Karyl Innis, who runs a Dallas consultancy that helps executives with career advancement and transition, says a key lesson of The Office is that bosses can plan and strategize to exhaustion, but their best-laid plans will almost always get twisted by office gossip and resistance. Execution is only as good as the receiver's interpretation, Innis says. "They may butcher it in any way they please."
The Office, a remake of a British program by the same name, averaged a modest 7.8 million viewers last season. It does comparatively better among young adults and is among the shows that are most frequently captured on TiVo for delayed viewing.
Show doesn't tickle every CEO's funny bone
Many CEOs say they have never seen it. Craig Hunt, CEO of Cortex Resort Living, a developer of luxury homes in the Florida Keys, rented Season Two at USA TODAY's request. Halfway through the second episode he turned it off.
"The only winner here was Blockbuster. bbi It just isn't funny to me," Hunt said. "This series would be great material for management training on what not to do."
Likewise, Kathy Sharpe, CEO of New York ad agency Sharpe Partners, says she gets little from The Office. "It reassures me that I'm not the most dysfunctional employer on the planet. Seriously, I've learned more from the (National Geographic channel's) Dog Whisperer."
"Michael has risen several levels above his incompetence, giving hope to workers everywhere that they, too, can someday be promoted to middle management and safely hide there until retirement," Alexander says. "He has also learned the value of management by walking around. This causes his staff to be highly productive, since they would much rather work than have another potentially awkward exchange with him."
At the other extreme is Paul Holstein, chief operating officer of CableOrganizer.com in Fort Lauderdale. He says The Office is "nearly Norman Lear in scope and execution. It promotes tolerance, understanding."
Jon Spector, CEO of The Conference Board, an organization that tries to improve business effectiveness, likens The Office to the 18-year-old comic strip Dilbert that appears in 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries. Both TheOffice and Dilbert show how leaders have enormous impact for good — and how they can "screw things up," Spector says.
'Dilbert' creator is a big fan of the show
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams says he loves The Office and also sees similarities to his strip. "The lesson from The Office and from Dilbert is that people are often dysfunctional, and no amount of training can fix it," Adams says.
"We're all prone to make the same mistakes Michael Scott makes, creating perfunctory training sessions and then not walk the talk, or failing to recognize conflicts that are sapping the energy of the organization," Adams says.
ACCO Brands abd CEO David Campbell rarely watches The Office. But ACCO Brands, a large supplier of office products with 7,000 employees and $2 billion in annual revenue, is asking workers nationwide to submit photo nominations for "America's Ugliest Office," and so he agreed to take a look at the program's set.
He says the only color and design comes from bobble heads and other personal items and that The Office set is designed with a lack of privacy in mind.