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February 28, 2012

On-the-Job Training Gone Bad

Baja FreshRunning a cash register, dealing with customers, and understanding the multitude of differences in a fast food menu within minutes of stepping behind the counter can be a humbling experience.  

This is the situation that David Kim, CEO of Baja Fresh found himself in, when he was thrown into the roles of a cashier and manager in the television show ‘Undercover Boss’.

After having worked in various fast food restaurants and grocery store delis, I understood the time and training it takes to do the job well. Being expected to undertake this job within minutes of entering the door is not only unfair, but unmanageable by a vast majority of people. Of course, to create the drama in the reality television, rather than give David the training that any other average worker would get, they throw him right in the mix and expect stellar service, multitasking abilities, and speedy service from a total newcomer. It did provide for some dramatic outcomes, though, at the same time, it made me wonder if this was a good way in which the company should showcase itself on national television.

By the time I finished watching this episode, I had three important questions:

1. Why is the new employee left alone?
Throughout the episode, we see David taking up various jobs from mopping the floor, cleaning toilets, making salsa, creating complicated sandwiches, setting up a cold table, delivering food, and of course, trying his hand at the cash register during a busy lunch hour.

During each of these jobs, he was either left alone, or made to look inept at even the simplest jobs. I wonder if this was really David’s fault or of that of the writers of the show trying to script in some drama and awkward moments, which otherwise would not have existed.

2. Without any guidance, how was he to know what he must do?
In any case, the biggest fault of this show was to throw David into the mix without a shred of training. Anyone who has watched this would think that a new employee to Baja Fresh must innately know how to run the complicated register and understand the complicated menu while suavely interacting with customers without a flaw in spite of any training or support (as his partners in each section of the show seem to have left him to his own devices). Even in desperate situations, a newcomer is not put on the lunch rush. In fact, a newcomer would probably work his way up to a rush by working with a trainer or alone during slow times of the day, building up speed and confidence until he can show to work at busier and busier times of the day. Thankfully Baja Fresh did not have a ‘drive through’. ‘Drive through’ workers are usually under more stress than the lunch rush cashiers, and it would have given a really bad image to the company if they had done this.

3. Did showing the CEO as an Undercover Boss help the company’s image?
Though it may be ‘fun’ at times to see a CEO try his hand at ‘regular Joe’ jobs, it can also adversely affect customer relations. If the customers in the lunch rush line were indeed not handpicked to be there, they would have been coming in for lunch on their lunch break and severely pressed for time. They would be overly irritated or even simply leave the store to be confronted with such a slow cashier. They may be so irritated that they would infrequently or never return to the location. During the busy work day, the last thing anyone wants is to be held up in a queue at a restaurant waiting for food!

Overall, this episode of Undercover Boss left me with mixed emotions. I was inspired by David Kim and the other immigrant workers who were featured in the show. I was a bit dismayed that the one American worker from Boise was not showcased as prominently as the immigrants, although she has a burden of raising a family and was also sacrificing just as much as the three immigrant workers. I was confused about the prize distribution, not having a company reveal, and when the show finished, I was left wondering if Baja Fresh was successful in identifying their real problems or if the whole episode was staged.

photo credit: randomcuriosity @flickr

Author, Jennifer Kumar provides training to Indians and expats traveling to the US to learn about US business culture and etiquette to ensure successful corporate engagements with American counterparts. Contact her here.  

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. She can be contacted here.  .

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We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.