Sunday, 13 November 2016

Management according to reality TV

Is there anyone out there who doesn't have a TV? There are usually one or two who proclaim "television kills the art of conversation, now where's my book" or "where's my knitting". I'm a fan of TV as I believe it is educational. I even believe that we can learn from that scourge of television, the Reality TV show. If you look very closely you will unearth some hidden gems on business management.

Reality TV is cheap TV, it involves no actors or scripts, it preys on wannabe celebrities being watched by more wannabe celebrities. And there is our first business lesson – don't spend money on a high-quality product or service when your audience, your market, just wants cheap and cheerful.

So let’s consider some reality TV shows. Consider the ineffable (or is it f’ing-able) Gordon Ramsay. Regular viewers of Kitchen Nightmares will spot the tried and tested formula. Chef Ramsay visits a dysfunctional restaurant run by a dysfunctional family, he dislikes the food and the décor regardless of how it actually is, he gets the owners to admit blame, and then he rewards them with a restaurant makeover, new menu and free publicity – pukka.

What Ramsay does well is he identifies and clearly demonstrates the key issues affecting the business. His experience gives him the authority to challenge the owners. Ramsay is a facilitator of change and his approach is directly in line with the Kübler-Ross change model. He identifies and communicates the problem, deals with the denial, gains acceptance of the problem, encourages the restaurant staff to take ownership, and then gets the staff to participate in developing the solution, and continue to do so after he has left.

A rather dubious reality TV show I admit to watching is Britain's Got Talent or maybe it's the X Factor (same format, same panel). What we learn from Simon Cowell’s circus is that first impressions count, whether on stage or in an interview. The panel very quickly make up their mind whether they like the participants; they seem to prefer a delicate balance of confidence and humility.

It is also clear that when applying for a position, you should be qualified to do it, and not turn up just because you mum thinks you are great (although this didn’t stop Trump). A minor point is to learn how to cope with disruption (buzzers, alarms) during a performance or say presentation – don’t stop, get flummoxed or walk off in a huff complaining life is unfair.

Another favourite of mine, just back on TV, is I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here. In this show minor has-been celebrities spend time in the jungle being subjected to hours of tedium punctuated by overly-contrived and degrading tasks such as eating bugs covered in slime. The winners are usually those who have gained favour with the audience. They tend to be genuine, friendly, hands-on, positive, motivated, humorous, honest etc. The candidates with an agenda or ones who “talk behind other's backs” tend to be found out and voted off.

I’m also a fan of The Apprentice. The relationship between this programme and management is obvious. But for me there are two key lessons: 1) if you intend to work for a megalomaniac like Alan Sugar first find out what they are looking for, and 2) don’t get fired before you even have a contract of employment.

I would like to say that The Apprentice is a great example of how team dynamics work, but it is such an artificial situation (kettled egomaniacs) that it does not apply to real life. Personally I am not convinced that risking national humiliation is worth the potential reward of working with Alan Sugar.

So, in Jerry Springer style, my final message to you is this. We have all experienced bad management and we have all experienced poor TV. But poor television can actually inform good management.

This blog first appeared on Workplace Unlimited's blog page, reproduced by kind permission.

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