I finished watching Texas Ranch House and have a few things to say about the series as a whole. I was really impressed with how it showed real people in real management situations. I wish I could make the managers where I work watch the show although I am not entirely sure they would be able to see why Mr and Mrs Cooke were bad managers and even if they did, I dont think they would see where they have similar faults (eerily similar actually). But of course, there is no way for me to get the managers to watch the show other than saying “Hey, instead of watching the basketball playoffs, you should watch Texas Ranch House on PBS” To say that didn’t go over well would be something of an understatement at least judging from the uproarious laughter that occurred directly after my suggestion. Oh well. I tried. But, since I think it is fun to critique others, especially when they are managers, I’ll give a quick critique of what I saw on Texas Ranch House.
The very first thing I think that Mr Cooke did that was wrong was that he never made it very clear to the ranch hands that he and Mrs Cooke were running the ranch together. This led to all kinds of very sexist behavior both on the part of Mr Cooke and on the part of the ranch hands. I found myself seething every time I heard the ranch hands make remarks about how Mr Cooke needed to stop letting Mrs Cooke influence his decisions because they were essentially saying that Mr Cooke should stop being so pussy whipped. The whole concept that if a man allows a woman to influence his decisions is really terrible. But I think I can understand some of the frustration. Because they had a situation where they were told that Mr Cooke was in charge and they were to talk to him. It was apparently clear between Mr and Mrs Cooke that they were making decisions together and to Mrs Cooke’s credit, whenever Mr Cooke seemed to forget that, she let him know right quick! But even so, it was Mrs Cooke who was making some of the really bad decisions and the ranch hands never really had a chance to address anything to her directly or even indirectly.
This was because one of Mr Cooke’s big “rules” was that he would not tolerate disrespect. Then, he actually did fire someone because that person was ranting about Mrs Cooke. What made that particular firing really bad was that it was the cook, Nacho, who was fired. Nacho, as it happens, was a really bad cook. He wasn’t hygienic enough and might have been making the ranch hands sick. The Cooke family never seemed appropriately concerned about this but did try minimally to get the cook to cook healthy meals. I think they could have tried harder and then failing that, perhaps fired him for bad cooking. But no, he was fired for talking trash about the WomenFolk. Had I been a hand on that ranch, the message would have been that I was so unimportant that a person who was making me sick was not fired but a person who verbally said something insulting about Mrs Cooke that was *accidently* overheard was fired. Yeah, not a very good feeling and not one that would make me give a shit if the business was successful.
So while I think it was a bad idea for Mr Cooke not to make it clear that Mrs Cooke was essentially a “co-manager” , I think I could sort of understand the ranch hands’ frustration about the situation. Because as bad of a manager as Mr Cooke was, Mrs Cooke was much much worse. Most of the really bad decisions were either her decision solely or generally her idea. She really reminded me of one of those managers who seriously get on a power trip. She seemed to have no idea that the ranch *needed* the hands. She wanted them working hard from sun up to sun down. She did not like it when they had fun and I believe she was behind the decision to take away the ranch hands whiskey when she believed they were having too much fun. This wasn’t a decision based on work performance but on the noise coming from the bunkhouse. Mrs Cooke said several times that she didn’t feel that the ranch hands gave her the proper respect and maybe they didn’t but she never seemed to have any clue about the concept that respect is really more of something a person earns rather than something someone is due because of their rank or position in society.
There was one scene where Mr and Mrs Cooke had a meeting with all of the ranch hands about their bad metrics. In their case, they hadn’t claimed enough cattle. In our case, we were off target of some other metrics (since I don’t happen to work on a cattle ranch). This meeting seemed to be called when the Cooke’s noticed that the ranch hands were starting to sleep in and were coming back in the middle of the afternoon for naps. This is one of those hard calls because they were trying to be historically accurate and in those days, hands would work 12+ hours a day. So it in this context, it wasn’t unreasonable for the Cooke’s to have high expectations of the hands. The way they handled it though was just wrong. Basically, they gathered everyone and read them the riot act. IMHO, they really drove a wedge between management and labor right there. In fact, I thought the Cooke’s were very lucky because the reaction of the hands was to simply ignore them and to keep working at the same rate they had been working at while a lot of people might have tried to be very passive aggressive by doing as little work as possible while appearing to be busy. Oddly, the Cooke’s felt this meeting was a great success even though it cemented an action by the hands that happened later that probably would ultimately doom the ranch to failure.
At the end of the show, Mr Cooke ended up firing yet another of the Ranch Hands. He had made a deal with that particular hand that the hand could buy a horse for $25 out of his wages. Earlier in the show, that hand along with the horse in question had been kidnapped by Native Americans. Mr Cook refused to pay ransom for the hand but did agree to give the Native Americans some cattle in exchange for four horses. Unfortunately, Mr Cooke only got three horses because they counted the horse the ranch hand was riding as one of theirs (since they had rightfully taken it according to their custom). They let the hand go for free.
Mr Cooke decided that the horse belonged to the ranch hand at that time and therefore he had bought it back in the transaction. But I think that horse didn’t belong to the hand at that time and that Mr Cooke was being pretty sleazy to expect that hand to assume that kind of risk. It is the business owner in most cases who assumes the risks of the business. In cases where employees do, it is usually made clear up front (i.e. that some of their compensation will be in the form of profit sharing or stock options or whatever).
The hand was understandably angry when Mr Cooke pulled this business of not selling him the horse at the price originally agreed and the hand pretty much said that he was leaving the ranch on the horse anyways. Mrs Cooke insisted that this hand be fired because of his disrespect (familiar theme with her as it happens). So Mr Cooke fired the hand. However, because of his earlier actions and because this hand was the sort to earn real respect from his fellow employees and because the foreman was a good enough manager to get all of the hands to form a very cohesive team, all of the other hands decided to quit too. Every last one of them walked out. And that doomed the ranch. Because you see, the Cooke’s apparently thought that getting a whole new crew would be easy but skilled labor apparently wasn’t quite that available in 1867 Texas. Without their labor to do the work, the business would be sunk.
That seems to be a common attitude even among modern managers. I know that I have often felt that I, and my fellow employees, have not been treated as if we are valued. In fact, I sometimes think that the managers here believe that if they ever were to treat us like we have value, it would make them less powerful. But that isn’t so in my opinion. I think that it is possible to get employees invested in the success of the business. Employees who care about the success of the business tend to work harder and also tend to get more satisfaction from a job well done. The Cooke’s could have done a lot to foster that sort of thinking among the hands but they didn’t. I think that it would have been really easy to do it in their case too. Instead of constantly giving out the message, “you have to work harder because we are the bosses and we say so”, they should have been saying “we all need to work harder so we can meet our numbers and have a successful ranch because then we will all be successful”