It’s a golden age for reality TV. Gone are the days when the genre was limited to attractive coeds locked in mansions, competing for cash, or eating bugs. Nowadays, you can veg out and absorb some HR brainfood. Here’s where to start!
Empathy & Economics: Undercover Boss
Undercover Boss sends senior executives undercover into the heart of their own companies, placing them in low-level positions to get a feel for what daily life and workplace culture is like down the corporate ladder. It’s definitely a show that’s on the side of the everyman masses. Spoiler alert: the senior execs are usually appalled by the conditions their employees work in and leave determined to improve these conditions.
Often, the exec’s decision to go undercover is motivated by a lag in company earnings–an issue they hypothesize could stem from ground-level issues. They often emerge from their experience inspired to change company structure and policy for both humanist and economic reasons, now seeing that both are tied. Whether this connection is one they sincerely believe in or not, it’s one supported by plenty of empirical evidence.
Happy employees and employees who feel recognized by their managers, report being more engaged at work, which in turn means they are more productive and contribute to a lower all-around turnover rate. Undercover Boss earns its place on this list (despite the predictable outcome of so many episodes) because it offers so many diverse reminders of how culture and middle management can go wrong–which, in turn, gives smart HR types a great opportunity to brainstorm policies to prevent this moral and productivity-killing situation from occurring.
Sales Smart Insight: Say Yes To The Dress
Sales environments can be tricky for HR. Many sales professionals are paid on commission (either partly or wholly), which can foster an unhealthy sense of competition, and lead to employees adopting “Sink or Swim” attitudes. As a healthy example of what effective sales models can be, Say Yes To The Dress presents a powerful argument for a collaborative sales strategy, and offers a kind of case study in how a high-functioning sales team operates.
Say Yes to the Dress is a reality show based around the long-established upscale NYC bridal boutique Kleinfeld’s, a visit to which has become akin to a rite of passage for dreamy brides looking to complete their wedding with the perfect dress. Each bridal appointment is led by a bridal consultant who works to find them the dress of these brides’ dreams. Every move to get to that moment of “yes!” is a calculated effort, one which more often than not, relies on the performance between the primary bridal consultant and sales team leader/lord of bridal, Randy Fenoli.
No one says no to Randy. He could bring in a trash bag with armholes and the client would weep with joy. Without Randy’s seasoned eye and honeyed advice, the bridal consultants working so hard to pull dress after dress would have no one to turn to they’ve exhausted every last resource. Bringing Randy into the consultation typically results in a good cop, bad cop dynamic–one which, more often than not, leads to loosened purse strings. Seeing this kind of nuanced teamwork can inspire more constructive policies for managing, rewarding, and training sales staff.
Another thing to note in this show? The smart use of meetings, which begin every episode. Each meeting is brief, has a clear and helpful theme, and is clearly contextualized within a broader curriculum for growth among attendees. The meeting scenes are certainly edited for TV, but that brevity is certainly something HR heads and other management can aspire to!
Strengths-Based Workplace Strategy: Hotel Hell
The strengths-based strategy is all about improving your business by ensuring employee strengths are being used, even if that means re-thinking a role or reassigning an employee to get there. In Hotel Hell, much of Gordon Ramsey’s work consists of reinventing failing hotels and their associated amenities in a way that capitalizes on the existing staff’s strengths–and doesn’t showcase the owner’s weakness.
The best example of this is in Ramsey’s treatment of hotel dining facilities. Of course, Ramsey comes from a culinary background–so it’s to be expected that he’s particularly hard on hotel restaurants, which in many cases have oversized, non-specific menus that require stocking so many ingredients chefs can’t afford to buy fresh. Ramsey often seems to put extra effort into discovering the chef’s real talents and specialties, and using those strengths to craft a unique menu with personality and the kind of more limited, focused scope that’s easier to stock for.
Another example is in Ramsey’s treatment of owners, who often want to be in charge of a larger share of operations than they are capable of. Ramsey encourages these owners to trust staff (sometimes new, but often existing) to take charge of these operations based on their talents. The result in generally less stressed, happier owners, and heads of operation who are thrilled to at last have the freedom and power to implement changes that lead to business success.
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