Robby Greene | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Robby Greene

Background:  

IMS Productions is a multimedia production company based in Indianapolis with clients that include TV networks ABC, CBS Sports, ESPN, NBC and NBC Sports.

The Mistake:

Several years ago, some people who work here might have accused me of being a micromanager. For years, I went home at night and was just dead tired. I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t focus on my family, my girls. I looked back and asked myself why.

When I saw someone going in a direction that I had been before and knew that was a dead-end, or knew they were going to end up in a ditch, I would step in and correct his or her mistakes before they saw them or before they experienced them.

But, there’s some really important educational ground between the time you realize the mistake could happen and the time that the mistake actually happens. You often realize you could have taken another road to get to the end result.

I would constantly find myself in a project with one of my senior people and not explaining why, but saying, “No, we’re just going to do it this way. I appreciate it but this is how we’re going to do it.”

It stopped my people from growing. They only did what I was instructing them to do. They were scared of getting outside that box and doing things on their own. It created a habit where the door to my office was just this flow and flood of people because I had created an atmosphere where people were scared of making that mistake and wanted to make sure I had approved or signed off on something.

We do a lot of production work at live events with mobile units, including a truck that does all the Los Angeles Lakers games for Time Warner Cable at Staples Center. The last bucket that Kobe Bryant made, we were part of that. The car that rolled across either the Mecum or Barrett-Jackson auto auction that brought in a million-dollar-plus bid, we were a part of that. The checkered flag for the Indianapolis 500.

We’re a part of all these amazing, iconic moments in sports history. So much trust is needed to cover these iconic moments. You think about the level of detail that these engineers are faced with when they have a job that includes 30 to 40 miles of fiber optic cable running back to that truck. It is mind-boggling. You can see that it would literally paralyze someone if they were so worried about making mistakes.

I had created an atmosphere where people were scared of making that mistake.

The Lesson:

Now I think of us as a seasoned mistake factory. What I have come to learn over the years in management is so many people become paralyzed with the sheer fear of making a mistake. I’ve learned that you don’t get your best results when the consequences of making a mistake are overwhelming or scary. If that's the case, there’s very little that’s going to allow us to be as creative and innovative as our clients need us to be – as we can.

This realization came in a blunt conversation, probably as recently as four or five years ago, with one of my direct reports. It might have been over a beer when he said, “Man, I don’t want to let you down, no one does. I’m asking you this because you usually have input that we haven’t thought about.”

I replied: “Yeah, but if you’re just using the things I’m talking about how is your mind going to be teased to go further, to do more and create differently?”

At a staff meeting within the next several months, I basically said, “It’s OK, make mistakes. Ask for help if you really don’t know the answer.”

And we have done great things. We have great checklists for ensuring that when we go to do an event or project, it includes who’s responsible for what, when it happens and what was the expectation from our client and partner. We set ourselves up to win.

When new people join our team it takes a little while for them to understand that mistakes, while not encouraged, are allowed as long as you’re going to learn from them and as long as there’s going to be good that comes from it.

Photo courtesy of Robby Greene.

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