Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Left-Column Conversation: An Honest Exchange about the Problems That Exist between Departments Can Help a Newspaper Tackle Tough Problems

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Left-Column Conversation: An Honest Exchange about the Problems That Exist between Departments Can Help a Newspaper Tackle Tough Problems

Article excerpt

The best advice about running a newspaper that I ever received came from a business school professor.

Of course it had nothing to do with newspapers, but it had everything to do with organizations that function dysfunctionally. And newspapers have plenty of company.

The professor spoke to us during one of those retreats from the daily grind--a chance to break away, think, assess and come back refreshed ... until the circulation director walked in with a complaint about the production director who told me the newsroom never makes deadline. And I was back in the grind again as the good advice I received during my week away swiftly circled the drain.

But the business professor's advice stuck. And it has stayed with me both in and out of my business life. He encouraged "the left-column conversation." And if there were more left-column conversations in newspaper organizations, we would be making a lot more progress.

Here's how it went. The professor showed a slide with a conversation in the right column. The conversation was between a sales manager and a production manager at a toy manufacturing company. The sales manager was excited about the new toy scheduled to come out of production in time for that year's Christmas season, but the production manager was having all kinds of problems getting the raw material and making the assembly line hum. There was history between these two managers. They did not like each other. So instead of sharing his problems with the sales manager, the production manager just nodded and hoped for the best.

Production of the toy was never completed and the company suffered through a miserable year, putting it on the brink of bankruptcy.

In the left column, the professor showed the conversation the two should have had. Had the production manager shared the difficulties in that department, the two might have jointly agreed to approach the CEO and develop a solution--either get the assembly line working, or reduce the sales projections.

This led to a new phrase in my newspaper management quiver: "Let's have a left-column conversation."

It was a signal to the people in the conversation that we had to drop our defensiveness, loosen our grip on the power we thought we had, agree to end blaming, pause the "history" button and get to the root of the problem. A left-column conversation meant we were going to focus on accountability--with an honest exchange about the tension that inherently exists in an organization with multiple departments, personalities, deadlines and ever-present pressure for profit. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.