Coming Up Short

Two TV programs that I watch when I can: Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer and The Profit with Marcus Lemonis. I watch these programs from the perspective of a former business partner in a multi-million dollar enterprise and as a follower of Jesus. I watch them because they provide insight into human nature and the nature of rescue. (Blessedly, there are no Progressive Element talking points (race equality, gender equality, wage equality, etc.) in these programs. The only politics involved are the underlying business relationships of the owners, managers and employees.)

A different bar is presented during each hourly segment of Bar Rescue. If one were to watch Bar Rescue over many episodes, one would see that each new scenario has many of the same old problems. And one would hear that the owners are deep in debt. In many cases the owners have invested their life savings, their home’s equity and their retirement funds to keep the failing business afloat. Because of bad assumptions and broken processes and botched relationships the heavily-invested owners will not only lose their business in a matter of months, if not weeks, they will also lose everything invested. So, they agree “to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make a call for help—to Bar Rescue.

Enter Bar Rescue’s Taffer. He is invited to assess the failing bar. My own assessment gathered from my many viewings of the program: the owners continue to do the same thing over and over hoping for a different result.

At the show’s opening Taffer is shown sitting in a car with two professionals, typically an experienced mixologist and a skilled chef. They view the bar via hidden cameras. They talk about what they see. Here’s a typical recounting of what they view from the car:

The bar’s name recognition is off. The signage is uninviting and confusing. The marketing is off and even off-putting. The signage is more of a liability than an asset.

The bar is chaotic. The employees have no direction and no constraints. The bartenders are drinking and over-pouring away the profits. Some of them sit at the bar. Others party with the customers. In one episode a woman, one of three equal partners, sits at the end of the bar every night smoking and drinking. She told Taffer that she thought that’s what her partners wanted.

The owners and managers appear indifferent and helpless and overwhelmed as to what is going on before their very eyes.

Relationships, at home and in the business, are dysfunctional. Denial and finger-pointing create more distance between partners. Employees and managers verbally fight in front of customers. The alcohol in their systems adds to the bar-family drama and acrimony.

Customers are given horrible beyond-expiration-dated food. The kitchen is unsanitary or unusable. The cook, often a novice, struggles to make decent food. The bar waitresses serve their customers slop.

As a “food and beverage industry consultant specializing in nightclubs, bars, and pubs”, Taffer becomes riled up as he watches. He storms into the bar and confronts the owners about what he saw. And what he saw was what has been right in front of the owner’s eyes for months.

Taffer, in a confrontational style, points out to the owners what he just witnessed via the hidden cameras. He makes “them face reality”: “nobody is being a manager!”; “It looks like the blind leading the blind!” In response, the bar’s owners usually become defensive and deny doing anything to create the situation. They deflect responsibility by acting as if they deserve better treatment from Taffer. They hold a sense of entitlement but not a sense of responsibility.

The staff confirms to Taffer what has been going on in the bar. He encounters employees who are conscientious and desire step-up management. And there are others who make excuses for their behavior after being caught on camera. The owners and managers are no different. Though the bar is obviously failing before their eyes, their pride is the resistance to accepting responsibility for the obvious failure. They balk at personal change. Taffer makes the reality of their dysfunction clear with a stress test: “If you can’t manage an empty bar, how will you manage when it’s filled?!”

After some initial training of the bartenders and the cook, Taffer invites in a crowd to see how the bar functions. By overwhelming the bar with customers, the test reveals to the staff that they cannot handle the level of business they need to succeed to meet monthly expenses, including employee paychecks, let alone be profitable.

Though the bar had opened successfully years before and brought in a stream of revenue, lack of good business practices and an “Anything Goes” mentality brought the bar to the brink of bankruptcy. Taffer opens the books. The bar’s revenue is less than half of what it was at the beginning. The heavily invested owners are about to lose their homes, their retirement and more.

Taffer talks to the owners one on one. He asks about the bar’s early years. With empathy he addresses issues both business and personal. Getting the business’s underlying relationships in order is a priority. Dysfunction has created the chaos and mounting losses. Regarding the unpaid staff, Taffer tells the owners “When you own a business you need to give the employees a better life.” Taffer seeks to light a fire under the owners/entrepreneurs. He offers a new vision and a new bar design with new tools. He offers hope for the bar’s turnaround.

“Let’s get to work!” Taffer tells the bar staff. The two experts are brought in to train the staff. The mixologist trains the bartenders in making properly poured cocktails. The chef trains the cook how to make delicious bar food. After the bar is rehabbed, Taffer presents the new look to the anxious staff. They are overwhelmed by the change. The bar’s signage is inviting and brand declarative. (Sometimes a new name is required despite the owners balking.)  Renewed and revived, they gear up for a new opening of the bar.

The opening is flooded with guests. The processes begin to work as they should. Taffer had told the staff, countering their assumptions, “The guests don’t want cocktails, they want the experience.” The experience begins to happen for the guests. The bar appears ready for success. Taffer leaves after many hugs and the owners saying “Thank you.”

 

For the sake of brevity, I’ll sum up what I see of human nature and the nature of rescue from both reality TV shows.  But first, some background on The Profit.

Marcus Lemonis is presented with applications from failing business (some 44,000 per Inc.com). When he picks a company, he considers it as a possible investment opportunity. “My ultimate goal is to make a reasonable return,” he says. “If I can average 15 to 18 percent on my money, I’m happy.

The Inc. com web article Marcus Lemonis: The Way of the Profit starts with this:

Both on screen and off, Marcus Lemonis is the king of turning around failing small businesses. But his obsession with fixing companies comes at a price.

And, later in the article we learn of Marcus’ and the viewer’s perspective:

“In most cases, the people who apply to get on the show are really in need of more than just financial help,” Lemonis says gently, and when he offers more, as he often does–by calling out a bully boss or defending an overworked and underappreciated employee–that’s when viewers might see parallels with Dr. Phil or even the Dog Whisperer. A lot can happen in those 40 unscripted minutes.

Where Bar Rescue presents a consultant-rescuer, The Profit presents an investor-rescuer. Both men must deal with the underlying issues that negatively affect a business. Both offer retooling and reimaging the business. Both encounter a wall of resistance to change. Pride, denial and the owner’s excuse “we’ve always done it this way” impede the business. The consultant and the investor challenge the assumptions, the habits and the lack of accountability they find. The business will not grow and, worse, it may fail completely if their advice is not taken.

Both offer a rescue from the way things are for the heavily invested and the deeply in debt. As Taffer said on one occasion, “We need to take a different path.” Both men give stern warnings about the business’s state of affairs. They each point to the wall of resistance and to the wall of reality.

For both the consultant and the investor, the business’s outcome becomes personal. People’s lives and their welfare are at stake. The business is an extension of the owner’s personal failure or his success.

Both men command respect. They speak with strong self-assured voices. And both are empathetic to the owner’s plight, especially as it concerns relationships that have soured. Their combined benevolent authority and considerate empathy bring about change in the businesses they rescue.

Human nature: Man is often antagonistic to personal change. Man will point to the circumstances and/or others as the problem. Man has blind spots. Man’s pride keeps him from seeing what is right before his own eyes. Man often refuses to communicate his shortcomings wanting to appear in control of himself as things he cares for spin out of control. Man resents being told he is going down the wrong path and that he has come up short. Man is often lazy and seeks the minimum of effort to correct what is wrong. Man invests heavily in himself as the captain of his fate. Yet, his Titanic ego doesn’t let him see the icebergs until it is almost too late.

Rescue: An authoritarian voice is required. There are those third-party consultants and investors with years of experience who can show a man the way to succeed. They are able to see things as they are without emotional attachment. Rescue requires turning around and taking a new path. Rescue requires meekness. Rescue requires learning new habits and processes. Rescue requires facing reality and throwing away assumptions based on unreality. Rescue requires a man taking responsibility for his actions. Rescue requires a man seeing he has come up short and seeking the advice to fill up what was lacking in himself.

 

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One very clear dynamic I see in both programs: employees want to be part of something successful and worthy of their effort. They gain a sense of dignity when they invest themselves in things that they deem profitable to their well-being, to their self-esteem and to other’s well-being. They want to tie their wagons to owners/managers who are success bound and who are both firmly directive and also have good human relations skills such that make them able to convey direction. They desire managers and bosses who are empathetic when it is called for. Employees desire training to improve their skills, to achieve success personally.

Employees want to see themselves involved in something much higher than a bottom line. The owners/managers must evoke a vision that dignifies and elevates the work being done, especially in light of the customer. Work must be all-around humanizing.

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For those of you who know they have come up short of the glory of God and have put their trust in the One True Authoritative and Empathetic Counselor Jesus, you can rejoice in “the proper goal of your faith – namely, the rescue of your lives. 1 Peter 1:8-9

“Let’s get to work!”

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