For some industry watchers, it was only a matter of time. Former Fox star Megyn Kelly crashed at NBC. Media analyst Bill Carter said network executives might have been blinded by "glamor glare. That's the effect that sometimes emanates from a glowing-hot-on-air talent. It can lead to temporary loss of vision." It's been reported that Kelly's position in NBC's blindspot may cost up to $69 million.
After CNN posted “Megyn Kelly was never a fit for NBC” in a headline, I began to think about how one should counsel management. How do you cut down the “glare” and improve the ability to peer into blindspots?
It’s clear that one can’t hope and wish for good intentions to pay off. There’s work involved. “We need to use both the gut and analytical approaches to decisions, particularly for high-stakes stuff. And we need to do analysis well,” said Ken Shotts, professor of Political Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business speaking on matters unrelated to Kelly. Neil Malhotra, another professor of Political Economy at Stanford added, “Very high-functioning people don’t often understand that they use their intellect to rationalize their gut.”
So, pulling from my mostly successful track record in building teams, here are four filters for evaluating job candidates:
1. Find a Cultural Fit. Team members need to share values, and a common commitment to the mission and vision of the organization. It does not mean hiring clones. Diversity of background and diversity of thought adds important perspective and helps sharpen ideas.
2. Ensure Brand Consistency. While every team member is an ambassador, high profile individuals have a larger impact on the organization’s brand. Carter reported that network’s top news executive, Andrew Lack, “seemed seduced by the idea of stretching the appeal of NBC News.” There’s a big difference, of course, between stretching your connection – or modifying the organization’s identity – and breaking it. Obviously, Kelly’s scandalous racial comments crossed an undeniable line.
3. Understand the Difference Between Aptitude and Intelligence. Kelly is smart – no question. Carter, who said she was “icily appealing on Fox News as a solo act,” was a flop when pushed “to emulate Oprah Winfrey by playing warm and wise.” I’m sure we can all point to capable people who floundered in the wrong environment.
4. Avoid Groupthink. Groupthink is not just thinking in groups. Dr. Irving L. Janis, as a research psychologist at Yale in 1971, said it’s “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.” Bottom line: Avoid yes-people and allow alternate, even unconventional, views to be aired.
The consequences of overlooking these steps can be devastating. And I don’t only mean the $69 million “oops” in the Kelly case. There could be anything from grousing and low productivity to reputational damage and loss of business.
It’s true that people make or break an organization. Rushing a decision to fill the box is a mistake. It’s essential to take the time to plan, assess, and question when building a cohesive, ethical, high performance team.
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