Why You Should NEVER Be on Undercover Boss

If you’ve seen the award winning CBS television show, Undercover Boss, you know the premise: the owner or senior executive from a company goes incognito to work for a few days in an entry-level position within the organization. His mission is to get candid feedback from the front line on what is working and what is not working within the company.

While this may sound like a great idea, let me tell you: if you’re really a good boss, you should never try this. Why? You wouldn’t—or at least you shouldn’t—be successful in infiltrating your organization unrecognized. Undercover Boss banks on the idea that employees don’t know the top leaders of the organization and that those leaders are so out of touch that they need to dress in overalls and pretend to be an hourly worker to get the real story of the company’s problems.

Truly successful bosses already know the real story because they have established a habit of talking with employees at every level. And because they are visible, they are easily recognized in the boardroom and the stockroom.

When we think about a boss’s job, we tend to think that it involves managing the business—making sure the financials are in order, ensuring the products or services delivered are high quality, looking for growth opportunities, anticipating problems and addressing them early, and developing people. While some of these responsibilities take place within the office, the majority should take place outside of it: on the manufacturing floor, in the customer service call center, on a customer sales call, or in the employee cafeteria.

By being highly visible in all areas of the business, the boss accumulates a wealth of knowledge. Which employees are doing well, and which ones are just self-promoting? What machinery is inefficient and is being jerry-rigged to work? What policy or procedure is outdated and needs to be revised? What is the real company culture, beyond what is touted in the HR department?

Being a visible boss provides benefits to the boss and to the employees. One change brought about by the transition from the industrial economy to the knowledge economy is the need for employees to be engaged in their work. Organizations cannot be satisfied with their workers simply doing the job. They need people who are highly engaged, involved, and creative at every level, whether the person is a maintenance worker or a senior vice president.

Two of the most effective ways of helping employees become engaged in their work is paying attention to them and showing appreciation for them. When bosses take time out of their day on a regular basis to demonstrate to personnel that they are valued, it re-energizes those people. When a boss personally tells someone that a particular effort was appreciated, that employee understands the value of his work and consequently increases that effort a hundredfold.

With so much upside and so little downside, why don’t more bosses make the effort to interact with employees throughout the business? Most likely because it takes time and effort. And although the benefits to employee morale, engagement, and culture are obvious, too many bosses assume that those benefits don’t affect the bottom line. That is, until a company finds itself with a high turnover of employees, lackluster sales, and mediocre production. When that happens, no doubt the boss will be looking on the CBS website for the application to Undercover Boss.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Paul Glover

In 1992, after a thirty-year career as a labor/employment law attorney and union leader, Paul Glover founded The Glover Group, a management consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies survive the WorkQuake of the Knowledge Economy by im…

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