3 Talent Management Lessons From NBC's Actions With Ann Curry

by Chris Young

The Today show is an integral part of America.  At times, it has been a part of my life - a part of beginning my day - especially when I was young.  I fondly remember Jane Pauley.

I remember seeing Prince perform for Bryant Gumbel's last broadcast. I recall Katie Couric's rise and departure.  And I remember Ann Curry and Matt Lauer when they both were new to the Today Show. 

It is interesting when you see a square peg in a round hole...  I have always felt that Ann Curry was too good for Today - a "good egg" - almost too pure - not edgy enough - not polished enough - she was the "real deal".  If I met Ann Curry in person, I would anticipate her being just as real and genuine as she has always been on television.  However, she did not fit the job.  Matt Lauer, on the other hand - he fits the role well.

My twenty cents...  Ann Curry's kind of authenticity is not well-suited for the role of co-anchor at Today. 

NBC should have been handled this whole situation quite differently.  As in the case of all real life stories (and slow motion train wrecks), there are important lessons to be learned from this unfortunate situation.

Lesson # 1 - Never "mercy hire" or "mercy promote".  Never, ever promote an employee into a role they cannot do - ever.  They will inevitably fail and you will end up looking bad, very bad.

It would be interesting to know NBC's thought process in arriving at the decision to make Ann Curry co-anchor, I absolutely do not see the job fit they may have. 

Sometimes people are promoted as a "reward" or because to not promote would have been very awkward.  After all...  She was so loyal for so long.  Imagine the reaction if she had not been offered the coveted role...

Yet when I personally heard about Ann Curry's promotion, I thought - here is another "mercy promotion". 

At the very least, this was an example of "The Peter Principle" - where a person is promoted to a position that is beyond their ability. While Ann Curry was a "good soldier".  I do not believe she fit the role.  With the past history of her filling in, NBC should have seen that.  Perhaps they did see it but thought she would grow into it.  That rarely works.  You either have it or you do not in this case.

Lesson # 2 - When it is obvious someone cannot do the job, end it sooner than later.

Over the last year, there were many signs that Ann Curry was not cutting it as co-anchor. There were numerous blogs from the many "armchair quarterbacks" who felt that she was not a fit.  The few times I saw her, it was clear there was a lack of something.  I could never quite put my finger on it but it felt awkward.

NBC absolutely had to have seen the poor job fit and should have acknowledged this sooner.  Instead - it appears that they waited until it was so obvious and so late that there was going to be only one outcome - awkwardness and hurt feelings.

Lesson # 3 - When an employee does not perform, make the tough decision and take action.  Do so quickly, humanely, and privately.  Then keep your mouth shut.

When it is time to part ways - to let the low performer move on - speed and humanity are your friend.  Do not allow the person to flounder.  And for crying out loud - keep a lid on it - preserve the person's dignity - even if it means you look like the bad person. 

NBC failed to do so.  Rather than take the classy approach, Ann Curry was allowed to flounder, wonder publicly about her future there, and for team members and the public to feel her pain. 

To make matters worse...  In a Friday, June 29 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, NBC News president Steve Capus, hammered Ann Curry's performance as "weak" on cooking segments and celebrity interviews.


It only gets worse.  “We gave her a year to prove herself, and ultimately we came to the conclusion that she had played at the highest level she could...When you’re in the major leagues of our profession, you’ve got to continue to be at peak performance in order to stay there.”

A year?  Weren't there signs prior to signing her on in June 2011?

Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself... Remember Conan O'Brien?

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