Coach-Don’t Correct: How Programmers Can Get Better Performance From Talent

Coach-Don’t Correct: How Programmers Can Get Better Performance From Talent

by Tracy Johnson

The program director was frustrated with his morning show. And for good reason. It was under-performing and there were a lot of things that needed to be fixed. And in one meeting we fixed most of the problems with one adjustment. The solution had less to do with changing the talent than changing the program director. The secret? He discovered the power of Coach-Don’t Correct.

I recognized the disconnect between the talent and the programmer before even meeting the show. Here’s how the conversation went:.

Me: How do they respond to your leadership in meetings?

Him: That’s what drives me crazy. They say they’ll change, but then nothing happens on the air.

Me: So what are your meetings like?

He hands me a stack of memos he sent to the show after meetings from the past several weeks. Each was full of corrections. You failed here. You didn’t do this. This was okay, but this was bad. Hmm. I’m starting to figure this out.

Me: How do the meetings go with the afternoon personality? (a terrific talent).

Him: Air checking her is the hardest thing I do. She does everything so well. In fact it takes more time to prepare for a meeting with her because I can usually only find one or two small things in an entire show.

Uh-oh. Got it.

Coach-Don’t Correct

The well-meaning PD was teaching the personalities to avoid mistakes. They had no idea what the PD wanted. Just what he doesn’t want. That’s not coaching talent. That’s criticizing them.

There’s a huge difference.And he was going out of his way to find those problems. This is, unfortunately, common in radio. Programmers and managers want to eliminate the negatives that drive listeners away from the radio. If we can just get rid of what listeners don’t like, they’ll love us, right?

No, not really. That is a ticket to the zone of mediocrity. And that’s a bad place to be.

It’s no wonder that most air personalities would rather have a root canal than an air check meeting.

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The Talent Meeting

Preparing for our meeting with the show, I suggested we change the approach to focusing on things they’re doing well. The positives. This is the concept of catching them doing something good.

Though the list of things that needed correction was long, I suggested we focus on one specific thing to correct and provide positive reasons for making adjustments. The reasons would all be based on the unique things about the show that they do well.

I wanted to find the most important, high-impact adjustment we could make. Then, the plan was to find everything positive about their execution of that one thing. Nothing but praise and excitement, with a few suggestions.

The response was incredible. The show loved the ideas, embraced the concept and enthusiastically tried to put it in place the following morning. We met again after the show. I was ready to celebrate and point out all the things that contributed to improvement. The complements were authentic. It really was an incredible change.

But the PD started the meeting nit-picking a small thing, demanding to know why they didn’t execute the plan in every break! And the air came out of the room. The talent shut down and we went backwards.

The PD is a fixer, and his management style is correcting. And it doesn’t wok.

Coach-Don’t Correct: Becoming a Coach

Coaching is a forward momentum skill. Correcting is looking in the rear-view mirror.

Coaching draws on past performance to inspire future growth toward excellence. Correcting is punishing for mistakes. Coaching is inspiring improvement by building on strengths.

I see this in air check sessions all the time. PD’s bring out the audio, play a few breaks or an entire show. They retrieve the pat, and focus on all the things that went wrong. And it kills the spirit of air talent. It’s no wonder they dread air check meetings.

Six Reasons Air Check Sessions Suck

A coach uses audio to build on past performance. A corrector uses it to admonish. It’s almost like punishment. Which approach do you think will produce more positive, productive personalities? Exactly. And you know that happy talent just sounds better. Right?

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It’s no different in teaching students, raising children, coaching athletes and training puppies. Nobody wants to have all their mistakes brought up over and over, rubbing their nose in it.


Of course, you won’t let talent keep making the same mistakes over and over. It is important to provide direction and address problems. The spirit of Coach-Don’t Correct is in approaching those problem areas.

Focusing on mistakes of the past causes talent to live in a world of feeling failure. Some can overcome this, compartmentalizing it for the good of their show. But at best, they end up with a negative attitude where they feel that no matter what they do, their boss will never be satisfied.

So what do they do? They resign themselves to being unable to make the PD happy. Then they either ignore their input or stop trying. They just execute the basics and hope to avoid the pain of that next meeting.

Fixing talent usually is a matter of changing the coaching style. No matter how annoyed you are with them, change your attitude. Coach-don’t correct.

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