfathomable.  One additional thought, if you find yourself out of the loop, find a way to get back in or you’ll find yourself looking for a new job.

Good luck, Mr. Voice

In case you are living under a rock and haven’t seen this, here is Ted Williams:

Homeless for ten years, living in a tent next to a highway and doing voice over work for $1.00 per line. Almost like working in real radio for one of the big three consolidators. Anyway, I can’t think of a more humbling life experience, he seems to have kept his sense of humor and I hope that he lands that gig, God knows, some local radio station could use that talent.

Rumor has it the the Cleveland Cavaliers have offered him a good job. Hopefully things will work out for him.

15 ways to (un)motivate your employees

Radio stations, at least when I first started in this business, were always upbeat happy places.  Even in the worst of times and conditions, there were enough characters around to keep things lite, even if it was sometimes gallows humor.  Back then, radio was an entertainment business, and who better to practice on then each other.  Working late at night on a crappy transmitter, there was usually plenty of company and pizza.  Even though the pay was low, the perks normally made up for it; diner or a movie trade for overtime, etc.  In short, it was a fun place.

That was then, this is now:  There is no fun in radio anymore, anyone who attempts to have fun will be disciplined or fired.  Here are fifteen ways to ruin your staff’s moral if you think they are having too much fun:

  1. Give the general impression that you don’t care about them, or better yet, don’t care about them.
  2. Slowly erode whatever benefits are left.  Start with vacation time, reduce it by 1/3 or more.  Force give backs on sick days and personal days.
  3. Stop 401k matching contributions.
  4. Make them pay a greater and greater share of health and dental “benefits.”  Make sure the benefits have very high co-pays and yearly deductables.
  5. Place the blame squarely on other shadowy exterior forces such as “The Banks.”
  6. If the employees really have you up against the wall, fire the general manager then blame him/her for every bad thing that has happened in the last ten years.
  7. Don’t give raises.  Make an announcement at the Christmas Party that there will be no raises this year.
  8. Micro-manage.  Make sure that every decision to do anything, no matter how small or insignificant, is run by you first.  No one is capable of independent thought or action.  Delay everything for no purpose whatsoever, just to show them who is boss.
  9. Fire all senior staff members because they are making too much money.
  10. Don’t replace terminated employees, rather spread the work around to those left.
  11. Continually ask the staff why it is taking so long to get their work done, hang around and offer meaningless suggestions on how to be more efficient.
  12. To motivate sales people, attend sales meetings.  Make each sales person stand up and state what their budget is, whether they are meeting it and what steps they plan to take if they are not.  Have the spread sheet in front of you in case they lie.
  13. Do not to any building maintenance:  Roof leaks?  Wear a rain coat.  Furnace doesn’t work? Keep your coat on.  Don’t have a coat?  Here’s the address for the Salvation Army.  Floor rotting out in the production room?  Watch your step, else you may have to crawl through the spider webs under the building to get out.
  14. Strongly “suggest” that all employees should work two Saturdays per month.  If you think they are not meeting that “obligation” harass them every opportunity you get, e.g. the men’s room, staff meetings, the hall way, call them on Saturday at home and ask when they might be coming to work, etc.
  15. If anyone complains, tell them the are lucky to have a job and if they don’t like it, they know where the door is.

Those are the best fifteen, there are many more.  These are tried and true methods that have worked wonders for my former employer’s moral.  Not so much, however, the staff.  Those poor bastards.

You know, when your job interview seems a little off, perhaps it would be better to seek employment elsewhere: