Don Imus Decisions By MSNBC, CBS Contains Key Lessons For Business Leaders, Says Leading Business Growth Consultant

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Yesterday's decision by MSNBC to stop syndication of the 'Imus In The Morning' radio show, and CBS's continued concern over their relationship with Mr Imus highlights a difficult issue faced by every business leader, and provides three key lessons for everyone who manages 'star performers'.

Whatever your personal view about Imus's remarks, there's a lesson here for everyone involved in building an organization, division, department or team -- learn how to manage your big dogs, or be prepared to pay the steep consequences later.

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As MSNBC and CBS grapple with the same problem - Don Imus's recent 'over-the-line' remarks - each faces a deeper issue: how to deal with the high-profile, high-performing maverick who consistently oversteps toe the party line. How the two organizations have responded contains key lessons for every business leader who finds themselves in the same position, say Les McKeown, a renowned business growth consultant.

"Every growing organization faces the 'big dog' issue eventually," says McKeown. "What do you do when a well-connected, high-performing, often charismatic employee rankles at perceived 'control', and consistently refuses to adhere to company policies and procedures?"

McKeown points out that this is a natural part of the development of any organization -- the very people who deliver success can be the same people who threaten to derail it. What matters for the organization, according to McKeown, is not just the 'final straw incident' itself (in this case Imus's widely-reported derogatory comments about the Rutgers Women's basketball team), but how they deal with it.

McKeown points out that while dealing with entertainment and sports celebrities can be a different process than dealing with a key executive, the principles are the same. McKeown sees three key lessons for every business leader in MSNBC and CBS's response:

1. Control your financial exposure to the 'big dog'.

MSNBC's financial downside to shedding 'Imus in the Morning' is much less than that of CBS, who are reported to receive about $20 million in advertising and syndication revenue from the show (with their affiliates estimated to earn the same again).

Lesson to business leaders: Dilute your exposure to losing a 'big dog' by developing bench strength and succession plans for such an event. Grow other parts of your business to reduce your vulnerability to any one or two 'star performers'.

2. Move swiftly when you decide 'enough is enough'.

After an initial stumble, MSNBC pulled the plug abruptly on the Imus show, even though they left themselves open to allegations of insensitivity by canceling the simulcast of a venerable (18-year) charity fundraiser hosted by Imus. CBS, weakened by their vulnerability to the potential loss of revenue, are at the time of writing reported as still vacillating over their final action.

Lesson to business leaders: Set clear boundaries for your big dogs, and make the consequences of overstepping those boundaries transparent and immutable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of reaction -- communicate concerns and consequences early on, rather than waiting until the situation becomes untenable. As soon as the high performers' actions breach the boundaries you have set, move quickly to enforce the consequences you set in place earlier.

3. Talk to your people.

The MSNBC decision reportedly followed on the heels of internal consultations with employees, many of whom are said to have expressed strong negative feelings about Mr Imus's actions and words. CBS -- unfairly or not -- leave themselves open to being perceived as more concerned about the external (read: advertiser) impact, than the impact on their own employees.

Lesson to business leaders: Sustained business growth comes from developing a cohesive, effective team that pull together to deliver your organizational objectives, The issue of whether or not to sever the relationship with a maverick 'big dog' needs to include an objective consideration of what your employees are telling you.

Says McKeown: "Whatever your personal view about Imus's remarks, there's a lesson here for everyone involved in building an organization, division, department or team -- learn how to manage your big dogs, or be prepared to pay the steep consequences later."

About Les McKeown:

Les McKeown is the President and CEO of Predictable Success(r), a business growth consulting firm that helps organizations get to the next stage of growth. Les teaches, writes and consults from his base in Marblehead, MA. His most recent book 'Retaining Top Employees' was published by McGraw Hill.

Les's clients include: Harvard University, the US Army, Pella Corporation, Microsoft, United Technologies Corporation, MI-Swaco and many others.


Les McKeown, President & CEO

Predictable Success(r)


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