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How not to manage talent: NBC’s missteps

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As painful as it was, NBC’s decision to say goodbye to Conan O’Brien was about protecting and increasing revenue, which is any business’s prerogative.

The network did make some missteps, though, in managing its talent:

1. Avoid defensive talent strategies. NBC promised O’Brien the host position to keep competitors from luring him away. Likewise, Jay Leno was promised the 10 p.m. slot to keep him from jumping ship. Neither was a proactive decision, made because the talent was a perfect fit with strategy.

2. Place big talent bets. Identify stars, then focus resources on making them succeed. Early missteps don’t predict failure.

3. Diversify succession risk. Is it expensive to have two talk show hosts in the succession pool? Yes, and it was expensive for GE to have three CEOs in waiting. But the strategy provides flexibility.

— Adapted from “Don’t Make Conan’s Mistake,” Marc Effron and Miriam Ort, Harvard Business Review’s “The Conversation” blog.

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