March 06, 2010, 10:16 PM — With the Olympic fanfare over, I finally had the chance to watch Undercover Boss, CBS's new reality TV show about corporate executives who go undercover to observe first-hand what's happening on the front lines of their businesses and find out how their almighty management decisions really get implemented.
I expected to hate the show and to be disgusted by a blatant display of slick PR for the companies and CEOs featured. After watching all four episodes of Undercover Boss two nights ago, I can say at the very least that it makes for good television. I'll spare you my critical analysis of the show, but I want to share a few of the leadership and management lessons Undercover Boss highlighted for me. Of course, I want to get your views on the show, too.
First, I was struck by the heartfelt appreciation the bosses expressed to their employees for their hard work, dedication and positive attitudes, both while they were undercover and after revealing their true identities to the employees. The executives seemed genuinely humbled by their employees and the work they do--sorting trash in a recycling center, cleaning out port-a-potties, working on assembly lines, flipping burgers, and working the graveyard shift at a convenience store.
I was equally struck by how much the bosses' appreciation meant to the employees, especially when they realized the praise was coming from the top dog. Most employees don't experience truly sincere appreciation from a top executive who's taken the time to walk in their shoes. The big lesson I learned is that genuine appreciation for the work employees do goes a long way toward boosting their morale and making them feel valued. But it has to be genuine. (See clip below, fast forward to 2 minutes, 32 seconds.)
The CEOs did more than just praise the employees: They acted on what they learned while undercover, too. And in many cases, they subsequently made process changes to improve employees' working conditions.
For example, when the CEO of 7-Eleven called corporate headquarters to request new fluorescent light bulbs for the store where he was working undercover, he was told it would be a month before the store received the light bulbs because corporate didn't view the lighting issue as critical. The CEO, on the other hand, witnessed how the poor lighting created a bad experience for customers and raised safety concerns for employees. He realized that the way corporate prioritized various store facilities issues was out of step with store and customer needs, and he vowed to change that. (See clip below, fast forward to 1 minute 20 seconds.)