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Don’t Treat Your Staff Like They Are Conan or Leno

Don’t Treat Your Staff Like They Are Conan or Leno


By Mark Swartz

Canadian Workplace Specialist

Don’t follow the media strategy of pitting staff against each other publicly. Despite the media hits, it’s not motivating to employees.

What were the folks over at television network NBC thinking? They took two of their highest rated performers, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, promised them both their own preferred timeslots and style of show. When Leno’s prime time venture failed to pull in adequate ratings numbers, the bosses let Leno move back to his old job at the Tonight Show, while the younger, some might say brasher O’Brien was forced to make a Hobson’s choice: either scuttle back to his old role as host of The Late Show – which he’d waited years to be rid of – or else quit and switch to another network entirely.

Don’t Throw your Employees into the Ring

As I write this the two hosts are squaring off in a very public way. Their monologues at the beginning of their respective shows tell it all. Conan told his audience that hosting the Tonight Show was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “And I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life," he said. "Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too."

Leno aired his own beefs about NBC on air. He joked that “"Conan O'Brien, understandably, is very upset. He had a statement in the paper yesterday. And Conan said, NBC had only given him seven months to make his show work. When I heard that, seven months, how'd he get that deal? We only got four."

The host of CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman got in a few licks too. In a recent program Letterman jested "Isn't it lousy cold outside today? You know, they say, from the weather bureau, they say it's caused by an Arctic chill between Jay and Conan."

Making grand promises to certain of your prized employees – as NBC did to both Leno and Conan – and then pulling the rug right from under them might be demoralizing. Just look how feisty these two combatants have become. Sniping at each other like a couple of opposing machine gunners. Getting all sorts of extra publicity for their shows and the network. Boosting ratings so they can charge more for the time they sell to sponsors for commercials.

But you likely don’t run a giant TV network. You run a business that is dependent on the quality of your service and/or product. And that service and/or product is delivered by real people trying to make a real living. Here’s what NBC did to cause a stir. If you follow this plan you’ll cause a stir as well but you won’t get the positive PR impressions that NBC did.

Here are 6 steps to demoralizing your most valuable resources: your employees. (Don’t follow them unless of course you run a giant TV network.)

Step 1: Promise one of your best, most productive employees that they’ll get that huge promotion they’ve waited ages for very soon, as the person in the spot above them is being moved.

Step 2: Clap with glee as the employee who’s expecting to be promoted becomes even more productive as they try to impress you that you’ve made the right choice and won’t be let down.

Step 3: Move the more senior employee from their current role and replace them with the anxiously waiting protégé.

Step 4: Watch in horror as the senior employee quickly begins to tank in their new role, causing much gnashing of teeth and rending of hair throughout that entire department.

Step 5: Approach the transplanted protégé and tell them (cautiously, ever so cautiously) that you’ve made a massive mistake, and must now snatch their new, higher profile, better paying job from them…but oh yeah, we’d l-o-o-o-ve to have you go back to your old job.

Step 6: Pat yourself on the shoulder as the protégé announces they’re quitting and going directly to your main competitor. Hey, you’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars in severance pay you’d have had to fork over if they’d refused to take their old job back and you’d had to fire their insubordinate behind.