The Other Kind Of Excellence


What I’m sharing with you today is true of radio, but it’s also true of every other business. Your radio station is approaching an intersection. The light is green. Turn left, and you’re headed toward Excellence. Turn right, and you’re headed toward another kind of Excellence. Go straight, and you’ll arrive at Mediocrity. Most stations go straight ahead, because if they turn left or right, they’ll be moving toward one kind of Excellence, but directly away from the other kind, and something about that feels vaguely wrong to them. Fearful of what they’ll be leaving behind if they turn to the left or right, they plunge straight ahead in a counterproductive compromise. I’ve seen Mediocrity. It’s bland and boring and beige. You definitely don’t want to go there. Compromise leads to Mediocrity. Let me give you a glimpse of the scenery you’ll find on the left and on the right.

Turn Left, And You’ll Reach Excellence Through Planning And Execution

1. Policies will revolve around efficiency and the reduction of waste.
2. Processes will be streamlined and standardized to minimize costs and problems.
3. Few decisions will be left to front-line employees.
4. You will need workers who are task-oriented, happy to conform to your policies, implement your processes, and follow your procedures.
5. Customers will love that you are reliable and consistent.
6. Management will be focused on planning the work and working the plan.
7. Your success will be scalable because any need for talent and passion and commitment will have been replaced by systems and methods and procedures. (A burger and fries at McDonald’s is precisely the same at each of its 36,000 locations.)

Turn Right, And You’ll Reach Excellence Through Poise And Responsiveness

1. Policy will be to learn customer preferences so that you can serve each customer in the manner they prefer to be served.
2. Processes will be about going the extra mile.
3. Big decisions will be left to front-line employees.
4. You will need workers who have talent and passion and commitment.
5. Customers will love the attention you lavish on them.
6. Management will be focused on long-term relationships.
7. Your success will rise and fall according to your ability to recruit and retain excellent people. (They will cook your burger with the meat you prefer, the bun you prefer, and exactly the combination of condiments you prefer. They will call you by name as they present it to you and bring you an extra cloth napkin because these burgers are really juicy. They’ll refill your drink, ask about your dog, Alfie, and tell you about the special dessert the chef prepared when he heard you were going to be here today. Of course you love this place. It’s excellent.)

Never forget: Any time you’re moving toward one kind of Excellence, you’re moving directly away from another kind.

Are you old enough to remember the days before consolidation? Radio was built on poise and responsiveness. Do you recall why consolidation made sense at the time? Increased efficiency was the goal, remember? That was when radio moved into the planning and execution model of doing business. Consolidation was never about increasing the quality of the listener’s experience or the quality of the advertiser’s results.

Now that we’ve looked at two kinds of Excellence, let’s meet three archetypes. Can you figure out which one is you?

The entrepreneur says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” A true entrepreneur has an idea half-formed and a dream bigger than the sunrise. He or she believes that if you leap, a net will appear. They are confident in the street smarts they glean from their failures, and their optimistic future vision lets them see beyond the awkward “proof-of-
concept” stage to the glowing innovations that lie just beyond it. This was radio in the 1920s through the 1950s.

The leader says, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”A true leader is the passionate champion of a tribe, the embodiment of commitment. Leaders can be trusted to think on their feet, improvise when necessary, and infuse co-workers with their energy. This was radio in the 1960s through the 1980s. Radio had turned to the right — toward
excellence through poise and responsiveness — and the result was strong team leaders among the announcers on the air and the salespeople on the street and the ad writers
in the production room.

The manager says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” A manager is the guardian of the style guide, the protector of the status quo. He or she can be trusted to implement processes and ensure that employees conform to policies and follow procedures. When radio turned to the left during the years of consolidation — toward excellence through planning and execution — its leaders were replaced by managers. This is what drove radio’s increased profitability during the years of consolidation.

Managers and leaders are natural enemies. The manager thinks the leader is reckless and undisciplined and sloppy. The leader can’t decide whether the manager is a tight-ass
robot or a pencil-pushing sourpuss who was weaned on a pickle. Passionate poise and responsiveness are difficult to sustain long-term. Consequently, poise and responsiveness
give way to planning and execution, allowing systems and methods and techniques and procedures to be created so that improved results can be obtained by average people.

You see the attraction, right? Excellent people are hard to find, hard to keep, and expensive to pay. Average people are everywhere. If your radio station has excellent people but isn’t making great profits, you are probably a leader who needs to give up some of your authority to a manager. But if your radio station is feeling a little stale and out of touch, behind the times and in need of an energy transfusion, you’re probably a manager who needs to give up some of your authority to a leader. A leader is a highly productive troublemaker, an artist who knows which rules to break, which procedures to change and which policies to end.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”— Pablo Picasso


  1. Whew! Good thing I was sitting down as I was reading this.
    Then I read it again – and again.
    I need to take a nap.
    Thanks, Roy.


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