Friday, 10 May 2013

I'm a workplace consultant ... Get me out of here!

I have been meaning to blog for some time on what we can learn in the workplace arena from reality TV. The post by @NickWAllen on “What crazy chef – Gordon Ramsay – has taught me about online marketing” finally persuaded me to put pen to paper (or more accurately put fingers to keypad).

So we might as well start with the ineffable (or is it f’in-able) Gordon Ramsay. His Kitchen Nightmares programme has been relegated from UK restaurants to those struggling in the USA. Regular viewers will spot the tried and tested formula of these shows. Chef Ramsay visits a dysfunctional restaurant run by a dysfunctional family, he dislikes the food and the décor regardless, he gets the owners to admit blame, and then he rewards them with a restaurant makeover, new menu and free publicity.

What is done well in KitchenNightmares USA is that Ramsay (backed up by his hidden research team of course) identifies and clearly demonstrates the key issues affecting the business. His authority and experience in the same business as the restaurant owners allows him to challenge them directly. Ramsay gains respect (and offers leadership) through both his knowledge and hands-on actions. I don’t quite understand why he has to challenge people so vehemently and unpleasantly (I suspect he was bullied as a child!), but I applaud that he challenges openly with both staff and owners. Ultimately, Ramsay is a facilitator of change and the restaurant is just a back-drop – it could equally be any workplace. His approach is directly in line with the Kübler-Rossmodel – he identifies and communicates the problem, deals with the denial, gains acceptance of the problem, encourages the restaurant staff to take ownership of the problem, 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 Britain's Got Talent (or maye it's the The X Factor)– but please don’t think less of me as I, of course, watch purely from a social observation viewpoint. So what can we learn from Simon Cowell’s circus? First off is that first impressions count, whether on stage or in an interview. The panel very quickly make up their mind whether they like the candidates; they seem to prefer a delicate balance of confidence and humility. This balance affects the panel’s perceived likeability of the candidate which directly affects their chances of being put through to the next round. We should also understand that when applying for a position, ensure you are qualified to do so, and don’t turn up just because you mum thinks you are great. 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.

The title of this blog refers to the show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here. This is a reality TV show in which minor has-been B-list (or Z-list) 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. The winners tend to be genuine, friendly, hands-on, positive, motivated, entertaining/funny, honest etc. The candidates with an agenda or ones who “talk behind other's backs” tend to be found out and voted off. @dougshaw1 gave a great presentation on being yourself at work at last year’s Workplace Trends, and I’m a Celebrity is analogous to his message.

I’m also a fan of The Apprentice, and even more of a fan of the after-show The Apprentice: You’re Fired. Obviously the relationship between this programme and workplace is more direct with lots of lessons learned. But for me there are two key ones: 1) if you intend to work for a megalomaniac first find out what drives them and what they are looking for, and 2) don’t get fired before you even have a contract of employment with them. I would like to say that The Apprentice is a great example of how team/group 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 global humiliation is worth the potential reward of working with Alan Sugar, but perhaps I am not as confident or as thick-skinned as the candidates. After watching Tuesday’s episode of The Apprentice my 10 year old son asked me “What is the difference between Kermit the Frog and Tim (the one fired)?” After admitting I did not know, my son replied “Kermit is green and Tim is a muppet”.

The TV channels (especially once you get above Channel 4) are littered with reality TV shows. Alas I don’t watch them (or won’t admit to it here) so please comment below on the reality TV hows that you know of that have lessons directly relevant to workplace.


  1. Thanks for the mention of Workplace Trends - check out this year's programme at

  2. Big Brother? By putting people all in the same place does not mean that they will automatically interact, collaborate, innovate, work together, share knowledge, or even get on.

  3. Mark I agree, perhaps someone should mention that to Merrisa Mayer. I recall that Big Brother started as a social experiment in the Netherlands. It reminds me of Zimardo's (1971) Stanford Prison experiment.