The top rated CBS reality show, Undercover Boss, offers some real and valuable lessons for the business world. If you’ve never watched, the reality show follows chief executives at companies, such as Waste Management, 7-Eleven and even Hooters, as they work “undercover” alongside their unknowing employees. And although I’m not a big fan of reality TV (to say the least), I am a big fan of Undercover Boss because of the business lessons it shares.
When was the last time you operated on the line, did the work of your assistant, or went back out to make sales? You may be amazed by what you could learn. Following are three business lessons I gathered from just a few episodes of the show.
1. When you walk in my shoes, you see the business as others do (and are able to make better business decisions). Making the best decisions may require walking in the shoes of others in your company. Now it may be surprising… but some CEO’s are fairly removed from what their firms are actually delivering. The boss can become so separated from the day-to-day operations of the company that he/she can’t possibly make the best decisions. One can become so focused on reaching company goals, increasing productivity, streamlining, etc. and loose sight of how these objectives are achieved. Is it at the expense of your employees?
The COO of Waste Management cleaned out port-a-potties using a long vacuum tube, picked up garbage on the side of the road, and collected trash in a garbage truck. His perception of his employees and what they do and how they have to do it changed dramatically. He was so far removed from the process that he lost sight of the hard work and effort put in by his employees that made the company what it was.
Would you be willing to participate in the different jobs and roles in your company?
2. Listening to your employees that are having direct contact with your clients is invaluable. Do you have a method for listening to the valuable suggestions of others (beyond a “complaint box” that has remained locked since the early 90’s) that will actually help the firm?
Each episode of Undercover Boss reveals that employees desire a voice in improving the company. When the big boss, while undercover, asks the employees about their jobs, challenges and personal lives, they receive an avalanche of information. The employees talk about their financial difficulties, health issues, job stress and fears of being fired.
A female garbage truck driver at Waste Management shared that corporate has mandated a strict quota for trash pick-up that means she must go to the bathroom in a coffee can because she doesn’t have time to stop at a restroom. The undercover boss was shocked at what his mandates were doing to the morale and humanity of some workers. Once his identity was revealed, he asked the garbage truck driver to head a committee that will find ways to make Waste Management more female-friendly.
What techniques could you implement to encouragement your employees to share their concerns and feedback regarding the company?
3. Morale can be improved by authentic understanding and appreciation – not just money. Many employees don’t receive sincere appreciation from above in their company, especially coming from a place of hands on knowledge. It’s not just money – it’s understanding and acknowledgment that cultivates morale. People want to know that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed. In each episode, after the undercover bosses were revealed, the boss acknowledges the workers face-to-face. It’s a reality show tear jerker (and for good reason) because of how the appreciation from the big boss resonates with the workers.
Just think – a reality show that can be applied to improving real life. Next up – critical life lessons from Dancing With The Stars (just joking).