It’s become one of the most loved—and arguably most hotly debated—shows on TV. Now wrapping its 14th season, American Idol is one of few television programs (besides sports) that elicit such an emotional response from viewers who become personally invested in the success or failure of their favorite contestants. The drama among the judges and performers, coupled with the audience’s voting power, makes for riveting television. In some ways, it’s like a train wreck—you can’t help but watch, in awe of the chaos and carnage.
In some ways, working on a creative services team can be a similar experience, filled with drama and chaos that looks a lot like an Idol episode. The personal investment in success or failure, animosity over playing favorites, the harsh criticisms, conflicting opinions and priorities, and too much talk and not enough action can turn any workplace into a reality show nightmare.
Whether you love it or hate it, we’ve uncovered 5 startling similarities between your marketing team and Idol, plus a few tips on how to cut down on the chaos, drama and politics and devote more energy toward delivering your absolute best performance.
1. No one can agree.
Part of the excitement of Idol is watching the judges argue and bicker about who should go through to the next round, and when it comes to viewer votes, fans don’t always make the best decisions—there’s often controversy, contention and disagreement, and preferences are more often based on the contestant’s attractiveness than on talent. Sound familiar?
Creative teams often suffer the same dysfunction. Contradictory feedback from stakeholders causes friction and contention among stakeholders, designers and requestors, which leads to rework, wasted time and effort. Approval routing gets off track or lost in the shuffle, creating a bottleneck and missed deadlines and opportunities.
To overcome confusion and disagreement, effectively manage expectations by gathering all the relevant details up-front with creative briefs. Establish clearly defined workflows, including review and approval routing and proofing tools that make processes clear and keep work moving forward. Define and communicate dependences among team members, so everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them and when to move projects forward to the next step and prevent tasks from falling through the cracks.
2. Everyone plays favorites.
In nearly every season of American Idol, both judges and fans seem to latch on to certain performers, regardless of talent. Maybe they’ve struggled to overcome adversity or have a heart-wrenching back-story that endears them to the judges and viewers. But, inevitably, this favoritism breeds contempt and frustration among the other contestants and judges.
We play favorites at the office, too. Nearly everyone has their favorite tasks, which they always prefer to work on first regardless of their strategic value, or favorite requestors (maybe a friend or favorite colleague) for whom they’re always willing to drop everything to help out. Sometimes managers step in with pet projects that they believe should take precedence over whatever else is in the queue. This prevents the most strategically important work from getting done in a timely manner, which leads to contempt, frustration and bickering over time and resources and finger-pointing to pass blame for missed deadlines and work that falls through the cracks.
Eliminate the temptation to play favorites by clearly defining strategic goals and objectives and mapping projects and tasks to those objectives. Then, prioritize work that has a higher strategic value, and use those definitions to provide justification for time and resource allocation decisions to put an end to contempt and bickering over playing favorites.
3. Conflicting priorities.
Critics have accused Idol of not focusing on talent and putting too much emphasis on commercializing the brand and product placement. The show has also taken some heat for overbearing contracts that have forced winners to hand over control of their future career and earnings to the production company.
A similar situation can erupt in marketing teams, where individuals are criticized for focusing too much on specific tasks or projects and feel pressured to prioritize requests from certain stakeholders or managers. Workers are forced to hand over control of their schedule to others who assign tasks with little regard for their current workload, which makes everyone feel overwhelmed and leads to missed deadlines.
Overcome the overwhelm by establishing a single system for managing incoming work requests that provides visibility over the workload, capacity and scheduling across the entire team. It will prevent conflicting priorities, eliminate out-of-control workload and empower team members to control their own schedule and ask for help to ensure deadlines are met.
4. Too much talk, not enough action.
Idol judges spend an awful lot of time analyzing, debating and arguing about contestants, and many people tune in just to watch the fireworks erupt. But, isn’t this supposed to be a talent show where performers show off their best work?
Marketing teams have a similar problem. We spend far too much time in meetings, discussing, debating and providing status updates, and waste time reinventing the wheel on logistics for repeatable tasks and projects. But, shouldn’t we be focusing on delivering our best work instead of talking about it?
Maximize efficiency and performance by consolidating task management onto a single system that keeps everyone in the loop, in real time, and eliminates the need to waste so much time in meetings, talking about what’s been done or needs to be done. Create templates, processes and automatic workflows that allow the entire team to spend less time on busywork and more time focused on outstanding performance. Use technology that enables team members to collaborate within the context of the work being done to prevent project communication and feedback from becoming scattered across email, phone calls, messages and sticky notes.
5. It’s tough to distinguish between the winners and losers.
Some of the most successful artists discovered on American Idol haven’t necessarily been the winners, and some of the actual winners have faded into obscurity. Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood went on to monumental success, but runner-up Clay Aiken and 4thplace finisher Chris Daughtry have both outshined the ultimate winners in their seasons.
In the marketing department, projects often have similar results. Some are clearly successful, well executed and generate tremendous business value, while others tend to be huge resource drains with very little payoff—a flop that no one sees coming until it’s all over. Then, there are the “sleepers”—projects that no one expected to be such a hit and go so well, yet they’ve paid off in spades. The problem is, without a way to accurately track and measure performance, it’s very difficult to determine which are the real winners.
Deploy a system to track resources, expenses and lessons learned in real-time, to give the creative services team a more accurate picture of the winners and losers. By looking back at what worked (and what didn’t), teams can make corrections or adjustments as needed for continuous improvement, keep from making the same mistakes over and over, and ensure that what looks like a winning project is truly a winner.
Politics, judging disagreements and other controversies aside, American Idol is hands-down one of the most successful TV shows ever aired. Even if the chaos and drama is all-too-familiar within your office, by implementing the right tools, tactics and workflow in place, your team can focus on superior performance and rise to the same level of success, without all the drama.
Does Your Office Feel Like American Idol? 5 Ways to Stop the Drama