Sunday, 23 October 2005

if pain outweighs gain

originally an extract from ..(Filed: 13/10/2005) Link no longer available.

Dawn Airey, managing director of Sky Networks

Dealing with high-maintenance individuals is something that most leaders will have to do at some time. I moved to Channel 4 as Controller of Arts & Entertainment. I was plucked from relative obscurity, when I was responsible for kids and daytime programming at ITV. I was offered the job at Channel 4, and I took it.
And there was a degree of outrage. Television, for all of its liberal nature and approach to everything, is in some ways quite white-collar, middle-class male. It has changed very tangibly over the past five years, but I'm going back over 10 years.
From nowhere, Channel 4, which is this great cultural institution, had appointed somebody who didn't have great experience in arts and entertainment, but had a good track record of being pretty commercial and shaking things up.

I went to meet all of my senior creative people and controllers, and an individual, who shall remain nameless, came up to me after my first day and said: "Well, I really don't like you, and actually, I really don't want you to be my boss. In fact, I don't think you're very good at all - I think you're a load of rubbish."

I said: "Well, that is very interesting, and I really appreciate your candour because I'm going to be equally candid back. I know you are a very talented commissioning editor, but if the pain of working with you outweighs the gain - or in fact, even if the pain equals the gain - I will have you out of this door so bloody quickly and don't think I won't, because I will. So, I'm very happy to deal with you as a high-maintenance individual, but if that high maintenance is not equalled by over-delivery, you are out on your ear."

The interesting thing is, we had a very good relationship from then on because nobody had taken this individual on in such a candid way and said: "OK, that's fine, but I'm the boss, and this is the way it's going to be." And he responded actually rather well for it.

The lesson from that is: whenever you put together a group of people, you're always going to have those whom you feel closer to. There are always going to be some people who are going to be a little bit crotchety, or they're always going to come at things in a slightly different way. Or, if they can be irritating, they will be. But if you work with a group of people, you've got to embrace those differences.

But if somebody is out of kilter and becomes really destructive or negative within the team for no reason other than they can, and they've never been controlled before, you just have to deal with it head on, as quickly as possible. Make it very clear what the rules of engagement are, and what the consequences are if they're breached. If the gain doesn't outweigh the pain, it's very simple: it's P45 time.