Steer Clear of Top 10 Performance Infringers

Photo: Howard Rauch By Howard Rauch
Editorial Consultant
Editorial Solutions Inc.

My previous blog describing a productivity measurement system drew plenty of viewers, so apparently the topic is of interest. So let’s continue.

To recap briefly, you need to determine how long it takes to complete each of six job functions:

(1) original writing;
(2) editing the work of others;
(3) travel;
(4) production;
(5) detail/administration;
(6) supervision.

In each case, keep separate tabulations for time spent on print vs. web.

Once you start this documentation process, you may find many time management hurdles are posed by administrative stuff. Don’t be surprised if any of the following 10 performance infringers are bogging you down.

(1) Avoiding confrontation. You realize a staff member will never get up to speed, but you duck a performance showdown. Typical rationalization? If you let somebody go who at least can do part of the job well, you must train somebody else all over again — something you don’t have time to do.

(2) Destructive criticism. Staff members don’t take direction well, or so you think.

What actually happens many times, especially in the case of article critiques, is you engage in too much “management by adjectives.” You will besiege an author who wants to do better with “advice” such as “this lead is unacceptable; go back and try again” … “tighten up your writing” … “you spent too much time on this article; you have to work faster.”

In my early years in B2B, I remember one guy who always complained that my writing wasn’t “crisp.” I was at a loss for a defense. The same supervisor had the habit of leaving a copy of my first draft on my desk with one word of constructive criticism — WRONG!!! — scrawled across passages he didn’t like.

(3) Mail-opening ritual. You probably don’t get as much mail as I did before e-mail existed, but the post office undoubtedly still delivers a bundle of stuff on Monday morning. In many companies I’ve had as clients, the “responsibility” for opening mail gets dumped on a junior editor. That person may take hours to finish a job that a more senior person could handle in minutes. Check it out!

(4) Unrealistic quality standard. How dare I argue against quality? Because with the load that confronts most editors today, everything can’t be a work of art. You have to find an easy way out.

Here’s a typical situation. When I was an editorial VP, our company acquired a magazine with an editor who insisted that every feature be a round-up based on pithy quotes from at least ten sources. In many cases, single-source interviews with authoritative execs would have done the job just as well. But not for this editor! Result? The magazine always was late. Nobody met deadlines. Every staff member complained about too much night and weekend work.

Well, we’ll probably always have some of that. But don’t contribute to the problem by insisting on making every assignment a labor-intensive nightmare.

(5) Hiring from the hip. Has your screening/interviewing of applicants become a rush job? Do you knowingly hire candidates hoping they’ll work out because they had all the right answers and great samples? Instead, do you regularly use a comprehensive editing test to confirm a candidate’s capabilities? Do you use an interviewing checklist you can complete as the interview progresses?

(6) Anti-‘floater’/intern sentiment. Many beginners just out of J-school may already be star performers. So don’t routinely stick them with all the clerical junk. They may give you a terrific productivity lift in a pinch.

(7) Outside interference. I mentioned this hurdle in my previous blog. Outside calls from information seekers clearly are time-killers. In some cases, you have to take such calls. But you can control the process.

One top B2B magazine in the marketing field had a policy that editors would be happy to provide information . . . but only between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When I was editorial director of a retailing magazine, we always were inundated with phone calls about market trends. Finally, we did a study and found that dozens of callers were seeking the same information. Once we realized this, we created an FAQ booklet covering most of the bases. Armed with this tool, it only took a few minutes to advise inquirers that our booklet covered everything they needed to know. Thus, we saved hours of phone work without being abrupt to outsiders.

(8) Production quagmire. Does every editorial staff member on your publication spend four or more days a month engaged in proofreading, layout, working with the art department, or whatever? If so, you need some shortcuts, especially if your editors do a lot of design. Inevitably, you will need to invoke maximum time limits for completing production tasks.

(9) Web work. This includes time spent writing blogs, e-features and e-news. When the Internet was still in its infancy, I found that most editors at one client spent at least an hour a day surfing websites for news leads for their publications. An hour a day?! Do the math. That’s five hours a week … at least 20 hours a month … or close to three days in surf mode. I’ll bet it’s much more than that now. Of course, there’s also the time spent pruning received e-mail. That’s a prime time productivity inhibitor that may never go away!

(10) Searching. I am still as guilty as the next person when it comes to shuffling papers in search of a document “I know is on my desk somewhere.” I’ve gotten better since regularly scheduling clean-up days once a week. But when you have a minute, do a quick mental calculation of time per day your staff collectively spends searching.

So that’s my list of performance inhibitors. If you have any pet peeves I haven’t mentioned, please chime in!!!

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions Inc., a consultancy focusing on B2B magazines. Rauch is the 2002 recipient of ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. You can contact him directly at howard@editsol.com.

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