"The Office," the NBC show starring "40-Year-Old Virgin" Steve Carell, is not exactly the place you'd think to turn for sage management advice or growth strategies. The main chracter, the office manager Michael Scott played by Carell, hides out in his office to avoid responsibility. He lies. He hits on his employees. He's a racist.
But the more I watch "The Office," the more I see lessons for business owners in each episode. OK, maybe not lessons, but Carell's parody at least takes a close look at some of the difficult issues in managing people and running a business.
Take episode three, the one about health care, which reran last night in NBC's "The Office" marathon.
Picking a health care plan for your company is never an easy thing. How do you determine the coverage that best suits your staff? Can you afford it? Do you choose one at all? Last year, just 63% of companies with fewer than 200 employees offered health benefits, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.
Office manager Scott, tasked with choosing a new health care plan for his employees, first considers the Cadillac plan: full coverage with all the frills, like accupuncture and massage. Sounds nice. But it's too expensive, so he eyeballs the no-frills plan. That one would make him look cheap to his employees, so he does what every boss wants to do with the responsibility of choosing a health care plan: he chucks it. Scott passes the chore on to a subordinate, paper salesman Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson).
Schrute's first approach is to be democratic: he asks everyone to write down their medical histories so he can choose a health care plan that suits all of their needs.
It's sort of ingenius. Why can't health care plans be better tailored to those they insure than to those who administer the care? For legal reasons, among others, this strategy doesn't work, and in the end, the employees get stuck with the bare-bones, bargain-basement health care coverage that Scott really wanted to choose in the first place.
Scott ends up looking like a dirtbag for shirking his duties and sticking his employees with essentially no health coverage. But then, a lot of companies have to take the low-cost (to the company) option. It's only because of Scott's approach -- hiding in his office, giving the task to someone else -- does it seem to turn out so bad.