- Paperback: 278 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; First edition (August 4, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520085000
- ISBN-13: 978-0520085008
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,187,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life First Edition
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Dr. Leidner's study of how this morphing of individual to group collective focuses on two job classes at diverse ends of the American economic experience. On the one side is McDonalds, whose counter and burger flipping positions, even if in many instances filled by students on their way to something far different, have also become a shorthand for employment of last resort among those with few skills, options, and long term prospects. On the other end of the study is Combined Insurance Company of America (CICA), a subsidiary of Aon Corp. CICA is a sales driven company, and sales - dispite the field's high washout rate - remains for those who do it well the highest paying profession in America.
Early on Dr. Leidner suggests that there is irony in the fact that these companies, which rely on structure and standardization to a degree uncommon in their respective fields, were formed by highly dynamic individualists, Ray Krock and W. Clement Stone respectively, who challenged convention and relied on personal instinct in building their empires. It makes for a nice sentence or two, but most people who build empires, be they Krock and Stone, or Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, James Hill, Michael Dell, Sam Walton, etc use a different approach to building than will subsiquently be needed to maintain and expand those companies. Even a company as wildly creative as Apple Computer needs to instill a degree of structure within the organization if only so it doesn't fall prey to entrophy.
Still, organizational struture isn't the theme of the book, instead it is what happens to people whose jobs involve working directly with customers, human interactions, that realm of life where individual personality is most apt to express itself, but who are told to conduct those exchanges with the same routine and scripting of a working standing at a machine and mass producing parts on an assembly line. Because McDonalds is a recognizeable American icon most of the attention given this book - including the other review on this site - focuses on the chapters dealing with the fast food giant. I found the chapters about Combined Insurance Company far more interesting. I work in sales and during my second year in the field I joined (and have since left) CICA in Virginia during the time that Leidner was doing her research and observations in the company's midwestern operations.
Leidner focused on the company's Life divison, even as she stated that the Accident Indemnity divison which I sold in, practiced the greatest reliance on standardized presentations and scripting in general. In her assessment the company's philosophy of reliance on a tightly structured sales system came at the expense of individualism and forced sales reps to subliminate elements of their own personalities and as such had to struggle with feelings of inauthicity and a loss of self.
To a degree her assessment makes sense, and as CICA gave her full access to the company's sales school, as well as interivews and field time with new agents and managers, her studies did reflect what her subjects cited as their actual experiences. That said - and dispite CICA giving her more cooperation and acceptance than some at McDonalds gave her - I feel that she didn't do as complete a job of putting CICA in its proper place within the evolution of sales methods over the past 100+ years.
Dr. Leidner seemed at times to subscribe to the myth of the 'natural born salesperson'. The hired gun who shot from the hip, said whatever came to mind, and sold circles around everyone else b/c of inate abilities that couldn't be studied, quantified, or taught. This misconception has long bitten at the heals of anyone who dared argue that sales can be taught. In the 1890's when John Henry Peterson organized the first sales schools for NCR reps, and wrote the first standardized sales manual, which he demanded his reps follow - at the risk of being fired even if they met quota while using other methods there has been a debate over whether selling is a learnable skill or an artform that one either has or hasn't. People in the latter camp react to any approach to standardize the field in the same way a literary writer reacts to romance and mystery novelist who churn out and sell formulaic fiction by the boatload.
It has been my observation over 20 plus yrs that people who enter sales with the latter view often washout and return to other fields when they find that doing it by the seat of their pants doesn't work. CICA's training wasn't so much about denying indiviual initiative, but about giving the individual agent tools that worked (this afterall is the field where Elmer Wheeler, the man remembered for coining the phrase 'sell the sizzle, not the steak' found that a sales rep could increase his sales 500% just by omitting two words in his closing sentence).
Reading Dr. Leidner's account of new hires trying to deal with CICA's methods in 1987 I was reminded of some of my long forgotten impressions from sales school. At the time I watched my classmates, most of whom were new to sales and with little previous knowledge of the history of the field, its inovators, and groundbreakers, or of the principles of human behavior that drove the methods, react defensively and with uncertainty to what they were being taught. My impression at the time was that CICA could have generated greater acceptance of its methods if some time had been given to validating the underlying principles - which that minority of us with prior sales backgrounds knew to be true. Dr. Leidner's interviews suggested that some of the new agents she spent time with struggled with the same thing.
As such, what she terms a stuggle to keep subverting the self, and losing one's individuality to scripted methods, may in fact have been an individual lost in a tool chest or weighed down by a tool belt such that they somehow failed to see themselves for what they really were, craftsmen provided with world class tools, whose success or failure would depend on how they as individuals used those tools.