In other cases, employees received raises, promotions or new career opportunities inside their companies after the executives learned of their hard work, personal interests and career aspirations. The lesson here is simple but important: Actions speak even louder than words. Though the executives' earnest praise appeared to be sufficient for the employees, the executives' efforts to improve their personal and professional lives demonstrated that the execs truly care about their most valuable assets. (See clip below.)
Leaders Need to Listen. Often.
A third lesson that Undercover Boss makes clear is the importance of listening. Each episode shows that employees want to be heard but have little opportunity to vent or share ideas that might improve their companies. When the bosses, while undercover, ask the employees about their jobs, challenges and personal lives, they receive an earful. The employees talk about their health problems, their financial difficulties, their children's disabilities, the stress of their jobs, their fears of being fired for improperly placing a pickle on a hamburger.
It's as if the employees never had the chance to vent, and when the undercover bosses prompt them to talk, a dam breaks. The bosses are repeatedly overwhelmed by what the employees confide in them.
If senior leaders take the time to listen to their employees, their employees will speak frankly, and they'll get tangible ideas for improving their businesses. They'll also discover talent worth rewarding and cultivating.
For example, when a female garbage truck driver vented to her undercover boss (the COO of Waste Management) about dictates from "corporate" that had the effect of forcing her to urinate into a coffee can because she didn't have time to stop at restrooms and still meet her trash pick-up quota, the COO was appalled with himself. He realized that the efficiencies he was driving from corporate made for a less than humane work environment. After he revealed his true identity to the driver, he asked her to chair a committee tasked with identifying ways to make the company more female-friendly. (For another example, see clip below and fast forward to 1 minute 42 seconds.)