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Motivating an aging in-house corporate production team

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Timothy J. Allen
Motivating an aging in-house corporate production team
on Nov 12, 2007 at 9:54:52 pm

I've noticed an issue that creeps up from time-to-time with in-house video production folks, especially departments that have the same staff for many years without an infusion of "new blood". (new energetic employees)

I have worked with various corporate crews that get paid the same even if the quality and "timeliness of delivery" standards vary from time to time. These are typically salaried in-house video personnel that don't have to advertise for work to come to them - since it's often the only viable option for the corporate clients who want video products.

Sometimes, these folks do steller work. It's work they can really be proud of, and it directly benefits the company they support.

However, in my opinion, because the compensation and future of each Production Team member's job isn't directly and immediately related to the quality of each final program, it can sometimes be a challenge to get every crew member on board and motivated to invest the extra time and effort that's necessary to deliver high quality results within a reasonable amount of time.

I've tried to caution my production team's against resting on their laurels - communicating that even though we aren't directly competing against the outside world of production companies, we still need to approach every product that we do with a sense of competitiveness. Sometimes, we compete with visual and audio quality, sometimes it's pure speed. We ALWAYS need to compete with the overall effectiveness of the video product.

In this day and age, in-house corporate clients have options. They actually have more options than they had a decade ago. Ten years ago, if a department didn't like the service they were getting from the video folks in their corporation, they had to get a supervisor's approval to outsource to a production company. That meant that it was difficult for them to justify "going out of house" for many products.

These days, if a department isn't happy with their "officially sanctioned" in-house video production team, they tend to buy a camera and some cheap editing software and regulate those duties to someone in their own department "who understands them".

Yes, they video that was done by the guy in accounting might not be as pretty, the script may not be as clear, but there are reasons a department might choose to go that route. (It could be speed, quality, politics, etc.)

Do any of you have an aging staff that you really care about, but you need to motivate them to grow and get better at what they do - for their very own long-term survival? If so, how do you approach this challenge?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Motivating an aging in-house corporate production team
on Nov 13, 2007 at 4:41:10 pm

[Timothy J. Allen] "These days, if a department isn't happy with their "officially sanctioned" in-house video production team, they tend to buy a camera and some cheap editing software and regulate those duties to someone in their own department "who understands them".

Yes, they video that was done by the guy in accounting might not be as pretty, the script may not be as clear, but there are reasons a department might choose to go that route. (It could be speed, quality, politics, etc.)"

I think the underlying issue I see from that section of your post is that clients turn to such alternatives when they feel disconnected and under-served, that they are not communicating effectively with you. It's not always your fault, but you have to dig from time to time to find out how and if what you're making for the client is really meeting their needs or just meeting them "on paper". One of those "it's exactly what we asked for, but not what we wanted" things.

Too often, perhaps, the in house team just takes what clients give them and they don't challenge assumptions or ask deep questions. If they ask you to tape a bland speaker reading powerpoints on camera to an audience that can damn well read for themselves, then everybody says the video is boring and ineffective, whose fault is that, really? After all, YOU are supposed to be the communications expert. Why did you go along with making crap just because that's what they brought you? Did that serve anyone's interests in the end? Or did it hurt your unit's image, as well as not serve the company's real need?

I realize this is a dangerous area to deal with if your clients are not used to give-and-take or challenges to bad ideas. You have to walk a tightrope and be good at interpersonal relationships to not insult them. But play up how much MORE effective this project would be if they let you do X and Y to it. Play up that you'll take on the extra work it takes to translate the crummy powerpoint torture into effective communication, and that they'll still have approval control over everything all the way. You have to seduce them into trying it your way, the better way, knowing that when it comes out kicking butt, they are going to look like geniuses, and your team will be seen in a new, better light. You have to get involved in the project at an earlier stage, you have to get involved in the writing and in the outline and treatment stages. Be the creative partner, not just the mechanical fulfilment service. Mechanical services by themselves easily become commoditized, then underbid and finally outsourced.

Some clients just want more attention paid to them, even if it doesn't translate to more work getting done. It can depend on their communication style. I sometimes find that this kind of "needy" client presents a great opportunity to upsell them on new projects leveraged off the initial project. If they started with a TV PSA, they don't always realize I can often export nice stills and graphics for printed ancillary materials like newspaper ads or brochures that keep a unified theme and look. Or vice-versa, bringing the brochure to life as video. What about making a looping DVD they can use at their next trade show kiosk, showing the spot plus some extra text screens? Plus, I can often turn that spot around for the radio market at little or no extra cost, as well as post the spots on the net for them, which gives them another story to put out a press release about... and their message gets a wider distribution. They also get the impression that I'm actively working on their "team", looking to their best interests.

Because I am.

I guess my point is that even when you serve a captive, internal constituency, you have to keep selling the unit's abilities and promoting what you do, or they tend to "forget" you're around. That's when they start pricing cameras of their own.

The more informed your clients are about what it costs to do what you do, and do it RIGHT, the less likely they are to try to run off and try it themselves. If they think a camcorder and windows moviemaker is all you need to make the training "film", then there will be the temptation for Bob in Accounting to try and promote himself into a more entertaining job making videos instead of adding up numbers. You fight back with numbers of your own. You fight back with making them understand good video doesn't appear by magic when you push a button.

Finally, something inexpensive you can do is pick a client or project every year and submit the thing for one of those awards. I know, not everybody here believes in or approves of anything less than an Emmy or Golden Lion, but you'll find it remarkable how winning your client a Telly or similar award they can put up in their office will change their attitude.

It also gives the shop's creative team a little boost from time to time, to get this kind of recognition. Often, that's enough to generate a new creative spark, as they start actively looking for ways to add production value to otherwise humdrum material. It's an inexpensive thing to do and it works to reassure your internal clients that you know what you're doing, and they are making the right choices in coming to you for the creative and execution. The award is external validation that your unit is competent and your opinions carry weight.

After all, Bob in Accounting only has a bowling trophy, not a Golden Video Excellence award.

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Re: Motivating an aging in-house corporate production team
on Nov 14, 2007 at 4:50:06 pm

There are several things that I can see in my own workplace that can cause a stagnate or unimaginative in-house production crew.
1) lack of funds for training, equipment, software. Often times in-house crews get shorted in the overall budget and get stuck with aging equipment, older versions of software (or total lack thereof) and other tools. Outside post houses tend to keep up with current and new software and hardware offering in order to remain competitive.
2) video deliverables tend to come up last in the planning. I'm not sure I could count the number of times a client has come to me in a urgent panic a day or so before a company event wanting a complex video cut. The conversation usually starts with "we've been planning this event for months, and we were in a meeting yesterday and thought..."wow wouldn't it be great to have some video playing at the event"... and oh yeah the event is tomorrow". So the lack of an adequate runway for a project really limits the creativity. Outside post houses will either turn down the job or charge an incredible sum of money to accommodate. Video needs to be included in the conversation at the beginning of the process...not at the end.
3) lack of a "tangible" cost to clients. In house production (at least in the company I work for) is for the most part free. With the exception of booking a crew for a production outside of town and the travel expenses, the production services are free. This is generally why companies start in house's cheap. However, it is a two edge sword. The lack of a "cost" to the clients tends to lead to abuse. I've had quite a few edit session blown off by clients because they were busy, forgot about it, etc... Heck, it's free, why care. Or you have clients that are stuck in continual revision...often times in corporate environments, your client does not have final, final approval...spending days on a edit only to have it finally shown to the exec who has a completely different idea which leads to another round of revisions. In outside post houses where editing is charge by the hour, you generally have clients who have their act together prior to a session. Skip a session? Still have to pay. Need changes to an edit because you didn't communicate properly with your boss...sure, but it will cost you.
This kind of abuse can really demoralize an in house production staff.

my $.02


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Motivating humans ...
on Nov 19, 2007 at 11:51:13 am

Hey Timothy

Wonder if this is in relation to your Nasa crew - where you have some spectacular imagery and (it seems from the outside) story resources to work with ?

I'm not clear that motivating an in-house video crew is much different from motivating anyone else.

If they are valued and feel valued, if they are respected and feel respected, if they know what's expected of them, have the training and talent to deliver that, and have their performance closely and fairly monitored and assessed so that they know that good work will be noticed, appreciated (and perhaps rewarded) - then you're in a great position to ask for the effort and commitment you want and deserve, and to reach for sanctions if this isn't forthcoming.

As the manager, how do you go about assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each team / crew member, playing to their strengths while meeting organizational goals?

How do you assess their individual career goals and training needs, and make sure that your organization provides valued and appropriate pathways for people to develop their careers?

How do you recognize and reward exceptional performance?

If the team as it stands is not meeting organizational goals, how do you restructure so that in future it does?

As markets, technology and practices elsewhere change, how does the team keep aware of what's happening outside and plan and execute whatever responses it feels are needed?

How does the mission and purpose of the team fit with the bigger vision, goals and needs of its host organization - does the team keep this bigger picture in mind in its planning and in day to day activities ..?

All of these might be challenges faced by any manager with any team ...

On a specific creative services level of course, there are always issues of professionalism and customer service to balance up. To what extent does the team "give them exactly what they want", and to what extent does it attempt to inject professional skills, disciplines and input that internal, talented and professional customers may not at all welcome?

These are not always easy questions to answer. But if your talented and trained professionals (if they are not, why do you have them?) are being expected to wipe noses, hold hands, do menial, stupid or unnecessary things or accept poor treatment and lack of respect from their customers, then no amount of "motivation" is going to keep them happy for long. The good ones will go. How do you, as manager, protect them from such internal ill-treatment - fight their corner, and let them see you fighting it ..?

One last thought: I'm sure there isn't, but could it be interpreted from your posting that there's a touch of ageism at work here? None of these motivational factors vary much with age ...

Hope it works out.

The cialdini book I rate highly.

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Timothy J. Allen
Re: Motivating humans ...
on Nov 21, 2007 at 4:42:28 am

Actually, my original post was not related to my NASA teams... but I'm not going to assume that a similar thing couldn't happen over time - even there.

There's some advice you've given that I think would work well with any group. For instance, even with the NASA team, I think it would be worth the effort to re-examine how an administrative assistant might be able to alleviate some of the "non-production" oriented day to day task requirements so they can focus more on the types of things that attracted them to video production in the first place.

My post is related to some other corporate video groups, I've worked with (as a client) and it comes up because of a particular discussion I was having the other night with a Production Manager that I worked with about ten years ago. We were talking about the old days of big budgets and were discussing several challenges that we've seen over the years, and he commented on how easy it must be to keep a team happy if they are working on something that they believe in (for instance, a show that promotes a social cause, rather than an infomercial). He thinks that it's easy for the NASA team to be motivated, and for the most part, I'd agree. I did, however submit that "a grand cause" in and of itself won't sustain the day-to-day commitment of a team for an extended time.

Oh... and when I said "aging staff", I didn't mean physical age, I simply meant to refer to those that have been in a group long enough where "the newness" has worn off. I'm definitely not talking about physical age, and I've noticed that even the actual length of time that someone has been employed at a place doesn't necessarily affect the personal motivation that they have. One person can seem burnt out of a position in less than a year, while another remains energetic after 20 years.

I'm just interested in how much motivation can be influenced by a manager and how much comes down to each person consciously deciding how they would like to react to their own particular situations. (Intrinsic motivation) The question is probably more philosophical than corporate, and I thank you both for responding.

Thanks for the links, Mike. I feel most of the teams I worked with tend to fluctuate between Maslow's Hierarchy levels IV and V, which just goes to illustrate how fortunate I've been to work with the teams I've worked with, and on the projects we've created.

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Tim Kolb
Re: Motivating humans ...
on Nov 21, 2007 at 3:12:24 pm

I have seen some of this with various internal media production departments I've worked with over the years...even in cases where you would think that the subject matter would be interesting like (random examples) defense contractors or aviation. The bottom line is that the needs of these organizations just don't change much from year to year and internal clients work within that cyclic system and often don't have the time to "think outside the box" much less the willingness, and as mentioned previously, anything coming from an internal department tends to be given less lead time and higher demands, not to mention the "you can't be an expert unless you're 100 miles from home" thing undermines internal creative departments credibility inside any organization over time.

It's no wonder that creative ambitiousness tends to wilt under these types of conditions.

As far as equipment is concerned from a previous post, for the most part my experience with corporate production departments has been that they are BETTER equipped than their outside competitors, principally because their capital accounts are simply "reborn" every budget cycle and they need to spend that money every year. I've had at least two conversations that I can recall in my career with internal production guys who happened to be viewing some of my work who immediately spouted something to the effect of "Sure, if I had equipment like you, I could do this level of work...", to which I rattled down a comparison of the equipment we both worked with and almost down to the last light stand, the internal production company always had higher end cameras, editing systems, more updates software, etc than I did.

I'm a believer in outside work. Even the most interesting subject matter gets boring if it's the only subject matter for a production team. I think the key is for the organization to allow the internal production department to do some sort of outside work. maybe it's a sister company or a second tier vendor who needs something, maybe it's a community charity and the company can write off the department's costs. Whatever it is, I think that working with outside clients periodically is the key to honing creative thinking, customer interaction skills, and just all around engagement.

My two cents on the topic...

Director, Consultant
Kolb Productions,

Creative Cow Host,

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Mark Suszko
Re: Motivating humans ...
on Nov 21, 2007 at 4:17:24 pm

I agree with much you've said.

Another way to look at one aspect of this is, you can be a highly specialized group of people in a very small but exciting niche area. Say aerospace, but it could be something else. You would think that working around rockets and jets all day never gets old, and in one sense you're right.

However, if you are the world's biggest aviation nut and working in an aviation heaven like NASA itself or one of these contractors, and you are not allowed to work on or express certain enthusiasms of yours "inside the box", coming to work can become very frustrating and maddening too. Like a diabetic working in a candy store. Or living next door to Jessica Alba and trying to be cool about it.

Imagine knowing a certain project really, really well and knowing you could make something epic about it, but you can't because of budgets, security or company policy direction or legal issues or the like. But you get to come within feet of it every day. That's got to dent a man's soul.

Hopefully, you find outlets after five and on weekends to let some of that steam out in other ways. Pro bono work or freelance. Or self-funded.

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