retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In the endless pursuit of lessons for business, I never considered reality television. After all, what could possibly come from that? Yet again, I was wrong.

There are two shows that demonstrate clear management lessons for virtually anyone at any point in their careers. Thanks to Sarah, my daughter and cultural advisor, I would recommend are: “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Tabatha’s Salon Takeovers.”

To be clear about this, Sarah’s record isn’t perfect. (“Bridezillas?”) But the kitchen and salon shows should become regular viewing for business people. In these shows a celebrity expert (one a chef, one a stylist) parachutes into struggling businesses to highlight and address failings in record time. It may sound silly, but the lessons are pretty compelling and far more common than we’d all like to admit.

While I haven’t watched many episodes, what I’ve seen presents a clear picture. The chaos that is destroying all these businesses starts with the person on top. In some cases the owner/operator/manager is apathetic and the business suffers from their lack of caring. Some are the opposite, controlling everything and not allowing their staff and business to grow. And some are being crushed by the weight on their shoulders. But in all cases, their businesses are in huge trouble.

The celebrity “expert” dispenses ideas in a colorful way (and always with an accent) that appeals to the television camera. Ignore the theatric because the advice is stunningly good. I’d sum it up as: delegate, communicate, educate, update and exfoliate.

In the episodes I’ve seen, the lead person is usually overwhelmed by their duties. (Aren’t we all?) Yet, as they drown in a sea of issues, they always have staffers who tell the camera they can do more. So the “expert” reminds the boss to start focusing on leading and to delegate the details that others can handle. Not one manager receives this news gratefully, but in the end it frequently provides the time they need for more important duties.

It also becomes painfully obvious how leaders can communicate and miscommunicate. In most episodes, there is a staggering lack of discussion of issues that matter, creating chaos in the business place. What’s more, communication is undermined by a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. One salon owner had a closed-toe shoe policy for safety, yet wore flip-flops on the day of a filming. Every employee noticed. In one restaurant, the chef/owner’s lost confidence clearly communicated itself to employees. In yet another case, the manager communicates complete disinterest and not surprisingly, loses her business. It reminds us that leaders send messages with everything they do - and don’t do.

Not surprisingly, these struggling businesses all neglected employee education, making their problems worse. There’s the waiter who failed to make a proper salad or the stylist who was out of touch with hair color products. In both cases, leadership’s lack of investment led directly to customer dissatisfaction and lost business. Likewise, these businesses all neglected facility updates and improvements for too long, making them look old and worn. The experts show them the impact of remodels.

Lastly, the experts talk about exfoliating—the beauty term for removing the old, dead skin. Virtually every episode puts a spotlight the need for the businesses to pare down their offerings and to focus on what they do best and what their consumers want most. Especially in the restaurants, you can see the problems caused by menus that are large and diffuse. Exfoliating extends to employees who simply have lost their passion or marketing efforts that have become counter-productive. Changes are made and in most cases improve the operation. (In some, reality intrudes and the business fails.)

The problem is that most of us don’t get the benefit of a celebrity expert and a television show’s budget. But ask yourself if you would listen anyway? If you would, find a trusted partner or colleague who is willing to tell you the hard truths. At the minimum, watch and ask yourself if what you are seeing on television is happening in your store or with your team.

Even without the accents, you might learn.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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