Why “Tabatha” smokes “Boss”…

As a guy obsessed with maxing out potential in groups and individuals – and one who believes the person at the top is the one most responsible for making it happen – I was pretty fired up about the concept of Undercover Boss.  In each episode, a CEO goes undercover, in disguise, to work next to front-line employees.

The format got tired quickly – boss leaves fancy home and doting family, stays in fleabag hotels, realizes he/she is totally inept at frontline tasks, discovers that employees are (gasp!) real people with real problems, cries (most episodes), promises to change, and gives lavish rewards to the episode’s featured employees.

What a great concept – and what a disappointment in a show.  The focus ends up being on the heartbreaking individual stories, rather than the true obstacles to the company’s success.  In an episode about a hotel chain, some maddening inefficiencies in the check-in process were revealed.  I actually leaned forward.  Finally!  A pain point that every traveler can relate to – addressed by the CEO – awesome!  But no!  The focus shifted to the troubles of the front desk manager, and how touched the CEO was.  Sheesh.

Contrast: Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.  Now this is a show we can be entertained by and learn from.

I was ready to write this show off as another cheap reality show from Bravo where a tough-talking Brit (she’s from Australia, actually) rips folks apart.  And if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find it.  But it’s much more…

Tabatha Coffey goes to hair salons, takes over, works hard to connect with owners, managers, and staff, gets to the core of what ails the business, then works with all parties to fix it.

While the format is consistent, like “Boss”, the situations and outcomes are far more diverse.  In fact, at the end of the episode during the “Six Weeks Later” segment, Tabatha sometimes finds that the boss has returned to the old ways of failure and inertia.

Sometimes it’s skill, sometimes marketing, sometimes bad staff, but usually it’s the management.  That’s part of the awesomeness of the show; that look on the leader’s face when they realize this:

“Hey, I really wanted this person to come in and fix the place and the staff, but they’re saying I’m the problem.  Oh no!”

If you’re a fan of Undercover Boss, try Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.  It rocks.  And it’s full of real stuff for leaders.

Have you seen both?  Which do you prefer?

8 Responses

  1. Julie Feirer
    | Reply

    I totally agree. And not just because I’m your wife! Even though Tabatha’s show focuses on one industry, the many of the leadership lessons apply universally across businesses. By contrast, even though there are many types of businesses featured on Undercover Boss, the lesson is always the same: bosses who manage from a distance have to make an effort to be in touch with front line issues, and employees have lives. Watching Tabatha work with individuals is inspiring.

    • alanfeirer
      | Reply

      Great points, Julie Feirer. And not just because I’m your husband! Right — the “individualness” of Tabatha’s show makes it so much more captivating. As well as discussing it with you during the commercials…. 🙂

  2. Michael
    | Reply

    I have only seen three episodes of the “Boss”, but end up being disappointed or lose interest and don’t finish. You totally nailed the reason, and I hadnt even thought of it. How many times do you see or experience poor service or inefficiencies that you wished you could point out to management but didn’t or couldn’t. The promise of the show is that they would experience these from different perspective and act. Maybe the “Boss” needs to go undercover as a customer? But no one would show that. I’ll have to try Tabatha. What day and time?

    • alanfeirer
      | Reply

      Bravo Network – Monday nights – 9 p.m. Central Time. Thanks for reading!

  3. Michael Albarracin
    | Reply

    I would check out Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. Similar format: failing business, the owners are usually in denial of their role in the mess and Gordon goes in and lets them know up front how they have contributed to their own failings. Reflecting on the DiSC training, it is amazing to watch him change his demeanor depending on who he (Gordon) is talking to and what he believes will generate the most effective change.

  4. alanfeirer
    | Reply

    Similar “colorful language”, too, I bet. Love the DiSC tie-in — I agree.

    The evolution from denial to self-awareness to habits of self-improvement is a common path in the successful leaders we trust. Those folks are wise to follow it.

    Thanks for weighing in!

  5. Aaron McCullough
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing your top 5. I love Tabitha’s show. Have you see “Turnaround King” on National Geographic? It’s only had 2 episodes, but I thought it was designed a lot like Tabitha’s show. I hope they turn out more episodes.


    • alanfeirer
      | Reply

      That looks very cool, Aaron – thanks for sharing it. I’ll try to TiVo a rerun!

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