Are you making Conan O’Brien’s mistakes?

It doesn’t happen that often that a disgruntled top employee takes on their employer in the most public of public spaces. But with Conan O’Brien speaking directly to millions of viewers in prime time America is like a regular day in the office for the rest of us. This is show business, afterall. For some reason I have been captivated by the explicitly public discussions around Conan O’Brien’s departure from The Tonight Show after less than a year into his new job. In a brilliantly written blog post Marc Effron and Miriam Ort take a look at the series of decisions NBC and Conan O’Brien have made over the past couple of years that ultimately led to such a public display of resentment and disappointment. Here is what Marc and Miriam suggest NBC and any company that depends on top talent could have done differently:
  1. Avoid defensive talent strategies: Conan was promised the host role of The Tonight Show in response to efforts by competitors to steal him away from NBC in 2004. Jay was promised the 10PM slot due to fears he would go to another network. Both decisions suggest a defensive approach to talent — keep them because “they’d be dangerous at the competition” rather than “they’re the perfect fit with our strategy.” Talent choices should be made proactively and to hurt the competition, not merely to avoid pain.
  2. Place big talent bets: It can take new talent a while to reach their full potential. Give them that opportunity. Once they’ve identified their “stars,” organizations should focus all their resources on making them successful. Early missteps aren’t necessarily predictive of failure — it’s often just moving up the learning curve. A little patience can result in a big payoff.
  3. Diversify succession risk: Lining up successors against individual jobs is a rather outmoded approach. Is it expensive to have two talk show hosts in the succession pool? Of course — just as it was expensive for GE to have three CEOs in waiting. Yet that gave them tremendous flexibility when it came to replacing Jack Welch. Somehow, GE’s succession planning rigor didn’t seem to reach NBC.

No question, more than ever before companies understand how important it is to nurture their Power Employees and to build a culture that allows for top talents to find fulfilment while realizing their full potential. At McNak we have been fascinated by corporate culture and are amazed by companies when they truly get it. But what if a company’s best intentions still have to yield profit-driven directives?  Marc Effron and Miriam Ort recommendations can serve as an excellent reminder for every high potential employee:

No organization can make reasonable promises of future placement — you’re setting yourself up for disappointment trusting an organization to honor that agreement. In fact, that’s essentially today’s career deal. The corporation will give you an opportunity to acquire a bundle of experiences that have some market value. They are under no obligation to take advantage of that combined experience but they have the option to do so. If for some reason they choose not to take that option (or to revoke it) you walk away and apply those skills to an employer who values them.

What do you do to ensure that you don’t end up like NBC and Conan?

~ Dennis Wolff

photo credit: Debs


One response to “Are you making Conan O’Brien’s mistakes?

  1. There’s no such thing as loyalty in hard-pressed times like today. Jobs available today can just as easily be removed or diminished due to financial constraints. Simply put, you make yourself marketable in order to be resilient to changes. Survival of the fittest. Don’t become complacent because there will always be some one better than you.

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