Digby Jones’s article in the Scotsman on the rum deal that business gets from television reflects many observations I have heard from business people.
An absence of positive business role models with regular TV exposure should be a cause for concern. Just as we are told that inappropriate behaviour amongst professional sportsmen is often replicated at amateur and junior levels, so the risk is that the way business is presented on television is reflected in the behaviour of leaders and managers in offices and operations across the UK.
Of course fictional bosses and organisations are simply caricatures, and because they’re not real they actually do a service of poking fun at pomposity, egos and incompetence. No one wants to be compared to David Brent, Malcolm Tucker, or the current favourite Siobhan Sharpe, Head of Brand at Perfect Curve PR on Twenty Twelve.
But the way in which some of our real businesses and bosses are presented is completely different. Lauded for their achievements, there is a habitual undercurrent that success can only be achieved through a ruthless, dog eat dog, no scruples approach. It might be a completely unfair representation of the reality of perfectly reasonable and rationale people, but reasonable and rationale doesn’t make gripping footage.
Richard Farleigh a former member of the Dragon’s Den said on Radio 4 recently, that 90% of successful business is about developing relationships not being cut throat. Unfortunately the 90% isn’t the bit which makes the final edit.
There are some fantastic examples of leadership on our screens. In 2008, I was struck by the comparisons between The Apprentice and the Beyond Boundaries programme shown at the same time, in which Ken Hames led a group of disabled people in a series of extraordinary challenges in the Andes. I reflected in this article that Ken’s approach was the antithesis of the “leadership” behaviours which are often presented to us on TV.
Our experience at Investors in People Scotland is that in the absence of any guidance from their employers, managers can start to mimic the behaviours of successful business people from TV, and it doesn’t always work. We’ve seen particularly acute examples of this in the hospitality and catering industry where hot headed flamboyant chefs make better TV stars than the calm and considered one.
Organisations need to be crystal clear about the management style which they expect from their teams, and this shouldn’t be an imported “it’s worked somewhere else so it’ll work here” approach, but a well thought out and rational proposition which understands how the organisation can get the best from their people.