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Leadership: Decision making at all levels

"It's not what they do when you're there, it's what they do when you're not there."

This adage refers to how your employees behave when you are absent from the work area.

Do they goof-off and complain, or do they continue with their work as you would like them to, continuing to progress toward team goals? Do they make good decisions in your absence — in the same way you would make them? Do the senior members of your team help train and explain things to the newer members?

The concept is simple: help your team members know how to make proper decisions when you are not present. Help them know how to operate within the spirit of your team’s goals. It’s the opposite of micromanagement.

It’s important to take time to explain each person's importance in the overall scheme. Let everyone know you are watching and gauging his or her performance. Be patient and take the time to help your employees learn and improve.

Take a page from the U.S, Army. Ideally, each member of a unit — from the top officer to the greenest private — understands their capabilities, their mission, their responsibilities and the assignments of the soldier next to them. They should be cross-trained in the weapons and equipment of the whole team. The reason: in case one soldier falls in battle, including the unit’s commander, the unit can still carry on the mission to see it through. Hopefully, no one in your newsroom will fall in battle, but there are such things as illness, vacations, doctors appointments, retirements, promotions, leaving for new jobs and stress leave.

Take the time to teach and coach your senior staff members about decision-making. If time allows, you can also work with the junior members of your team regarding decision-making. But if time is limited, there is a good possibility the junior members will learn from watching the senior members, or some of the senior members might teach the newer members. Stranger things have happened.

Before you get to the point of trying this concept, make sure you are confident your team members know how to carry out their basic day-to-day duties to your satisfaction. When ready, set some time aside to go over decision-making.

Play the “what do you do?” game.

Explain what your employees should do in specific situations. Play the “what do you do?” game. If you saw the 1994 thriller “Speed,” starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, then you know what I’m talking about. In the beginning of the movie, Reeves, playing an officer in a special police tactical unit, participates in an exercise in which he is grilled by a superior officer who quickly describes specific tactical situations and then asks, “What do you do?” You, as a newsroom manager, can get to the point in which you can do the same, using journalism related situations instead.

Your senior staff members should know what to do, your junior staff members should know what to do and all your reporters should know what to do and how to represent your organization when they are communicating with their sources or representing the news organization in public.

In addition, all your employees who populate your blogs and communicate on social media should be well versed in your newsroom’s policies regarding communicating with the public. Not only do you need to make sure everyone is aware of and understands these policies, you need to have these policies written out and distributed.

Each team member, no matter what level,

will interpret the plan and carry out their part

in the spirit of that plan.

Eventually, the decision-making process at all levels will become automatic. Decisive action is often necessary for success, especially during deadline. Your team will arrive at the point in which a plan or directive or goal will be presented, and each team member, no matter what level, will interpret the plan and carry out their part in the spirit of that plan. It’s much better than everyone waiting for specific directions coming directly from you for each assignment.

But we all know things change rapidly. Take a breaking news story for instance. As new information is uncovered, the necessary actions of your staff may change. Some reporters may be pulled off their previous assignments to take on part of the research of the new, ever-changing breaking news story as it develops.

Your original plan is the basis for change,

not to be followed in a rigid fashion.

Here is the beauty of this concept. Your original plan is the basis for change, not to be followed in a rigid fashion. As a newsroom leader, you must make it known that everyone from the most senior staff member to your greenest cub reporter or intern will make decisions based upon the assignment and their understanding of your intent.

To carry out this concept successfully, you must make sure everyone knows that you need his or her help. Their involvement is important. In addition, you must be a very good communicator. If you have to, take aside anyone you doubt has the correct understanding of the assignment or its intent, and patiently explain the task and its requirements. Ask them to describe their part in the assignment, if necessary. Once you are sure they understand, let them know they are an important part of the scheme and that you are depending on them to do their part.

In addition to ensuring that you are confident your staff will make the same decisions in the same way you would make them, take the time and effort to work in some cross-training so your staff members can step in for one another in case of an absence. Make sure they can even step in to cover for you when it comes time for your vacation. The effort will make your life a whole lot easier — plus, you will be able to enjoy a stress free vacation once in a while, secure in the knowledge that your loyal staff is running things the way you want them.

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