Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Unusually real reality on TV - business turnaround case-studies

Do you ever have any time for TV? I know I don't. As much as I love football, I don't even watch sports. If I get free time, I watch financial news on CNBC; but that's it.
Recently, things changed a little bit. A couple of Sunday's ago, I was doing home chores when I turned the TV on as background noise. I flipped between channels landing on Spike. What? Spike? I don't even know what the channel stands for. Are they like a new version of MTV? I couldn't tell you. The name of the channel does not help either.
Launch Jon's website
What came next was very interesting. A show called Bar Rescue where business expert Jon Taffer helps bar owners turn their money losing businesses around. Unlike most reality shows that have a light weight and shallow essence, this one actually shows real life challenges that could be transposed to any other business type. From low skill disengaged employees, to leaders with poor managerial know-how, to bad products and services, the show could serve as a collection of case studies on rapid turnarounds. I found it incredible to think of trying to make businesses change from money losers to money makers in just three to five days. To accomplish just that, Jon laser-focuses on key specific problems and solves them with tailored strategies.
The formula for the show starts with an introduction to the business and the problems. Jon sends in spies and studies the business through video surveillance. He then enters the business creating a shock wave that both wakes everybody up and makes the audience hate him. Many online reviews dislike that he gets on peoples' faces without getting to know them first. Next, he does quick reviews of employee performance and makes a few suggestions. He always brings in experts to teach employees how to prepare the right products and deliver the best service. Then, the bar goes through a stress test. A crowd larger than the team's capacity hits the business from many angles. Weak performers, whether managers or employees, become clearly evident after the stress test pushes the team to its limits. This humbles even the biggest of hard-heads and makes it easy for everybody to buy the idea of change. From customer flow, to capital equipment, standards are raised. After two days of remodeling and offsite training, the business re-opens to a large crowd eager to experience the changes. The team does its best pushing its new image, products and services. The revived business looks and feels great. After Jon exits as the triumphant knight, there is an update of the progress or reversion after Jon and his experts left.
While Jon is aggressive in approach, we all know that that is exactly what it takes to ignite performance changes in many teams. His loud and demanding approach also allows him to stay natural while giving good TV. Then the fact that the businesses are bars helps add audience to the otherwise dry subject of fixing a business.
I definitely get why he uses shock as his first technique. Owners are generally in denial of their predicament, employees are disorderly and/or uncommitted, many employees are inexperienced and immature and there is no time for a slower turnaround. I love his energy and focus. Besides, I often have found that being nice all the time sends the wrong message. Somehow people assume that one is either weak or stupid. So, one must push buttons from time to time.
Launch Bar Rescue's website
Filling the bar beyond team capacity is a great idea as I strongly believe that the best way to get employees to be satisfied professionally is by turning them into great business athletes. When you push them hard, they accomplish remarkable things that make them proud. The trick is just to recognize their achievements in order to help them build confidence.
From product choices to marketing to equipment selection, Jon solves problems differently depending on the nature of the business. All his changes provide great insight into what a bar business needs to succeed. Jon uses real industry knowledge to create answers to real constraints.
If you are a business owner, perhaps the most important aspect of what Jon does is that he makes multiple key changes concurrently. Most business owners plan one change or improvement at a time. Moreover, even when they plan multiple improvements, most owners deploy them in a linear way: first one and then the next. This dilutes progress and minimizes the perceived improvements needed to keep the employees motivated and engaged. There is nothing like feeling that there is real progress to get everybody to push the extra mile; which is much more probable when multiple improvements happen at the same time. This is because improvements that come from changes in marketing and operations, for example, do not add up together; they multiply. More potential customers through the door directly impacts sales. Remember that it is a numbers game where being exposed to more potential customers results in more converted customers (all else being equal). Then, the reduced costs thanks to better operational efficiency, will make each additional sale more profitable.
Multiple concurrent changes are paramount. Jon changes the POS system for better operations, the name for higher potential customer traffic, the service and products for better retention and larger transactions, etc. Also relevant is that he never drives the changes through the existing team of employees. He brings in experts to design the strategic changes. The existing team is in charge of the execution only. This seemingly small detail is important because many business owners refuse to admit that they need expert help with their business. Also, many owners think that the only way to bring in new knowledge and skills is by buying it; by hiring the knowledge expert. But as the show highlights, it is much better to just rent then while change happens and then let them go. In this way, the business spends the least possible for the new knowledge.
Unfortunately it does require for someone from the team (usually the owner or a manager) to manage the temporary experts. This is usually very difficult for the existing leaders since they often only know how to manage through the use of their title and not through leadership. You see, the title means very little to a temporary expert. Leadership, though, is something that always works with anyone; rented or bought.
Needless to say, I like the show and wanted to share it with you. Not to make you watch TV, but to make learning about the potential pitfalls within your business in a way that does not feel so academic.
By the way, I still don't like other reality TV shows.

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