What lessons can we learn from Working Girl  in the social media age?.


Working Girl in 2015

A rainy Sunday afternoon provided the perfect excuse for a bit of 80s feel-good film viewing. For anyone not familiar with the plot of the 1988 classic, Working Girl, here’s Wikipedia with a quick reminder:
Working Girl is a 1988 romantic comedy-drama film written by Kevin Wade and directed by Mike Nichols. It tells the story of a Staten Island-raised secretary, Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), working in the mergers and acquisitions department of a Wall Street investment bank. When her boss, Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), breaks her leg skiing, Tess uses Parker's absence and connections, including her errant beau Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), to put forward her own idea for a merger deal.
A plot device early in the film sees Tess attending a party, incognito, to get the measure of Harrison Ford’s character before she meets him the following day. Not realising that she’s talking to Jack, she lets slip who she is but he doesn’t reveal his identity. A Valium and tequila combination causes problems and several hours of mortification for Tess before things get back on track.
Of course, this would never happen in the social media age. Tess would have checked Jack out on LinkedIn, and no doubt have had a good look at his Twitter feed, Facebook page and Instagram account for good measure before picking up the phone to set up that meeting. And Jack would naturally have done the same; thus finding out far sooner that Tess wasn’t the boss, but the secretary. Game – and film – over.
So what else can we learn from Working Girl (other than not to stand anywhere near a naked flame with those hairdos)? 
  1. These days, there’s no excuse for turning up to a meeting unprepared. People tell you so much about themselves and their companies online that if you can’t find some common ground before you’ve even so much as shaken hands, then you’re doing something wrong. Take the time to do your research – you’re missing a trick if you don’t.
  1. Katharine and Tess, beware. In 2015, it’s much harder to fake it. I know, I know. Tess isn’t a bad person. She’s just taking the initiative to get the career break she’s been working hard for. But in this ‘readily available information’ age, she would have a much harder job keeping up the pretence and many more people than her immediate colleagues to fool.
  1. It has never been easier for word of bad behaviour (or poor service) to spread. Once people have had a bad experience of working with you, they won’t hold back on social media. I suspect that today, the Mergers & Acquisitions Twitter feed would have taken a bashing once word got out that Katharine had passed off her secretary’s idea as her own. She’d probably have lost a few followers, and I doubt anyone would be rushing to recommend her on LinkedIn or share her weekly blog posts.
  1. A lesson in crisis management for the Mergers & Acquisitions team. I do hope they’d taken time to do some crisis communications planning and put a robust strategy in place for dealing with rogue employees like Katharine. Because once their other clients found out about Katharine’s behaviour, there’d no doubt be some work to do to regain their trust.
If it’s still raining next Sunday, Back to the Future will be the film of choice. Now what can Marty McFly teach us about business? Anyone?
The Partners Group


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