Let’s face it, not every decision we make as leaders will be popular. How do we handle those situations? I was witness this weekend to an example of how NOT to do it. First, you have to understand the circumstances of the decision and this is the story. On Saturday, September 1, 2012, Notre Dame played Navy in Dublin, Ireland in what was titled the Emerald Isle Classic. This was just the second time this game had ever been played outside of the United States and it is a fairly significant rivalry. Due to the time difference, the game was slated to start at 9am EST/8am CST. Being big Navy fans, my family and I (okay, me..) were excited to spend our morning cheering our team. Also, in my particular area of the United States, USNA does not get much attention by the local schools, this was an opportunity for the area to get to see more of the Naval Academy (in propaganda form). I checked the local guide the night before to make sure I knew the right time and channel for the next day. After waking up with the kids and making homemade cinnamon rolls, we were ready to go however instead of the advertised Notre Dame vs. Navy football game; we were subjected to Doodlebops and all of the other morning cartoons. I voiced my displeasure via email to my local television station and via Facebook. What happened next was amazing, shortly after I got done pouting (not really) there was an announcement posted on the local television station’s Facebook page from the president and general manager explaining his decision making in pre-empting the football game. He explained that the FCC has rules regarding how much air time must be devoted to children’s shows and to other programming. He specifically stated that “we can’t please everyone” therefore he chose to keep the regular Saturday morning family viewers happy and not air the game.
The power of the internet is underestimated. From what I could gather from the president’s message, there were A LOT of upset Notre Dame fans which stands to reason since there are only about 6 Navy fans in this region. There was an immediate and immense response on both sides of the issue. There were emotions running high on this particular topic which was amazing to watch. There were comments related to the failure of the television station to broadcast something that was unavailable on any other channel while children’s shows were readily accessible all over the stations. Opposing those comments were the people who believed children’s Saturday morning programming was critical to family happiness and to let the kids watch their shows. There were direct questions to the president asking why all of the other regional affiliates neighboring our region were able to handle the FCC guidelines and air the game. The response was so powerful, the president of the station turned off the children’s shows an hour early to turn on the game (time delayed) however that decision upset the people who were waiting to watch the US Open Tennis match, then he turned off the game and went back to tennis.
The president of the station was right, we can’t please everyone all the time. In fact, sometimes we have to make choices that we know will make at least a section of our customers unhappy. The mistake the president made was not to communicate this change. Number one issue – the programming guide stated the game would be aired. That set up the expectation by the customers (including me) that the game would be on at the scheduled time. When it was not shown, with no explanation as to why, I was disappointed and confused which led to a more emotional response. It was only after there was a large backlash by the people that there was any notification or communication regarding the programming change. This made the president look foolish and the television station was railed against on the internet.
In this case, the president had every right to make the choice he did but the failure was the lack of communication to the customers. Maybe he underestimated the popularity of the game or the response by the people but the consequence of his actions means his television station took a big hit in confidence and support in this area. What should have happened was a correction in the scheduling guide or at least earlier notice through social media to alert people. This particular example shows when there is an expectation that is not delivered upon, the response is always negative. Not that people would have agreed with his decision had he communicated it earlier, but the credibility of the station would not have been damaged as much as it was.
CEO, The Professional Development Team