Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Undercover Boss: CEO or Santa Claus?

About Me

I am a Professor of Management at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California where I have taught undergraduate and graduate business students for 13 years. I am an author and co-writter of the book Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Protégés Make the Most Out of Their Mentoring Relationships (2005, Jossey Bass). I am currently in the process of writing my second book on career advice called, Career Crossroads. I am also a mom, a pilates and beach workout enthusiast, and an avid fiction reader. I love teaching and writing but I also love to put my son to bed and collapse onto my couch and morph into Professor Couch Potato. Like a lot of people, I have become addicted to Undercover Boss and all shows related to work—I rationalize my couch time as my time to connect with pop culture and in fact often weave in TV and movie clips into my classes on Human Resources Management. But let’s face it—lying around and being amused is a big part of the appeal! For more information about me, you can check out my academic curriculum vitae and professional biography. .

Purpose of this Blog

The purpose of this blog is to provide a consistent commentary on TV shows about the world of work using the lens of management theories and themes. So, I will comment on shows like Undercover Boss, The Office, Outsourcing, The Apprentice, and whatever else strikes my fancy and is recommended to me by my fellow couch potato students and friends. I am going to start with Undercover Boss because watching the show has become my entertainment dope. I hope this blog might be helpful to students, professors, or anybody in business who wants to see how management theory is applied in practice or maybe just wants a slightly intellectual and irreverent spin on their own TV watching. Feel free to use these ideas in your classes, casual conversation, or whatever (as we love to say in Southern California!). I am going to have some fun with this and I hope you do too!

General Overview to this Episode of Undercover Boss

Recently, I watched the episode of Undercover Boss depicting Kim Schaffer, the CEO of Great Wolf Resorts. In this episode Kim Schaffer goes undercover in her company and experiences a day in the life of four entry level jobs: a) Childcare center worker, b) Front desk clerk at the resort, c) Water park employee, and d) Waitress at the resort restaurant. According to the show, Schaffer was promoted from within the organization and interestingly, she is the first female CEO to be portrayed on the show.

What I Loved and Some Related Reading for Further Food for Thought

Here is a list of what resonated for me on this episode:

- I enjoy watching a woman female mentor and I loved that Schaffer copped to struggling with her balance as an executive and wife and mother.

- I loved that she had a supportive stay-at-home husband (hooray for non-traditional roles!) and that she felt guilty for splitting her attention between her kids and work no matter how much support and how cared for her kids are. I do believe that the plight of all working moms, no matter what level of the organization you are at, is to feel guilty. (for a more in-depth take on this you can check out my recent article I co-wrote on Opting In Between which is in press at the Journal of Career Development). Also, check out a book called the The Opt Out Revolt: Why People are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers by Lisa Mainiero and Sherry Sullivan.

- I love that Schaffer cried a lot- I think there are a lot of repressed tears at work by both men and women and yes, dammit, I loved every schmaltzy, contrived, tearful moment!

- I love the human stories and everyday heroism depicted by her employees- If you enjoyed this, don’t miss Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic book, Nickel and Dimed where she goes undercover for a year and takes a series of minimum wage jobs. A new take on this is by Gabriel Thompson who wrote, Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing Jobs Most Americans Won’t Do—the writer goes undercover and works as a lettuce picker, poultry factory worker (warning – you might find yourself switching to a tofu diet!), flower shop worker, and restaurant delivery guy.

- And, I don’t want to be mean but yes I did enjoy watching the CEO picking up shit from the bottom of the pool- that was a deeply satisfying moment, although that might speak more about me than about the show!

WTF and Management Themes

This is the section, where I talk about what made me cringe or sometimes even say WTF? In this episode, my biggest WTF moment was around the short term feel good solutions given to the employees that the CEO encountered while making the TV show.

Thus- the title of this essay- Ask yourself: do you want to be a CEO or Santa Claus? We all know what happens to Santa Claus… retention drops off and disillusionment sets in after a few short years when expectations of the little people are no longer being met. I fear the same fate might be in store when CEO’s approach systemic problems as if they were Christmas morning. I wonder, as I was watching the show, was I the only shouting out, OMG, What about Equity Theory?!

Kurt Lewin says “There is nothing as useful as a good theory.” So check this out:

Equity theory says that each of us compare ourselves to others at work. In fact, we even are likely to find one person in particular that is similar to us in important ways (background education, demographics, etc.) and that becomes our “comparison other.” So, what we do is we compare our ratio of inputs (this is everything we put into a job like our skills, education, effort, our social capital etc. to what we get out of a job which we call our outcomes (like pay, promotions, status, travel, recognition). Everybody is cool and happy when the ratio between your inputs and outcomes between yourself and your comparison other is roughly equivalent. All hell breaks loose though, when the ratio is not in balance. Have you ever been satisfied with your job until you found out your goofy co-worker was making more than you … and suddenly you wanted to make more too? When we find out that someone is getting more than us, it rocks our world.

So, imagine how the employees NOT depicted on the Great Wolfs episode feel about their coworkers who did work with Schaffer and as a result got some pretty sweet rewards? Here were some of the rewards granted to the Great Wolf employees portrayed on the show: a consistent work schedule, a vacation, a paid for college education, a promotion to training manager. I think we all know the answer- I am betting the other employees are feeling that they were unfairly treated (and yes, all employees now get family discount days but let’s face it these don’t compare to the goodies enjoyed by their on camera colleagues).

So what happens next according to equity theory? Simple, people tend to: 1) Withdraw either physically (so they engage in tardiness, absenteeism, or just quit) or psychologically (so they check out mentally), 2) they reduce their inputs (so they don’t work as hard), or 3) they increase their outputs (employee theft, sabotage or other creative ways of getting even).

The Santa Claus CEO is not a syndrome limited to Kim Schaffer, but is endemic to the show and tempting to fall prey too. I would encourage the CEO of Great Wolfs to work on long term systemic solutions that have a broad impact on many employees and the entire organizational culture, rather than on short term interventions that help only a few.

Last Random Thoughts and Key Learnings

Here is something cool I learned from the show:

Question: What is an AFR?

Answer: An AFR is an Accidental Fecal Release.

In the show, the CEO had to pick up an AFR out of the water as part of her training by her supervisor.

For fun, let’s use AFR in a sentence. When my son was 2 ½ he had an AFR in the middle seat of a flight from England to the United States. Or, did my coworkers just have an AFR come out of his mouth—again? You can see, this AFR thing can be loads of fun!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What do you need from work?

You can’t always get what you want But if you try sometimes you might find You get what you need—

The Rolling Stones

For some reason, I have needs theories on my mind. Probably because last week I taught the chapter on Motivation and it was fun to immerse myself in these Organizational Behavior theories. It had been awhile since I had taught these theories so it was like rediscovering old friends again (yes, I really am that geeky!). Yesterday I had the quintessential Professor Couch Potato kind of day. I succumbed to my first official back to school cold (I can’t decide if I should blame my coughing sneezing undergraduates or my son’s second grader germs he brings home… maybe both) Anyway, I found my perch and tucked in for a day of TV watching.

First , I watched Undercover Boss and the episode with the CEO of Johnny Rockets. The show depicted the CEO going undercover to four different Johnny Rockets restaurants and interacting with four fabulous employees. Why were these employees so damn good at their jobs which at first glance may not be everybody’s dream job? I was thinking that maybe it was because in a weird way, everybody got what they needed from their job at Johnny Rockets. 1) First, there was the guy who provided the most obsessive compulsive and impressive training I have ever seen on making the perfect burger. He also had musical aspirations and wanted to be a rapper. What did he need from his job as cook at Johnny Rockets? I think he needed to be creative and recognized for his creativity- he created cheesy mushroom fries and submitted them as a new menu item (Don’t scoff- imagine them with a robust cabernet and non-vegan steak and there are some real possibilities here—kinda French, kinda good), 2) Next was the super bubbly waitress that seemed to make everybody feel good and cared enough to choreograph her own dance moves (part of the Johnny Rocket’s schtick is to dance and sing for customers). What did she need? I think she needed to make others feel good. She was a nurturer—when she brought a smile to people’s faces, it made her feel good. 3) Next was the waitress at the New York City Johnny Rockets. This property was low performing but not for lack of her trying. What did she need? She said it herself—she needed affiliation like part of a family and Johnny Rockets gave her that. 4) Finally there was the heart-rending story of the food server in Atlantic City Jonny Rockets. He had killed his daughters’ murderer, been imprisoned and was homeless when he met the new franchise owner of Johnny Rockets. What did he need that he got? He needed someone to see his basic humanity and give him a fresh start which he got. And finally, what did the Big Guy or the CEO of Johnny Rocket’s need—he was having a lot of divorced dad guilt—he needed to find meaning and purpose—if I am going to be away, there had better be a good reason for it.

Next, I watched, Secret Millionairre with uber successful Ally Brown (entrepreneur and coach for women’s mentoring programs). This woman is impressive and gorgeous and in between sniffling into my Kleenex and shuffling out to the kitchen for more chamomile tea, I found myself alternating between shouting out “you go girl,” and tearing up at her encounters with people in need (and yes the snarky part of me realizes these are contrived and edited… and yet, and yet, I buy it). In Secret Millionnaire a millionnire is whisked away from their luxury abode to a poor area of the country. In this case, Ally only traveled two miles away from here home. ). Ally lived in Marina Del Rey and the homeless services were just a short two-mile bike ride away in Venice Beach. In this show she gave away a total of $100,000 away to four local charities: Common grounds, Bread and Roses, Harvest Home, and Beauty Bus. In fact, one of the charities , the Bread and Roses café of the St. Josephs’s Center is near and dear to my heart as I used to attend their yearly fund-raiser and my students have done service learning with them in the past. It was also fun to see the local spots and the two different sides of my own neighborhood. What do the people who work with the homeless need? They provide basic needs like food and shelter and they provide compassion to their client. I think in turn the providers get their needs met as well . So, What does Ally need? In one sense, she already has it all. I think she needed and perhaps found the top of Malow’s hierarchy of needs which is self actualization- which is when you reach your highest potential and is perhaps representative of the point “ where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” ( quote from Theologican Frederick Buechner)

So how did I get my needs met this past weekend? I needed to rest, be entertained, and maybe a little bit inspired. I got it all from my TV watching.

So what about you- what do want from work? And what do you get that you need? Or what are you not getting that you need? Think about it- it might give you some clarity regarding your current or future jobs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What is a Mentor Anyway?

Last week I had the opportunity to lead a discussion board on mentoring which was a great opportunity to make some of my implicit ideas about mentoring more explicit. Here are some quick thoughts on mentoring:

My assumptions about mentoring: Mentoring defined

I thought it might be helpful to make a few implicit assumptions I have about mentoring more explicit

1) Monogamy is required in a marriage but not in mentoring systems! In other words, develop a network of different type of mentors. I define a mentor as One of a network of helping relationships who provides instrumental (task), psychosocial (emotional) support and serves as a role model.
Please don’t get freaked out about the idea of having a network or feel more pressure—like geez Ellen I can barely find one- now you are telling me to have a network?! Instead, think of it this way- you don’t have to find the perfect mentor who does everything- instead one person can mentor in one task or provide valuable psychosocial support so it takes the pressure off. If you have a network of helping relationships then you can calibrate your expectations for each person accordingly. For more on different types of mentoring, see my book with Susan Murphy, Power Mentoring.

2) Everybody who makes it has a mentor! With apologies to Sister Barbara, my high school writing teacher, who always cautioned us against using absolutes… I am going to boldly state that I believe this is true. If you study the biographies of successful people, I have an ongoing wager with my students and workshop participants that they would be hard pressed to find somebody who was successful who did not have some mentoring at some point. Bill Gates had his high school teachers and looks to Warren Buffett for mentoring (in fact, I believe their relationship is probably more akin to peer mentoring now). There was a interesting article in WSJ recently about wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg reaching out to established CEO’s for career advice and the list goes on….).

3) Mentoring can benefit us, no matter our age or success level! I believe that in order to be fully alive we have to keep growing, changing, and learning new success strategies. Students do this naturally as they have an established educational trajectory to help them. As adults, we have to sometimes push ourselves or intentionally put ourselves in situations to do this. I think mentoring can be helpful anytime you learn something new, take on a new role, or make a change. So, when I became a mom, I found some mommy mentors. When I decided to jump into social media, I found some social media mentors. I think you will find it helpful to do the same.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Magic of Matching Mentors and Proteges

In the movie, Jerry Maguire, the character, Dorothy (Renee Zellweger), says to Jerry (Tom Cruise), “You Complete Me….”  In this moment, they recognize that their relationship whole is greater than the sum of their individual parts and presumably they live happily ever after. This works really well in a Hollywood movie and in fact many people who enter into interpersonal relationship hope to find this type of soul mate match. But how does this work for mentoring relationships?   I think it is a rare mentor-protégé match that is a true work soul mate connection. However, I also think there is much that can be done to match mentors and protégés so that their relationships are mutually beneficial and enjoyable.
There are a lot of ways to match mentors and protégés and some are better than others. There has been some empirical research done on what makes up the mysterious alchemy between the mentor and the protégé, and no surprise, findings are mixed.  Overall, though, there are some common themes. I like to think of mentoring as consisting of three entities.
First, there is the organization within which the mentoring exists. There are variables within the organization to consider that are infrastructure and big picture related like:  size of the program, support of management and resources available, time and availability of program administrators, culture of the organization (i.e., is this an organic, self-help kind of culture or more bureaucratic?), and comfort level with technology.
Second, there are also individual level characteristics between the mentor and protégé to consider as well. Some of these characteristics are: values, personality, goals, demographics, time constraints, and geography.  It helps to consider these when making a match but there is a not a one size fits all philosophy for any one of these—they are just variables to consider.
The third entity is the mentoring partnership itself. For this to work really well, the partnership needs to have enough similarity to find some common ground, but enough differences so they have something valuable to learn from each other.  And, it helps if they like each other as people, a lot (and yes, there is a body of research that supports this very intuitive finding!).  Also, at least in the U.S., most people want to have some control over the relationship so feeling like you had some choice in your partner seems to help people feel more invested in the partnership overall.
In sum, there may not be a magic formula but I can make some important recommendations:  1) When matching people in mentoring programs in the United States and many Western countries, I highly recommend that you give mentors and protégés as much choice  over who they are matched with and control over how and when they will meet and interact as possible, 2) Mentors and protégés need to have something in common with each other that is valuable and enjoyable to them (goals, values, interests, people), 3) Mentors and protégés need to have something different from one another that is valuable to each other that will be complementary (skills, network, a perspective) so that there can be a give and take in the relationship.
Once mentors and protégés are matched and they get rolling on their relationship, there is a lot that can be done to stack the odds in their favor like proper training and alignment of expectations up front, coaching throughout, and recognition and rewards for participation.
For more information about how to be a mentor or specific citations related to these thoughts, please contact Ellen Ensher at www.ellenensher.com

P.S. If you are looking for a quick guide with some steps to finding a mentor on your own, and not part of a formal program, check out a few thoughts of mine in USA Today available at http://yourlife.usatoday.com/parenting-family/story/2011-12-14/How-to-find-the-perfect-mentor/51896918/1