America's Best Leaders: Q&A with Brian Lamb, president and CEO of C-SPAN
You also look for attitude about just life in general. I think in order to work successfully here you have to get along with each other. You know, we only have 255 employees and we put a lot of restrictions on people (for instance, their political views), and that's hard because think about where they're coming froma political institution that reflects the United States' political attitude at any given time, political culture, and they're told to keep it to themselves. So you said understand it, but keep it to yourself, so you're looking for a certain kind of person that doesn't have an axe to grind. And bright. The more history they understand, the better they are. And an enormous number of people that lead this place today started here 26 years ago, or 25 years ago, and today they're 45 years old, they're vice presidents, and they run the place. And they created it. And that was fun to watch, and at some point along the way I had to step back completely and say, all right, you're putting together an education department, do it yourself; you're putting together a field organization with camera people, all that stuff, you figure it out. So they built, and so they take ownership.
In this leadership business you can spew a lot of clichés. It's very easy to have a great deal of theory. But I've found that the more ownership someone can take, they more likely they're going to do a superb job.
Jim Collins [author of Built to Last and Good to Great] endorses an idea for companies that has some formal mechanism set up to review projects that you've just done, the idea being to extract lessons from them that you can then apply later. Do you have any sort of review mechanism within C-SPAN?
We have a significant review process, internally. Every employee is reviewed every year; every project is reviewed every time we do it. I think most people here really like that. I didn't invent this, Susan [Swain] and Rob [Kennedy, C-SPAN's two chief operating officers], invented this, and again, that's one of those thingsI look at it almost in bewilderment, saying, how do you do that? I mean I have either fortunately or unfortunately been away from that process, so I've watched it from afar, and it seems to work.
Can you remember any specific change that's come about because of it?
Yeah. We've done a lot of major projects, and we've reviewed how much money do we spend, do we need all those people . . . . I would say more than anything else out of it has come over the years that we've added more people than we thought we need in future projects just because. Plus I think that more than anything else in a world of technology, we have changed dramatically there where we have a lot more technology available than we used to have. At C-SPAN we used to do it with too little technology, and now we have a lot morenot significantly more than we need, but more than we need, so that we don't find ourselves with failure. Technology failure in this business is a real problem.