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Failing Upwards: Jeff Zucker & NBC

The New York Times reported today that embattled NBC Chief Jeffery Zucker has stepped down.  Zucker was instrumental in Jay Leno’s questionable move to primetime last season as well as several other high profile calamities (Ben Silverman anyone?) in the network’s core programming. In a scathing opinion piece by Maureen Dowd earlier this winter, she summarizes the structural problems plaguing NBC. Zucker, an able manager of numbers, main critical failing was that he lacked a basic understanding of what Americans like to watch and political competence required to keep creative principles content in their work environment.

Jeffery Zucker tenure raises important questions for those in the realm of organizations. Too often management becomes seduced by the information produced by “hard data” and fails to pay proper attention to the more central question: are our core businesses serving their consumer bases? Anyone with a television in their home could tell you that NBC’s nightly programming wasn’t up to snuff, yet executives continually rolled out shows that would succeed on the basis of “cost per hour.”  This neglect for the viewer has come back to bite NBC in the form of depressed advertisement revenues, which has reduced NBC’s operating budget to fund scripted shows. This self perpetuating cycle leads organizations to employ a Hail Mary strategy- this explains moving Jay Leno to ten.

Mr. Zucker is sadly not the most significant case of someone constantly failing upwards; shareholders and managers continue to be wooed by the promise of success through the magic of numbers. For further evidence of this culture look no further than shamans of Wall Street peddling mortgages with dubious payment schedules.  To be clear, I am not advocating a management approach that does not use statistical analysis to make informed business decisions.  However, it is important to note that number-crunching can never substitute for enterprise and adventure. Leaders should focus upon staying true to their core constituents. Execute and the numerical indicators will follow suit.

Photo Credit: Arnisto