From the Board Room to the Lunch Room

Larry O'Donnell, CEO, Waste Management is the first Undercover Boss. Photo credit: CBS

In the midst of all the Super Bowl activity, I saw a preview of a new show on CBS called "Undercover Boss" and while the title may suggest bosses spying on their employees, it's not what I gathered from the premise of the show. The show basically shows CEOs of some major US companies, taking off the CEO hats and getting down and dirty in the trenches with frontline staff - getting a feel for what they do, how they feel, how their top-down policies affect the employee, the customers and the overall business.

Can someone say hallelujah? I thought this was a great idea and while it may be just another reality show, the idea behind it is sound. Now I don't expect to see CEOs around the world, rushing to put on the uniforms of their frontline staff, but does management really and truly understand the needs, concerns and issues of their employees? It's a bit alarming that some of these CEOs go work for a week with their employees, who don't recognise them. How do you not know your CEO? Just goes to show how far removed some managers are from the people who work for them.

Sadly, in many companies, talk to employees and you will hear the signs of distrust and resentment and frustration. And it just should not always be the role of the HR or PR teams either to be that channel. CEOs really need to get out there and know their people. It may be one guy in the kitchen, or the one woman near the copier, but sitting in an office all day will not only drive any sane person bananas, but can also isolate leadership from the rest of the company.

And now there are tools, so even in the largest of organisations, with the busiest of CEOs, leaders can still make themselves accessible. Here are the days of video conferences (I have sat through my share of trans-Atlantic bonding), podcasts, blogs, YouTube. Here are the days of leaders getting to know the people who work for them and communicating with them in a real way. And I would hope leaders would use these tools honestly and not have their PR teams do ghost channelling/communicating.

I am excited to see the show, though of course I still see it as just another entertaining, "feel good" reality show. But if they are sincere and determined to learn more about the people of their organisations, then it would be a lesson to their colleagues around the world that it can be done, not necessarily on tv, nor in the way they are doing it, but it can be done. And should be done.

Check out the video for "Undercover Boss" here.

The show aired Sunday night but I wrote this at Sunday at 5.30pm, knowing I would be too medicated to watch it. 


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