Friday, April 25, 2014

The Wicked Witch of the Mall

I like to read articles at LinkedIn, but sometimes the message sent by the writers may not be what they, or the site, believe they are imparting to the members.  LinkedIn, as you may know, is a web site based on business networking and communication, and to that end the site has what they call ‘Influencers’ – people with one thousand or more ‘followers’ but for all practical purposes these are celebrities, senior executives, and generally people with a rather large amount of money and power and – sadly – egos to match.  I understand that the site would become unwieldy if just anyone could post articles, but the selection of ‘Influencers’ is sometimes unwise, and many of the rich and powerful display arrogance and a callous ignorance of how most regular people live and work to such a degree, that their articles betray an abominably poor ethical knowledge.  A sad example of this type would be Kat Cole, who runs the Cinnabon franchise business, and who – in my opinion – grossly over-estimates both her business acumen and her people skills.  LinkedIn has run a number of ‘Insider’ articles which depict Ms. Cole in an ideal light; one released Friday was written by Ms. Cole herself, and is essentially free advertising:

In that article, Ms. Cole describes herself as “a restaurant and franchise executive ... running Cinnabon”.  Let’s start there.  Executives are hired by a board of directors to run and grow a business.  Cinnabon’s web site notes that Ms. Cole was hired as Chief Operations Officer in 2010, following fifteen years working in the ‘Hooters’ restaurant chain, where she started as a waitress.  Ms. Cole has an MBA from Georgia State University.  She became Cinnabon’s President in 2011.

Now, I have great respect for anyone who can move up through the ranks, but Ms. Cole’s story is a bit thin.   Franchises are run primarily by the managers at each location, and the corporate office licenses the franchises and makes sure they comply with corporate policy, especially regarding branding, marketing, and using approved supplies and product. 

The President of Cinnabon, then, turns out to be just one of fifteen members of senior management at Focus Brands

It turns out that Cole’s job at Cinnabon was the same in 2011 and in 2010; she simply got a new title.   It may sound cynical, but the available information of her time at Hooters suggests that Ms. Cole rose through the ranks the same way, by having roles created for her. observes that Cole went from waitress to executive VP at Hooters by the time she was 26 years old … without a degree or any relevant management or business experience.  The site also notes that Cinnabon is owned by Focus Brands, an umbrella corporation that does most of the real operations planning and execution.

Again, nothing wrong with a success story, but we’re not talking here about someone who handled the standard tasks of management, like creating and working under a budget, or meeting performance quotas for revenue growth; we’re talking about someone who knew how to network and schmooze to get promotions.  I don’t mind that so much as I object to Ms. Cole selling herself as an expert in employee development and business management, as she did in an interview with Daniel Roth (also posted at LinkedIn):

Cole takes credit for everything she can, from Cinnabon’s location to promotional partnerships (both are essentially lies – franchises are largely dependant on the franchise buyer and the parent company drives most of the promotional tie-ins, not Cole).
Here’s how Cole describes her resume:
There's nothing about that on paper that makes me a very attractive business candidate. But I knew from my real world experience that if you gave me a team or gave me a company I am a sure bet to serve them and build a business.”
Confidence is fine.  But there’s nothing in her actual experience to back up that claim.
 Cole goes on
That background has colored how she hires and fires. Ivy Leaguers aren't chased, skills are secondary concerns. "You hire for attitude and culture fit, because you can always train skill," she says.
That bothered me.  It sounds clever, but just who decides what ‘attitude’ or ‘culture’ you use for your standard?  It’s extremely easy for that to be cover for ‘my way or the highway’, as many bosses in the past have decreed. 
I was even more concerned with Cole’s next statement:
 "High performers hate working with mediocre performers," she says. "Not just low performers. Mediocre performers. So you're devaluating your best team players by not addressing people who aren't really cutting it for the brand."
Pay very close attention to that statement, because therein lies a heart of selfish cruelty.  First she believes she speaks for all the ‘high performers’ at her company, and uses that arrogance to announce that anyone but those ‘high performers’ need ‘addressing’, and she clearly implies that firing anyone who isn’t ‘cutting it’ is the best solution.  Not a hint about confirming the cause of performance concerns.  Not a word about working with employees to improve performance, to make standards and expectations clear.  A boss whose first and only thought is to kick out employees who don’t fit her idea of ‘attitude’ or ‘culture’, is a poisonous employer, I think. 

Forgive me for not applauding Ms. Cole.