Organizational Change & Development in Tabatha’s Salon Takeover

Bravo has been running a lot of this show lately, and since I’ve been laid up (or, more accurately, laid out, like a cadaver) with a wrenched back, I’ve watched a bunch of episodes. And I’m kind of hooked. I was initially sort of reproachful about the show’s premise–über-wench Tabatha Coffey (formerly of the first round of Shear Genius) goes into a failing/miserable/grody hair salon, knocks everyone around, and teaches them but good. But you know what? The manager in me really likes this show a lot.

Tabatha does go into salons that are basically on their last curling iron, and yes, she does brusquely put people in their place, and she can be a little terse. But she’s also encouraging, fair, professional, and, in the end, she turns the salons into high-functioning team environments focused on customer service.

It’s a journey that–well, let’s just say it’s one I’m familiar with.

Organizational dysfunction is actually so common it has become “function.” Workplace environments are chock full of people with issues, people dodging responsibility, people viciously guarding their little fiefdoms, and people hating each other. Even the best teams I’ve worked on have had these elements to them in some proportion; at worst, it’s all there’s been. This is why the workplace is such a common setting for sit coms. (And why The Office is funnier if, you know, you work in an office. See also Dilbert.)

There are a few pretty consistent things Tabatha has pointed out in her salons:

1. Clutter is the devil. A lot of the salons are a physical mess, which is often a symptom of emotional and intellectual messes you can’t see. Cleaning things up and getting things organized is an important part of the transition, and it puts everyone in the salon in a good mood.

2. Leadership is not optional. Several of the salon owners I saw were reluctant to be real leaders. One was basically an irrational tyrant who felt her job wasn’t to “coddle” her employees by giving them pats on the back; the rest were all mousy or immature versions of real leaders who were afraid of being disliked. Tabatha helps them understand the difference between being liked (or feared) and being respected.

3. Dead wood must go. In organizations, people who don’t carry their weight are often buffered by the high-performers around them, so they can coast along without putting in much effort for a while. Tabatha roots these low-performers out, gives them a set of standards and expectations, and then gives them a chance to improve. If they don’t, she cuts them loose–or, better yet, gives them an opportunity to quit on their own when they realize the salon is evolving beyond their ability to participate.

4. Clients come first. A few of the salons I saw had strong teams in them; it’s just that the teams were more focused on having a good time with each other than they were on giving their clients what they want. Tabatha refocuses their work away from that unhealthy dynamic toward perfecting services first, then developing the internal team second. And really, the internal team development is the responsibility of the salon owner and manager, not the team itself–Tabatha reinforces this.

Tabatha, after her week in the salon, comes back about six weeks later to see how things are going. Most of the salons have hit their stride and do much better, even if they’ve painted over Tabatha’s repainting and refurnishing. (But that can be an important “reclaiming” of the territory by the owner.) At least 1 owner completely restored the salon to its’ pre-Tabatha operations, including terrorizing her staff and demoting her only functional leader in the team. It was sad to see. But it was clear that owner just wanted out of the business and she was hellbent on making her salon fail.

Whenever people have to work in groups, things get nutty. I think when artists work together in groups, it can get nuttier pretty quickly. Watching this show has reminded me about the importance of remembering what a leader’s responsibilities are, and that even when we don’t want to, we always have to do the difficult things we are called upon to do.

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