This discussion post, for a Principles of Management class at Umass-Amherst, was in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “In Name Only: For Richard Thibeault, Being a `Manager’ Is a Blue-Collar Life — Grueling Hours, No Respect Make Low-Tier Bosses Feel Tired and Troubled — `Factory Work Was Easier‘”, written by Jonathan Kauffman. The first paragraph may seem irrelevant (as it is out of context), however the classmate who posted before me wrote that Theo Epstein originated the use of unusual, marginal statistics, to discover great baseball players; any self-respecting baseball fan will tell you Bill James is considered the founder of this statistical discipline.
Quick side-note on Theo Epstein, he did not come up with the idea of using these "unusual" statistics (Bill James did), nor, as the book Moneyball proves, was he the first baseball general manager to evaluate players this way (Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s was); the real reason for Theo’s success was a higher budget than the A’s and the brilliant move of hiring Bill James as a Red Sox consultant [plus Theo already had the ‘Greek God of Walks’, Kevin Youkilis, who Billy Beane has been coveting and trying to acquire for YEARS). I had to get that off my chest, go Red Sox! Now onto my post…
The overriding control structure in place at Mr. Thibeault’s Au Bon Pain [that Pain is very ironic considering the details of Mr. Thibeault’s work-life] is a bureaucratic market scheme. Mr. Thibeault receives constant sales and cost projections from his bosses who are far removed from the daily struggle to keep the restaurant afloat. Towards the end of the Wall Street Journal article, Mr. Thibeault receives another new form that he must fill out reporting on a few factors four times a day. The corporate headquarters don’t realize that these forms will only impede the success of the store even further, and instead of pointing this out to upper management, Mr. Thibeault decides to go ahead and comply with the form because "…if it’s the rule, I will do it." (Wall Street Journal, Oct 1, 1966 For Richard Thibeault, Being ‘Manager Is a Blue-Collar Life, 4).
The structure in place directly impacts the types of controls Mr. Thibeault has to exert on his employees, himself, and all the other resources needed to run the Au Bon Pain restaurant. This is one of the times Mr. Thibeault has to measure the performance of his store; however, Richard also has to analyze reports that come in over the computer and compare them to his store’s performance. Many of the times, his store deviates from the projections by not meeting sales targets. When this happens he must take corrective actions to help bring performance in line with the corporate goals, but as he is already overwhelmed with his job as it is, the steps he takes are usually less effective immediate corrective actions, such as telling his employees to pick up the pace or stepping in himself and doing many of the tasks he is supposed to be managing. If Mr. Thibeault had more time to actually manage, he might be able to take basic corrective actions such as analyzing bottlenecks, predicting peak demand better and be able to schedule resources, both human and food, to match peak demand. Revising the standard is not an option for Richard as his targets come from the detached corporate headquarters via his computer.
Thibeault attempts to use some feedforward control, such as hiring more employees to match demand to speed up the service or offering special sales discounts to increase his customer base but is always denied from above via computer printout. Instead Thibeault relies heavily on concurrent controls, such as encouraging employees and by performing tasks, such as baking muffins, picking up croissants, and handling customers, himself to ensure they are done properly. In this instance, Thibeault is both exerting control and being controlled (albeit by himself and indirectly by the corporate headquarters). Richard also uses feedback control, for instance when he puts up notes stating that taking items without paying for them will not be tolerated and by firing inefficient workers.
Mr. Thibeault is also heavily pressured by financial controls, which I’ve discussed above, are the printouts from his corporate headquarters demanding a certain level of sales while keeping costs below a certain threshold. The pressure to match these levels ends up damaging the ethical environment of Au Bon Pain, as Richard tampers with the earnings of the store by replacing missing cash with money out of his pocket. It seems odd to describe this behavior as unethical, as Richard is helping an employee out, but in essence he is lying about where that money is coming from and in a way is "managing earnings".
As noted above, Thibeault mainly uses feedback and concurrent controls, even though they are less effective than feedforward controls. This problem starts at the top though, as Richard himself only receives feedback and concurrent controls. Upper management denies him a bonus when he fails to reach a sales goal (negative feedback) and constantly provides him projections and up to the minute sales data to show how he is failing at achieving corporate goals. I did not observe any evidence of feedforward control being provided to Mr. Thibeault to help him achieve his goals. Instead upper management constantly tells him he is falling short and then sets him up for more failure by impeding him from working on improvements by asking for even more reporting.
I never thought my decision between Au Bon Pain and Dunkin Donuts (or any other fast food place) might have such a negative impact on the people inside those stores. It’s readily apparent that there are inefficient and ineffective controls in place at this restaurant and that causes many of the issues the book discussed, employee theft, workplace violence (the door slamming in Thibeault’s face, screaming in the food locker), emotionally troubled employees and so on an so forth. Mr. Thibeault is truly imprisoned in this unreasonable world and in turn he has no choice but to take it out on his employees and even friends and family outside of work (for instance when his beeper interrupts time with his parents). This article is a prime example of how micro-management, and especially the wrong type of micro-management, can lead to problems that can only be resolved by loosening the old ball and chain.