Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"High station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace." Tennessee Williams

"There is an audience for every play; it's just that sometimes it can't wait long enough to find it." Shirley Booth

"No pleasure lasts long unless there is variety in it." Publilius Syrus

Today's image: Test pic #9 by Dave Winer. Very cool shot. Thanks for sharing.

The show must go on

Succession planning is difficult. It's one of the only mission critical tasks that consistently gets a pass until it becomes a high priority, one of obvious and serious urgency. We should get around to that someday becoming What are we going to do now?

The sudden and unexpected loss of the very gifted, hard working and successful Tim Russert serves as a perfect illustration.

As a practical matter, Tim was an incredible talent and a strong leader who held four key posts at NBC News.

Wendy Wilkinson, already on staff, would appear the person most deserving to be named NBC's D.C. bureau chief, one of Tim's responsibilities.

But who is best qualified to serve as the next managing editor and moderator of Meet The Press? Who is the person that can also contribute to the other news division shows as chief political correspondent (and advise parent GE on relevant political matters)? Finally, who is the executive that can serve as effective advocate for political news when dealing with New York.

No doubt, Tim Russert was that most rare of once in a generation broadcasters but the show must go on. Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker have a big, complicated hiring and potential major reorganization on their hands. They'll need to do a job equal to that once done by Michael Gartner in hiring Tim (likely a mission impossible).

Waiting until you need to find someone is never the best strategy. The odds are against you especially when timing is no longer on your side. Succession planning deserves to be a priority on the agenda of every manager before need presents. It's consistently the one must-do that managers just don't do. The unexpected happens and it happens to the best of managers. The failure to develop a solid succession plan twice worked against CBS in recent years. Howard Stern and Dan Rather.

Five suggestions.

1. Champion human resources development. Every person on your team deserves the opportunity to realize their full potential. Develop the people who develop your profits. Exhibit A: Meet The Press EP Betsy Fischer started as an intern on the show seventeen years ago.

2. Make it a requirement. To be eligible for promotion people must have trained and/or identified (and be in contact with) one or more qualified replacements.

3. Formalize succession planning. Make it part of the annual business planning process. Establish timed objectives with delayed incentives for effective implementation (i.e., Identify candidates by dates certain, pay bonuses when actually faced with a need that the plan resolves).

4. Adopt the practice of continuous recruitment. No matter how strong the short list developed continue to network and search for qualified candidates, especially high potential candidates.

5. Keep score. At the end of every week ask yourself "If the airplane went down and [Dave Martin] didn't come back from vacation do we have at least two good candidates ready, willing and legally available to talk with us about [Dave's] job? Whom is [Dave] now training to take his place?" Keep a scorecard listing all your players, grade yourself. How ready are you this week? No, really, this week, right now, how ready are you?

Plan now for the show to go on later. Finding people is made easy when you're looking for them before you need them. Pay no attention to those who would have you (and their bosses) believe "There's no one out there," they're out there and you're paid to find, develop, retain and someday replace them. As the great Paul Drew taught "Planning affords the best ROI."

[Related: Timesmen Bill Carter and Jacques Steinberg write With Tim Russert's Death, NBC Must Replace a Man of Many Roles here and David Carr writes The Media Equation - In Mourning for a Man and his Era, here. WaPo's Eugene Robinson writes The Outsider's Insider here. The story all insiders are talking about - news of Tim's death broke not on NBC but on Wikipedia - BW's Jon Fine w/more here.]

Word to the wise: Don't write another liner, produce another promo or create another ad until you read this PDF. Thank me later.

The responsive chord: Tony Schwartz passes. [Obit, NYT]

Local, local, local: outside.in bows Radar (in preview here)

Grapes: Favorable exchange rates (1 USD = 3.04 ARS) continue to make the wines of Argentina exceptionally good values. Budini, Malbec 2006 (Mendoza). A good red under $10, drinks like a $25 wine.

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