Have you heard about the latest management movement? It’s called “Agile” (but it can also be called “Scrum”).
Actually, to be more accurate, there’s “management” and then there’s “Agile.” They are not one in the same. Another way to picture them is one is a vertical style of management and the other is a horizontal style of operating.
The vertical style is familiar to anyone working in one of today’s highly consolidated public radio companies that own hundreds of stations. The top of the management pyramid says “jump” and the troops respond with “how high?” You may also find that the company circulates a “Best Practices” manual and wants every station to implement it even though a person on the front lines may wonder if these are “best practices” in their particular case.
The military model was the genesis of the vertical style of management. New York City’s tall vertical skyscrapers are literal structures of top-down management.
Then I started reading about Agile. Agile is a horizontal mindset. Everyone in a company is working towards the same goals and on an equal plane. The planning and execution is a shared endeavor all designed with one goal in mine and that is to delight a customer.
While both vertical and horizontal styles are business models and the purpose of a business is to create a customer (and ultimately a profit), the radical difference is vertical puts that profit goal front and center and has everyone focused on achieving that goal. The horizontal style says if we delight our customers, then the profits will follow. The customer is front and center and the focus of everyone who works at the company.
I’ve worked with couple of the big consolidators and I’ve heard the CEO’s message of how much the stakeholders had invested in the company and how we all needed to be focused on reaching or exceeding our goals.
But that’s not the style of radio I entered. Back in my early days, the radio station; often owned by folks who lived and were active in the community, the focus was on our listeners and our advertisers. Everyone in the radio station worked towards the same goals of delighting our two constituencies.
We didn’t call it “Agile” or “Scrum” but doing GREAT radio and operating in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity. OK, not to get too Pollyanna, there was a vertical structure of sorts – a GM, PD, SM – but we all worked side-by-side in the same building and everyone did whatever was needed to be done to delight our customers. It was a team effort. It was a horizontal style of operating.
What changed was the Telcom Act of 1996. That new law would change the face of radio through massive consolidation of radio stations. All of these little horizontal operating enterprises would be stacked one on top of another until we had a vertical style of operating. Now a group of folks would declare they were “the adults in the room” and start passing out thumb drives filled with spreadsheets full of revenue goals.
Nowhere were there discussions of delighting the customers.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has made it abundantly clear that Apple is not always going to do things that simply fatten the bottom line and that if you are an investor in Apple that doesn’t like that way of operating, maybe you should invest your money someplace else. Apple is going to delight the customer – as Steve Jobs so simply stated – by making insanely great products.
How’s that focus on the customer working out for Apple? Very well, thank you. Apple has posted the largest net quarterly profit in history. Not in just Apple’s history but in the history of the world.
Radio is a fabulous business! Radio entertains, informs and is there in times of emergencies to hold a community together. But radio performs best when it is operated horizontally and not vertically.
Mary Meeker in her most recent “Internet Trends report at Re/Code” had a slide in her 180-slide deck that spoke most passionately I think to this concept of operating horizontally. That slide was titled “Diversity Matters….It’s Just Good Business” and here is what the body copy of the slide said:
“One of the things I have learned about effective decision making is that the best decisions are often made by diverse groups of people.
Saying or hearing these words is magic…..
‘That’s really interesting. I had never thought of that way before. Thank you.’”
That sure sounds to me like Mary was making a plea for companies to re-think how they operate and level the playing field by moving to a horizontal style of operating.
The reason the radio industry was so attractive to Wall Street investors was because it was a high cash flowing business that appeared easy to operate.
My roller skating coach used to tell me “Dick when you make it look easy, then you’re doing it right.” Radio used to be doing it right. It’s really a lot harder than it looks. It’s time to go back to that way of operating.
OR – you can continue doing things the way you did last year and watch “flat revenue growth be the new up.” Doesn’t sound like the radio industry has much to lose by changing their ways.
The good news is there are radio operators who are returning to the business that see the opportunities in the horizontal approach to radio station operations. It’s a movement that will not only be good for the radio industry but the listeners and advertisers served by the industry.
It’s called Win-Win-Win.