SID GUEL /
08.15.2011 04:45 PM
Automation
When automating your facililty means reducing staff, here are some guidelines to help you through this difficult process.

Broadcasting and the production of content are complex enough. With 24/7 operations and 100- percent uptime requirements, any changes to a broadcast operation must be planned and carefully implemented. The affects of change go even higher when people must embrace new work flows.

Automating the production and distribution of content, by definition, has a direct effect on people. While it's important that a broadcaster remain up-to-date with modern technology, there is often an elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about — how staff and personnel will react to automation, especially when that often results in staff reductions. Fortunately, with careful planning and implementation, staff expectations can be managed while the facility reaches the goals set by management.

The ultimate goal

When upper management and the ownership of a broadcast facility decide to modernize their operations, there are hundreds of issues to consider and resolve. How much will this new technology cost? How long will it take to get a return on the investment? Will operating costs be lower? If so, by how much? Who will be affected by the new workflow?

All of these are legitimate concerns and issues that must be addressed. The often complex path to success begins with setting a goal. Ask: Where do you want to be at the end of this process?

Planning is king

Once you've established the goal, the next logical step is the planning. Thoughtful and methodical planning is just plain smart. Like any technology project, planning must include a time line with a start time, end time, and multiple benchmarks and milestones along the way.

When a project affects people, a whole new dimension of complexity is created. Leaving out the effect that change may have on staff is a sure-fire way to create trouble.

Mangement must be on-board

When managing factors involving personnel, management must be on-board with the plan and how it affects their employees. Voicing concerns and advocating for or against employee concerns are acceptable debate topics and a helpful part of this process.

At the end of the debate, however, all members of the management team must be in-line and on-board with the final decisions made. While some may not be happy with the decisions made, the result should be what is best for the business.

Manage personnel changes early

After planning and team buy-in, personnel issues should be the first item considered. Ask: Which current positions will be affected? It's important to identify which staff members are capable or not capable of operating a complex automation system.

Resolving personnel changes prior to a physical automation implementation will clearly promote the seriousness of the situation. Resolving personnel changes early in the transition process may also deter unwanted retribution. Give staff, union leadership and employee representatives an early heads up when personnel changes are to be made.

Stick to your plan

Once management agrees on a plan, it's important to stick with it and not vary from the original goals. There will always be unexpected twists and turns, but the result should always be the original goal. Personnel issues are the most sensitive, so humility and respectfulness are important during this process. But, stick to the plan and always have the goal at the forefront of your thinking and when you speak with personnel.

Obtain legal protection

A professional labor attorney is a must for any personnel reductions. Management must ensure a legal due process is followed, one that prevents causing a liability for the company. Labor and employment law firms have the knowledge and experience to minimize risk and ensure a legal process for the protection of all parties involved. The last thing a broadcaster, or a personnel member for that matter, wants is to end up in a costly and drawn-out legal skirmish.

Having a knowledgeable firm involved from day one will help with the dotting of all the i's and the crossing of all the t's. Legal counsel can guide the process and make clear what the boundaries are and advise on the legal process. For example, a broadcaster may consider eliminating a position versus a general lay-off. Changing the terminology can sometimes avoid legal issues. Terms like “evaluation” and “position elimination” may be less likely to result in conflicts than if the changes are called termination. The result may be the same, but words often carry important weight.

Hire a third-party consultant

Hiring an outside broadcast automation consultant may be beneficial. This may be especially so if personnel and management relations are frayed and suspicions run high. In most cases, broadcasters are sensitive to personnel changes and want a fair and unbiased process for both management and personnel. A knowledgeable and independent broadcast automation consultant can provide a fair assessment without burdening the broadcaster or the automation manufacturer with this sensitive task or liability.

A professional consultant can create a program for properly evaluating a team of broadcast engineers and/or operators to determine competency and capability in operating a complex automation system. The consultant should have the ability to identify those who are able to be trained in a reasonable and efficient manner. A competent broadcast automation consultant will work with management to establish a variety of evaluation criteria parameters and also a scoring mechanism. Having this professional working together, and in parallel, with a broadcaster's legal counsel can ensure a fair, proper and legal process is followed.

When selecting a broadcast automation consultant, seek a consultant with extensive knowledge and expertise with broadcast automation systems. Look for consultants who have experience with installing systems, training engineers/operators and project management.

Be respectful and sensitive

Staff members clearly want to keep their jobs. Conversely, management is looking to reduce operating costs. Regardless of a staff member's personality, once you peel back a few layers, you'll find a real human being whose life is about to change. Stick to your goals and plans. but be mindful of how changes may affect your people.

Provide multiple options

For station management, having multiple options for staff and personnel make this process a little easier. A serious tone and multiple options can help employees understand the gravity of the situation and the career options that are offered. Such choices may include for example, early retirement, job buyouts or simply moving an employee to another position within the same facility or company. The more options you make available for affected employees, the less conflict that will develop — and the easier this difficult process becomes.

At the end of the day

Planning a legal and fair process and procedure early on is a must. All needed parties must be together at the table as part of the planning process. Constant communication is critical. All plans should have time lines set with notable milestones.

Affected personnel should be notified as soon as possible. Keeping staff informed will prove to be successful in the end. Expect unexpected twists and turns. Be firm, however, and stay focused on the goal.

Not everyone is going to be 100-percent happy. For affected personnel, due process is important.

At the end of the day, it's all about doing what it takes to keep the business profitable. At the same time, finding respectable solutions for affected staff is equally as important.

Sid Guel is the president and founder of Broadcast Automation Consulting.



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