What Would We See if You Were on Undercover Boss?
Every year on or around October 16th employees in four
countries around the world thank their bosses for being kind and fair
throughout the year. It’s called Boss’s Day. A secretary
for an insurance company in Illinois registered October 16th “National
Boss’s Day” in 1958 with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She wanted to show her boss, also her dad, appreciation for the hard
work, dedication, and challenges he faced as her supervisor on his birthday,
Now in it’s 8th season on CBS, Undercover Boss is a TV series featuring an executive or business owner who poses as an entry-level worker starting a new job in his or her own company. Depending on how visible the boss is throughout the company, he or she may need to don a disguise and assume an alias with a cover story to go unrecognized. With camera crew in tow, the boss spends a week or two in various locations, performing a myriad of duties being filmed for a supposed documentary.
The boss works shoulder to shoulder with the frontline men and women,
connecting with them, hearing their true stories of challenge and struggle. A
direct line of sight into the day-to-day operations of the company reveals
opportunities for employee training, improvements in working conditions, and
the loyalty of the dedicated workers.
And sometimes, the bosses discover their worst nightmare come true. Like
Market employee who voiced his blatant hatred of customers. Or the front
desk receptionist at Retro
Fitness who was fond of playing on her phone, dropping the F-bomb, and
displaying an abusive attitude towards members.
Then there’s middle management; they can either be the glue that holds
the organization together, or the rotten apple in the basket. Hooter’s
manager Jimbo was portrayed as the latter when he openly insulted the
scantily-clad waitresses during inspection of their uniforms and appearance. He
over-zealously asserted his power further by having them compete to see who
could go home early. The game? Eat a plate of beans without using your hands.
No idea what the goal was, other than demeaning these women.
What’s more, sometimes the bosses themselves are caught being inept on
the job. Granted, they are usually doing a manual labor job that they’ve
probably never done, or not done in many years. Take for instance Mike
Bloom, COO of Family Dollar. Hired as a forklift operator in a busy
warehouse, Mike was fired on his first day for failure to observe and follow
safety procedures. His supervisor made a good call: safety isn’t to be trifled
with when the reality of someone getting hurt is ever-present.
Alas, Undercover Boss IS a
heavily edited reality show manipulated to entertain and drive publicity for
the featured companies. Yet it still reveals undercurrents of truth and
accuracy while following a predictable plotline.
Regardless of the size of your organization, what would the viewing public see if a camera crew followed you, your managers, and your frontline employees’ every move and decision for a few weeks? Would heavy editing be necessary to soften harsh behaviors? Would you be embarrassed or proud to air your show on national television? Would you want your family to watch the episode featuring your company and your actions?
Take it a step further. What would be revealed if the cameras were
hidden too? THAT would make for actual
reality. How much heavy editing would be required then? Would you be shocked
and mortified to see a manager’s performance caught on film? Perhaps you kept
brushing it off as him ‘having a bad day’ and continued to give him a pass. But
now you see his attitude is pervasive.
Would you be disturbed by your own demeanor and choices, or would you relish in your intelligent and thoughtful decision-making abilities? Would your leadership and communication style be heralded as best-in-class by your workforce and customers? Or would you be the target of criticism and condemnation, caught treating people differently depending on their title or paygrade?
Now, imagine watching the footage from the hidden cameras as if you
were in a movie theater. As you sit in the theater, do you’re your best to view
the show from the perspective of an employee. How would your impression of the
person [you] on the big screen be different? What would you say to the you in
the movie? How would you advise your character in the movie?Would your feedback
be harsh or critical, or would you be high-fiving your character for being such
an outstanding executive?
Are you truly worthy of being
recognized and showered with gratitude and appreciation for your dedication,
hard work, and exemplary ability to deal with challenges? Are you known for
listening to your employees; their fears and difficulties, as well as their big
ideas and suggestions for how to improve the business? Do you frequently show appreciation to your employees for their dedication, hard work, and
exemplary ability to deal with challenges? Or do you isolate yourself in an office;
brush off complaints with the attitude the person is a whiner, and rule like a
On this Boss’s Day, be ruthlessly discriminating and honest with
yourself. See yourself through the eyes of your employees. Not just today, but
every day. Are you being the Best Boss you can be? Not sure? Ask your employees! Consider utilizing a 360 degree leadership
assessment to discreetly discover your areas for improvement. You can include
employees, colleagues, customers, supervisors and other relevant stakeholders.
Whether your employees shower you with gifts today or not, ask them what you’re doing right, and then ask them what you could do better. Ask them what a camera crew would catch if your company, division, or department was on an episode of Undercover Boss. Then shut your mouth and LISTEN! In order to expect great results from your employees, you must ask great questions.
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Wendy Nolin is the President of Wendy Nolin Worldwide , a business and executive career coaching firm that liberates professionals from the status quo . Wendy has nearly 2 decades of business and career development experience coaching executives to advance in their career, and business owners to double their revenue in half the time. Her latest book, Own Your Greatness is now available on Amazon.