by Tracy Johnson
Here’s some unexpected advice for programmers and managers: Treat talent like dogs.
That sounds strange coming from a radio talent coach, but hold on. Dogs are our best friends. They’re friendly, loyal, and always there for you. We love dogs, and we should love our radio talent. It’s not a bad thing to treat talent like dogs.
In my online seminar Treat Them Like Dogs, I compare the process of working with radio talent to training a dog. There are many similarities. If you’ve ever raised a puppy, you understand.
That’s why managers and PD’s must learn proper coaching methods.
These adorable, talented creatures (I’m talking about air personalities now) drive managers crazy and test their patience. Success depends on understanding them, and learning to inspire, motivate, and reward them!
Do it right and it’s the most enjoyable process in the radio business.
Here are the Top 10 reasons to treat talent like dogs.
Air personalities want to make managers happy, just as puppies love to make their owners happy. They really do.
But they often don’t know what that means. Smart managers explain clearly what they expect, then reinforce positive behavior with praise.
Psychological studies prove that it takes nine positive reinforcements to offset a single criticism. When personalities do something right, tell them. Reward them with praise.
Dog trainers carry a pocket full of treats to reward a puppy when they do well. They try to catch them doing something good and reward them with a treat. It works a lot better than yelling at the dog, hoping they figure it out.
Progress doesn’t happen at the pace we want or think it should. And it doesn’t match how another talent grows. Comparing a dog to another is frustrating and counter-productive.
The best approach for improving radio performance is to:
Puppies (and talent) love to learn. It inspires, motivates, and challenges them. When they aren’t learning, they get bored. When they get bored, they stop paying attention. Then, bad things follow!
Puppies learn with repetition. How many times did you have to work with a puppy to teach them how to sit? It doesn’t happen by simply explaining it to them. New habits have to be formed. And that takes time and patience.
Personalities require attention. They don’t just “get it” in a meeting and start performing differently tomorrow. Help them learn through repetition, reinforcement, and of course, rewards.
Puppies don’t understand complex commands or detailed instructions. They respond to simple words like “Sit” or “Down.”
And when a manager starts explaining complex programming philosophies or principles, air talent is quickly overwhelmed and tunes out.
Don’t get bogged down in details or philosophies. Explain why it’s important, and how it will work for them! Use simple words and concepts that are easy to apply to their show.
Puppies are going to pee on the floor. More than once. At first, they don’t know any better. Or they just can’t control themselves. When it happens, the trainer cleans up after them.
But peeing on the floor doesn’t make the puppy a bad dog. They just did a bad thing. They need to be corrected and taught better behavior.
If it isn’t addressed, the bad behavior will continue. When mistakes happen, make sure they know that the behavior is unacceptable. Deal with it quickly, then move on. Don’t stay mad and don’t bring it up again.
Puppies and talent require constant attention and monitoring.
Indulging a puppy produces a spoiled dog, which leads to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Remember, the owner is the boss. A dog “serves at your pleasure.”
Personalities need boundaries and clear expectations. They must know what is allowed and what isn’t.
Treat them kindly and fairly, but with clearly established expectations. You don’t want a morning show host jumping into a guest’s lap at the dinner table!
Some dogs are smarter than others. They’re capable of performing complicated tricks. Those dogs should have higher expectations than puppies with less intelligence.
It’s the same with talent.
Everyone has gifts. We all have strengths. Learn their capabilities and realize that personalities also have limits.
It could be that your talent is just not the right “breed” for your needs. Don’t try to turn them into something they’re not.
Experienced air personalities are valuable. But they present a unique challenge. The radio industry is full of personalities living in the past. Some personalities are still stuck with ideas that worked in the 80s. It may have worked then, but some techniques are outdated, ineffective, and just worn out.
They can be retrained, but it is much more time consuming and challenging than working with a puppy.
Karl Clausen (mornings, WMBI/Chicago) used to train dogs to run the annual 500-mile Iditarod race in Alaska each winter. He told me that dogs that have been mistreated for just a few weeks take two years to get them to the point they can be retrained.
If trying to teach an old dog new tricks, managers must understand it may take some time and understanding.
Trainers keep dogs on a leash until they’re trained to respond to the voice commands. It’s not to be mean. It’s for the puppy’s safety! But in radio, air personalities are hired, then left pretty much on their own to figure it out. That’s a mistake.
Young, inexperienced personalities usually want to do far more than they’re capable of. Programmers love their enthusiasm, and want to encourage them. That’s not good for the station or growth of the talent.
Start with a tight leash. Loosen it gradually. Eventually, you may be able to throw the leash away.
But if you let them run free, don’t be upset if they run away and don’t come back.
Have you seen a dog with their head out the window of a car? They love it. Air personalities love car rides, too. And someday they may give you a ride in a new sports car they buy with the rating bonus they earn!
When a dog is properly trained, they are loyal for life. It’s the same with air personalities. Treat talent like dogs. As a talent coach and consultant, much of my responsibility is training the trainers to get the most out of their personalities.
If you’d like to discuss how this can benefit your station, show, or company, please contact me.
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