Anna Moreau speaks with Dave Houchin, General Manager of RTRFM 92.1.
WABN: Describe a day at work.
DH: “A day managing RTRFM is hectic, goes for too many hours (but they fly by), involves working with some amazing people, and is mostly rewarding.”
WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?
DH: “I think motivation is all about a positive attitude. I don’t think negative ‘what ifs’ or threats are ever effective. At RTRFM, our staff is motivated by being part of a great team and wanting to do their share to secure the success of a great community organisation.
“I think you’ve got to celebrate successes as well as great attempts at success and ensure that everyone gets to feel a part of every success of the organisation. If you want to motivate staff you’ve got to give them ownership of something. This means handing over responsibility and making them accountable for their own work, then motivating them by showing them the bigger picture so that they understand the importance of their role within the organisation.
“I also try not to harp on about an individual’s mistakes, just to give them support in private and to praise individuals for an outstanding job in public.”
WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career? How did you overcome the difficulties? What did you learn from it?
DH: “I’d have to say staff issues are always the hardest. You invest a lot of time and emotions into building a strong team and, especially in a small non-profit, every member of staff plays an essential role and can feel irreplaceable.
“You overcome the difficulties by working harder yourself to try to take up any slack that will inevitably affect other staff members’ work.
“I guess I’ve now learned to trust my instincts, to get on to issues immediately, and to trust that we’ve got such a strong team of people that no individual can really damage that.”
WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for within your team members?
DH: “Potential, I don’t really see the point in hiring someone who has done a similar role for years in a very different organisation. I’d rather hire someone who I can see has the potential to fill the role successfully, understands the culture of the organisation, and will learn the role on the job rather than coming to it with a pre-conceived idea of how things should be done.
“If you hire reliable, hard-working, intelligent people you can teach them how to perform a task, but you can’t expect someone to learn to understand the culture of community radio in general or RTRFM in particular.
“I also look for people who already know and love the organisation, bring new ideas with them, and can understand that working at RTRFM is no regular nine to five. I also really respect diligence and people who can see the big picture rather than only being concerned about their own immediate role.”
WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?
DH: “A happy team of staff and volunteers is probably the best measurement of success in my role, that and good radio. Highlight...not sure. I was very proud when RTRFM took out five Western Australian Music Industry Awards during the Perth International Arts Festival recently. We received the Media Organisation award but also three of our staff and one RTRFM volunteer won individual awards, including the Individual Media Award and the Golden WAMI.”
WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?
DH: “Carefully. It’s fair to say there are a lot of egos in any arts or media organisation, but this seems to be particularly true when it comes to radio.
“Basically, I just try to be open and be honest with people. If they are at RTRFM for the right reasons, then they should be doing things for the good of the station. If they’re acting for their own good at the expense of the station, then they’re clearly in the wrong. Most people would like to think that they always act with the greater good in mind, and are normally doing so from their point of view.
“So normally all you need to do is express the fact that while you understand their point of view, they need to see it from another point of view in which their behaviour may be having a negative effect on the station or other people.”
WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?
DH: “It frustrates me as a manager that I spend most of my time trying to secure enough money for the station to carry out its normal activities, rather than being able to focus more time on the development of the station, our volunteer base and the radio we produce.
“Community radio is sometimes stuck between a rock and a hard place in that we don’t receive much government funding, yet our commercial practices are quite restricted by Government licensing policy, as a result we have to work extra hard to make enough revenue to cover costs.
“It would be fantastic if the government could look at guaranteed funding for a whole range of non-profit sectors so that non-profit organisations could receive financial assistance just to carry out their core business rather than having to focus on ‘special projects’.
“As an individual organisation we’re trying to overcome this financial obstacle by reaching out to businesses that have an objective to support local arts and culture so that we may form partnerships whereby we fulfil their arts and cultural objectives and they assist us to do so financially.”
WABN: Who has influenced you personally?
DH: “My dad has certainly influenced me more than anyone else. He works in a very different field but is incredibly hard working and intelligent, yet a whole lot of fun. He doesn’t have any hang-ups at all and seems endlessly positive.
“Dad really encouraged me to pursue a career that I would find personally rewarding – whatever that might be, and perhaps most importantly, has always treated me and my decisions with respect, even if he didn’t understand them. I still go to him for advice and he normally just tells me to trust my instincts.”
WABN: Who has influenced you professionally?
DH: “I’ve been influenced professionally in both positive and negative ways to provide a productive environment for our staff. Dan Stinton, the former RTRFM manager, who I worked with while working in sponsorship at the station, certainly influenced me in a positive way, Dan’s the kind of guy who commands respect by earning it.
“My management style has also been influenced positively by Donna Shepherdson and Kelly Dienaar, who have been my immediate managers in past roles and who taught me that it’s ok to form bonds and friendly relationships with your staff.
“Working for a couple of large organisations early on after university, I had upper managers who couldn’t remember my name. Remembering the deflation in spirit and motivation that came with that has taught me the importance of building a strong team.”
WABN: What is your education background?
DH: “A bachelor of commerce in marketing management and a bachelor of arts in media studies. I’m currently considering studying for an MBA.”