There’s one thing I tell myself to do lately: listen more.
I’m appealing to those of us who veer towards not listening or maybe those of us who talk too much.
As a leader or manager, we can often wrongly think our job is primarily to tell people what to do. That’s a very simplistic way of thinking on its own, but let’s just talk about what it means WHEN you do have to tell people what to do.
If you don’t listen, you won’t know if there is retention / understanding / comprehension. You taught or gave orders, they acknowledged, and you watched in slow motion as it got done wrong because YOU weren’t listening originally. YOU weren’t aware they just didn’t understand.
By listening we can learn and discover. Listening allows us to find problems and then hear about the situation to understand the issue at greater depth.
Often we don’t listen with intent or even listen at all. Listening creates or leads to awareness, empathy, and intelligence.
Listen. Think. Listen some more, and THEN ask questions. I often feel like I have to fill the dead space in a conversation, but perhaps leaving that gap open is creating for the other person to share an idea they would not normally or for the other person to think (it also gives room for YOU to think).
Sometimes listening is just creating the space for someone to communicate feelings, frustration. Often there is subtext behind that, and it’s great to find understanding when we can. We don’t necessarily have to solve every issue we listen to – sometimes people just want to be heard.
You could go on a deep dive with this concept and say that it’s not simply about listening but about being open. Be open to ideas, be open to people. Listen more.
I tried to think of what would be the opposite of ‘Move fast and break things’. Zuckerberg’s often quoted ideal is interpreted (or misinterpreted) a thousand different ways. I like the simplest interpretation – challenge things, try a lot of stuff and fail fast (so you get to the ‘right’ solution faster).
“Move Slow and Follow Rules” probably isn’t a good thing to automatically put in play – seems like almost a default setting we often see on most productions.
Move slow and you get less done. Sure there are times you need to move slow. You need to probably move slow if you are learning. You might also need to move slow(er) if accuracy or quality is not at spec. If neither of those are at play, you should consider moving faster (generally speaking, people could embrace a little more urgency on most shows).
Carefully follow your established rules and you will likely get the same results. Sometimes, you want the exact same results (assuming things are going well and high quality), but most times we want better results and linked improvement. You get that from small iterations, adaptations to the rules. You want exponential results? You better be ok with breaking some things.
‘Move slow and follow the rules’ is a good thing to tell the novice, someone inexperienced, or someone struggling with quality. Otherwise, I’m always going to recommend we take a good look at things, move faster and adapt.
Training in the covid / remote era is going to take longer and cost more – finding efficiencies and planning is essential
Often we talk about burnout and efficiency during the remote work / Covid era, but something we don’t talk about much is the significant increase in training time. It is a hidden cost that should not be ignored as the effects can greatly reduce the effectiveness of our crews.
Put simply – Working remotely increases communication time and transferring information is generally inefficient. Training, is at its core dependent on communication. If we do the napkin math here, it shows that training is going to see slowdown in most instances.
On our shows and what we are seeing around the industry, it can take upwards of 50% more time to get employees in training to competency. In addition to the learning time for the trainee, the people teaching the employees are having to dedicate more time to the effort, tying up team members and managers who could be addressing other issues. The cost here to the production is significant, particularly on new productions where there is large scale onboarding.
Here’s a sample of things we are missing: We do not have the ‘osmosis’ of employees being in the same location, nor are they seeing the cadence and quality of work of their peers in real time. They can’t lean over their neighbor’s desk or drop by a director’s office. No one can lean over their shoulder to explain a shot or a technical element. Strangely enough the ‘water cooler’ moments would also create lots of talk that ultimately solves issues. These all streamline training and reduce the friction that we typically see today.
We have not yet discovered any large scale solutions to apply here – instead we have to target new methods of training and create opportunities to replicate some of the circumstances we had in studio when we were all in one location. Creating online ‘water cooler’ areas where employees can gather, dedicated and more frequent small scale / digestible training sessions, and more tailored training programs can help alleviate some of the issues outlined above, but it’s never going to be as easy as in person training.
What we cannot do is expect training to work at the same speed and effectiveness as we had before we started this remote era. This is something that leaders have to push up the ladder so we get the appropriate support in place. We must evaluate and assign the correct time and resources and not create unrealistic expectations (which creates additional unnecessary stress) with the goal of supporting our teams to do the best work possible.
Advice to Managers – Stop monkeying with the machine
Here’s what I tell most new managers – let’s call it proactive guidance.
If a crew is running well and morale is good, then stay out of their way.
If you want to do something (if you feel like you aren’t contributing enough), then figure out how to make your crew’s life easier. Start by listening and watching.
Get them better tools / resources OR clear roadblocks for them. Often young leaders think they always need to be involved – they tend to micromanage to either assert their position or to feel useful. This is a mistake.
Sometimes crews might actually need training, but more often it is just a nudge that’s needed. Unless the wheels are falling off the cart, training may not be the move. Just keep them pointed in the right direction.
The skipper lets the crew do their job and stays out of their way so they can do it well. She watches the crew to see where they need help and continues scan the horizon making sure they are headed the right way.
Sometimes people think there is some sort of secret schedule, technology, pipeline, budget – whatever specific target you want to imagine is the root cause why a show works.
“If I could just get my hands on that budget…” Well, if you did, you would probably find a few items that were a small surprise, but it will just be a normal budget. No secrets – it’s not unlocking the mystery of production.
It’s the equivalent to saying, “If I just had Tiger Woods’ clubs, I would be much better at golf.” That’s an obviously ridiculous statement.
People visiting the studio love taking pictures of our schedule on the show, finding out how many crew we have, or writing down how many weeks we spend doing something – as if having that equation would be the secret. It’s not a secret. It’s just a solution to a problem.
Each production has problems – to critically evaluate each project and apply the correct amount of time and resources and pair the plan with the right talent, that yields the CHANCE to make something great.
Being skilled at analyzing and predicting allows you to be able to make these models tighter and more accurate. It also helps if you have put in some mileage so you have the needed references.
Applying the wrong model to a project aimlessly because it was proven to have worked somewhere else will typically yield poor results. If you happen to see this slowly becoming apparent mid production, it might be time for a pivot (if anyone will listen).
Get input from the right people when building out new projects, but don’t worry about the ‘secrets.’ If anything, it might lead you into a false sense of security.