Sep 5, 2011

CEO going undercover - can it be more than just good TV?

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series)Image via WikipediaOne day flipping channels I managed to stumble across BBC Entertainment's show "Undercover Boss - USA" - It showed the CEO of Lucky Strike doing himself up in a disguise and working in four aspects of his business with frontline employees who had no idea they were working along with their CEO.

Doing this he learned about the professional and personal challenges faced by those employees and the systems and processes that need to be fixed. Working alongside employees who are told that they are filmed for a show about entry level jobs, the show allows the CEO to secretly interact with blue collar unions of their organisation before the big announcement.

 At the end of the week, the CEO revealed his identity and rewarded the four employees. The show works on the dual premise of showing the top cadre of management what their junior-most employees go through on a daily basis. The genuine astonishment of the employees themselves when finally confronted with the reality is both touching and somewhat comical, and makes for great reality television.

 The show is emotionally entertaining but with its own shortcomings. While the concept of the CEO going undercover and working among his employees to gauge both employee satisfaction levels and the perception about the company among the internal stakeholders is interesting, it lacks momentum to be translated into the real world. As an HR policy, it would be very difficult for the leader of any company to be able to roam around in the lower echelons incognito.

Such a practice if ever followed can only happen at the most once or twice and then made redundant. Also while most employees are hard working and sincere, their perspective and point of view would always have biases which would not reflect the whole picture for the CEO to take back as any value add for employee practices. But then again, it is a piece of feel good television. The fun part is seeing the boss try out various odd jobs within the company. So, if you ever felt that wealthy CEO's are out of touch with reality, you might be pleasantly surprised. All in all an interesting and entertaining show.

However, what the take home for CEOs can be from the show is the concept started by Bill and Dave of "Hewlett-Packard" fame - that to really know the innards of the business you need to be focused on "Management by Walking Around" and if you are authentic you do not really need to go in disguise to find out how your employees think, feel and act.
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