Monday, February 15, 2010

Lessons from the Line Undercover Style

This morning many bloggers, writers and critics are weighing in on the new television show, Undercover Boss. After two episodes, I have found I like the premise but the logistics make it difficult for me to believe that the employees didn't know something was up. If cameras are following a new hire around at work how open would you really be in that situation? I know editing and scripting have a lot to do with the end product.

I do believe that CEO's should have contact with the front line and do that often. By the front line I mean with employees that are delivering to the customers on a daily basis AND actually meeting with customers to get their perceptions of the brand and service delivery. From the front line perspective I think the CEO's from Waste Management and Hooter's probably gained a lot of good information that they can now TAKE ACTION on to be a better company. The key is now that the big hoopla is over, what are those CEO's going to do to make things different?

Here are some lessons I think any company can learn from the front line:

1) Which processes work and which do not. Sometimes processes are developed at corporate with cost cutting in mind with out regards to the impact on employees and customers.

2) Polices and procedures can actually work against you. At Waste Management, in Episode 1, the employees were being docked double for being late for lunch. I am sure that cost the company more than just dollars: morale, engagement and productivity took a hit as well.

3) Managers are sometimes just idiots. Jimbo the Hooter's manager had a blatant disrespect for women. This behavior will never be addressed by training as one of the leaders at Hooter's declared. Disrespect unfortunately is in your character and is hard to "unwire" that trait. He may be on his best behavior for awhile, but it will come back up again. I read a lot of blogs and tweets that said the CEO, Coby Brooks should have fired him on the spot. I don't think he had that authority since Jimbo was a franchised employee...wasn't Coby's decision.

4) Customers should be listened to. In the Hooter's episode Coby took to the streets to promote the restaurant. He asked some passers by about Hooters and the ladies responses were, "degrading to women" and "I wouldn't let my daughter work here." Depending on what Coby wants to do and what he means by expanding his customer base, he may have to take actions to change the perception of Hooters. He did state he wanted to create a marketing campaign that showed Hooters girls are people too while keeping the uniforms the same.

5) Sometimes the top Leadership just loses touch with the business. Leadership forgets how hard it is to serve customers, they forget how their decision impact the workforce, and sometimes they lose touch with the people that make it happen everyday. I was amazed at the every day life stories that were uncovered so far that seemed to shock the CEO's, single moms, tough schedules, time management, bad bosses, illnesses, etc. All of that is just everyday life for the working class....

I also found it very shocking that not one person recognized the CEO's even in their slight disguises. For Coby he hadn't been in one location since he was 16, no chance of blowing a cover there. That speaks volumes to me. I contrast that with a big box retailer that I know and how it is very common for the CEO and his leadership team to WALK the stores on a weekly basis. I think his cover would be blown by store 2.

My goal would be NOT to be able to go undercover in my company because so many people knew me that it would be impossible!!

What are your thoughts on "Undercover Boss?" What lessons has your company learned front the line?
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