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In Chaos, Make Decisions like a Newsroom Ninja

I realized a few weeks ago, as I was trying to make decisions with my team about how to plan events, workshops, and classes for college students, I’d started chasing my tail, so to speak.

We were talking in circles.

Maybe you’ve been there too? Trying to make decisions about bringing back employees? Students? Virtual? In person? Masks? Vaccines? Testing?

With a dozen “what ifs” to consider and an uncertain COVID landscape once again, we might find ourselves unable to settle on a plan and then, make no decision at all. (By the way: that’s the worst decision of all).

It occurred to me that we might all have to dare to make decisions like TV Newsroom Ninjas for now.

What’s a newsroom ninja?

It’s those newsroom managers in every city, across the country, cutting through the daily 24/7 flood of information and making decisions all day long, sometimes pivoting minute by minute to move a fluid workforce of producers, writers, reporters, photographers, editors and supporting staff to fill hours of live TV News and constant stream of digital content.

During forty years of TV News, I became quite used to daily changing plans.

When you are literally standing in hurricane winds you can’t always predict what will happen next.

I realized, when I left for academia, and started working with business leaders, employers, HR professionals, well… the rest of the world doesn’t generally work that way. There are plans and strategies that can be made and counted on, executed over time, nearly “set in stone”.

But none of us are in that world any more. None of us.

Metaphorically, we’re all standing in pretty gusty winds right now.

So how do we prevent ourselves from being paralyzed by changing events and information and still make decisions?

This is what Newsroom Ninjas do:

  1. Everyone on your team has to agree to the concept that whatever decision is made, could change if circumstances change. Everyone has to be flexible. We might not like the idea that we have to change plans, but we all agree as a team, we will work together to pivot if needed.

  2. You start with plan A. Plan A is the best possible plan with the information available now. Everyone knows what plan A is. You start the day executing plan A.

  3. The team knows, you, as the newsroom ninja, always have a plan B. You know what plan B is.

  4. You already know what pieces of your operation you can move around, what players can switch roles, what team members can flexibly move from here to here. You know this in advance.

  5. Have a plan C. Most newsroom ninjas have a plan C, too.

Newsroom managers who fail are those who can’t make decisions or won’t make decisions in this environment, can’t move their team as circumstances change.

I have one newsroom ninja friend who says it’s always better to make a decision, than no decision.

No decision is generally the worst decision.

Inaction will kill the efforts of a newsroom and, I would argue, any organization right now.

Strong newsrooms have leaders that aren’t afraid to get in there and make decisions and move people as needed. Teams that know they have a strong leader, feel confident no matter what; they are pulling together toward the same goals and have a strong leader to guide them through chaos. They know their newsroom ninja leader is making the best decisions possible for the time for the team.

Strong news organizations empower their newsroom ninja managers to make decisions without a lot of red tape.

There’s a great deal of trust.

Will you implement plans perfectly? Probably not. You’ll get it right much of the time and sometimes you’ll miss the mark. There must be some leeway for that when you are in a constantly changing environment. Perfection is improbable. Pretty good can work. You can’t let the idea of perfection paralyze decision making.

Newsrooms are practiced in dealing with chaos. Most organizations are not, but it looks like we are all going to have to get better at it.

Stuck? Can’t make a decision. Dare to lead like a newsroom ninja.

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