Power to the People
Another theme that resonates in each episode of Undercover Boss is the lack of empowerment minimum- and hourly-wage employees feel. An egregious example of this comes in episode two, which features Hooters' CEO. At one Hooters restaurant in Texas, the undercover CEO discovers that the general manager degrades the waitresses. He calls them "primadonnas," lines them up before the restaurant opens to judge their appearance, and he forces them to play degrading games according to his whims. (See video)
Needless to say, the undercover CEO is astonished by the general manager's behavior. It's a good thing the CEO went undercover. If he hadn't, the general manager's abhorrent treatment of the waitresses might never have been discovered. (Who knows how many other general managers of Hooters restaurants treat the waitresses the same way.) The waitresses certainly didn't feel empowered enough to contact someone about it, whether a district manager, an HR person at corporate headquarters, an attorney, or women's rights/anti-discrimination group. (Of course, this example also demonstrates that the company has larger HR and legal issues to address--not the least of which is sexual harassment training for ALL employees.)
To me, the lack of empowerment issue seems so easy to remedy. Companies could establish an "Employee Bill of Rights" to communicate, for example, that all employees have a right to be treated respectfully by their managers, or that they have a right to a 30-minute lunch break and two 15-minute breaks during their shift. An Employee Bill of Rights should be posted in break rooms and handed out to all new employees.
Another measure companies can implement to promote employee empowerment is to develop a confidential 1-800 phone number that goes directly to the HR department at corporate headquarters where employees can report unfair or abusive treatment. Again, the hotline should be distributed to all new employees and posted in break rooms.
The last lesson I want to highlight has to do with talent management. All of the executives were amazed and humbled by the employees they met. The workers picking up trash, cleaning port-a-potties, brewing coffee, making pastry, managing a late-night convenience store, driving 18-wheelers, and serving burgers at a fast food joint knocked the executives' socks off. There has to be a better way for companies to identify top-talent at all levels and groom them for promotions.
It shouldn't take an undercover executive or a reality TV production crew to shine a spotlight on outstanding employees.
Have you watched Undercover Boss? Do you like it? What leadership and management lessons have you learned?
Follow me on Twitter at @meridith.
This story, "Leadership and Management Lessons from 'Undercover Boss'" was originally published by CIO.