Lorne Michaels on Organizational Health

How does a show remain relevant for almost 40 with a revolving cast of characters, an undesirable timeslot, and no overarching plot? Saturday Night Live has done it by being a pinnacle of organizational health.

Let’s skip the part where I list research studies proving that healthy organizations outthink, outperform, and outlast their competitors. For even the most novice of leaders, this is an idea based in commonsense. What’s more interesting is how we can identify these organizations and learn from them.

According to a recent study by McKinsey, companies that consistently prevailed followed a distinct organizational pattern. These companies were five times more likely to deliver sustained performance than companies with no clear pattern.

One of the patterns listed was Leader-driven. To help demonstrate this pattern we are going to use a staple of the late night landscape – Saturday Night Live.

Being leader-driven is based on the “presence, at all of an organization’s levels, of talented, high-potential leaders who are set free to figure out how to deliver results and are held accountable for doing so.” At the top, SNL is lead by Lorne Michaels. A genius in his own right, Lorne hires people who are good at what they do.

When new cast members and writers are hired, little direction is offered; they are empowered to find their own way. Lorne trusts them to do the best work possible and does not stand over anyone’s shoulder to micromanage. To motivate, there are no promotions (what else is there to offer once they are a feature player on the show). People are inspired through Lorne’s sage lessons and the opportunities to grow as a comedian and actor.

You lead by example. If people sense how committed you are, what the standard is, what you believe in, what you expect, they respond to that. And if they care as deeply as you do, it doesn’t take a motivational speech. – Lorne Michaels

Don’t rely on future career opportunities to bribe motivate staff; this “carrot on a stick” is not sustainable. Coach and mentor your employees. Work with them one-on-one to help develop their skills. The simple act of you spending time with them can be a motivator all in itself.

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