The Editor Muses on "Corporate Foul-Up" TV
I will admit to watching too much television, especially in the winter. While the rest of the Monoposto membership are ministering to their race cars in their centrally heated, air conditioned garages, I am indoors watching the box. This is why others appeared at the start of the season with even the rivets on their tubs polished, while the components on my cars are rusted on. On one occasion Peter Whitmore even tried to introduce me and my car to WD40, I had to explain that wheels secured by rusted on wheel nuts don't fall off. Lacking a centrally heated garage seems a good excuse to sit on the sofa, especially when one has suffered the coldest December on record.
I am not sure of the collective name for the genre, but one type of programme that I occasionally find enjoyable is that where an acknowledged expert (or a self appointed expert) assesses the failings in a business. Usually these business are failing with balance sheets well into the red. One presumes that it is the threat of bankruptcy and the possibility of salvation that encourages a hapless restaurant owner to face Gordon Ramsey's invective.
Part of this entertainment is being allowed some insight into the sheer incompetence of those who have spent large sums of money on their dream business. Some, having had a successful career elsewhere, spend a fortune to become a skivvy in an enterprise that is losing them thousands a month. I think schadenfreude describes the pleasure offered to the voyeur.
Usually the celebrity presenter (or possibly a team behind the scenes) manages to rectify the faults in the ailing enterprise by instituting sound business practice seasoned with flashes of entrepreneurial skill. Like scientific advances, once explained these measures usually seem obvious to entrepreneur and audience. But having an original idea is the real skill.. In truth most of these programmes are formulaic, best watched after being recorded and with the finger on the fast forward button.
A recent addition to the genre is Mary Portas, she of the extreme hair (I speak as a husband of a wife with spiky orange hair) and distinctive clothes (she seems to be on a solo mission to keep the rag trade in employment) with her new programme 'Secret Shopper'. The stated quest of this programme is to raise standards of service to the customer, from a variety of high street retail outlets (i.e. shops; distressingly, I seem to have absorbed the lingo) . A distinctive feature of Mary's new series was that she is advising successful companies, the first of these was in the business of providing 'fast fashion'. Now it will not surprise readers to find that the editor, while appreciating the outfits worn by the young ladies at the Dinner Dance, knows next to nothing about fast fashion. In fact my daughter will confirm that I don't approve of selling tat to young women, or could that be that I don't approve of young women paying for tat. In fact I have not been forgiven for the remark "If you are going out dressed like that, how will the men recognise the professionals?". (It was made many years ago, being more worldly wise my daughter now agrees).
When Mary investigated the fast fashion business on the high street she found: disinterested staff who were happy to insult customers, even those that weren't deaf, disorganised unattractive shops, with poor layout, and long queues for inadequate facilities such as changing rooms, and cash desks. The English customer is so tolerant that they readily accept these low standards, and allow such businesses to prosper. In contrast to earlier series, in this series Mary Portas is dealing with successful businesses of some size. Businesses that are large enough to have 'mission statements'. I am not sure as to when mission statements became an essential part of every reasonably sized enterprise's corporate identity, but this series of programmes shows just how empty these much duplicated paragraphs are. They seem to have become the commercial equivalent of the damsel holding a crucifix in the face of the vampire in a Hammer horror film. Faced with irrefutable video evidence of the dismal way their staff have behaved, management's first action is to read their enterprise's mission statement. They don't seem to appreciate that one function of management is to help their staff deliver the standard of service expounded in the mission statement.
I think that you may now be able to tell where this rambling editorial is going. Although I believe that the race meeting experience has improved for Monoposto competitors in recent years, I wonder what Mary Portas would make of it? One can be reasonably sure that she would find the repeated queuing unacceptable and suggest improvements, but how receptive would the MSA be to any suggestion of streamlining their requirements? Having a monopoly the MSA would find it difficult to be anything but successful. It will never happen, but I can dream of Mary strutting through a club race meeting paddock, interviewing competitors about their experiences, and interviewing officials about how and why they perform their allotted tasks in the way that they do. One pleasing aspect of her programmes occurs when she drags a member of the hierarchy from behind his or her desk and makes them face up to the reality of what is taking place on the shop floor, name your own individuals for this experience.
Interviewing management after such exposure is entertaining, and in the case of the recent programmes productive . But it is fairly obvious that the managers of most companies on the High Street are avoiding (scared rigid) of the possibility of experiencing the hour's free publicity offered by Mary's programmes. They prefer to hide in their bunker, sorry boardroom, and take cover behind their mission statement (we like mission statememts). Would the MSA be any different?
It will never happen, but this does not stop me from relishing the possibility of MSA management being interviewed by Mary Portas. I suspect that Mary would find, 'We do it that way because we have always done it that way', an unacceptable answer, and would look forward to her suggestions for improvement.
Of course, she could always look at Monoposto.................................... anyone for tennis? Come to think of it, the way English male tennis players have succeeded over the last 75 years I will take my chances with Monoposto any day. Unlike so many businesses and organisations, large and small, we do try to listen and give people what they want.
pics:Telegraph, Mary Portas