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Business Lessons From "The Office" Part 1


I think every college senior believes that their first place of employment will resemble Dunder Mifflin. In reality, the professional realm does not allow for beets or Battlestar Galactica nearly as often as one would hope. Thankfully, Netflix allows us the opportunity to binge the show constantly so we can get our fill of jello-encased mugs while we’re not at work.

Recently, while watching an episode for the 3,987,654th time, I started thinking about what I’ve learned regarding management, sales, people, and business in general simply by watching the show. While this is not a new topic for internet discussion by any means, I want to share some of the many takeaways The Office has had for me personally and pseudo-professionally. Given the sheer volume of examples - mostly bad - we will break this into parts.

As Dwight would say, “There are basically two schools of thought…”

1) Somehow I Manage **points for the reference here**

Michael Scott makes no shortage of references describing his leap from salesman to manager as a direct result of his sales successes. Viewers are given numerous glances into this salesmanship throughout the show, and they are generally pretty impressive given how Michael acts 99% of the time. How does Michael the salesman who demonstrates great practices - follow through, relationship building, customer connections - into Michael the manager...who demonstrates poor practices almost exclusively? The answer is simple and painfully common in the workplace: promoting someone to management based on their work as an individual contributor almost always leads to poor performance.

Why? Well, managing people is a skill like any other, and it is often mis-prioritized when promoting someone. Without a proper mentorship plan - or leadership pipeline - the path to success in a new role can be convoluted and unclear. We see this numerous times in the show as Michael proves he can move paper when needed, but struggles to communicate (any) bad news to his staff. The sales skills are present, but the management skills are not. Promote your people with a plan to groom them as leaders and mentors, and you’ll avoid a situation like Michael trying to “remain friends” with someone he’s fired.

2) Mergers and acquisitions

Dunder Mifflin has quite the tumultuous corporate environment throughout the show. From David Wallace to Robert California to...Andy Bernard, the show continually brings in characters and situations resulting from some kind of strategic business decision. While these situations are hyperbolic and hilarious - RIP Tony Gardner - the realities of corporate shifts pervade.

I was a part of a major acquisition in my own career, and the effects are still felt two years later. We can learn a lot from how Dunder Mifflin (mis) manages much of the merger simply by the comical level of attrition in the first weeks and how the firm ultimately declares bankruptcy. Further, we see individual characters remain loyal or jump ship, both very real scenarios after a sizeable merger.

Sabre ultimately acquires Dunder Mifflin and changes their product line to focus more on printers than paper. I believe the show undersells how changing product focus, even minorly, can lead to significant periods of training and enablement prior to any sales gains. Combine such a shift with the fact that the new product line occasionally catches fire...and well you’ve got a TV show.

That’s all for this portion. Subscribe to our blog to make sure you’re the first to receive the next update! I’m getting in line for pretzels now...

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