Are You An Undercover Boss

12 Jan 2016

Undercover Boss is a British reality television series that started in 2009 with 2 episodes and then a second series of 6 episodes culminating in a Franchise exported to the USA, Australia and Europe.

Each episode follows a "new employee" at a company of which he/she is in fact a senior management figure going undercover to identify issues within the company first hand and of course at the end of each week, they are revealed to their co-workers.

  • Get back to basics to understand what makes your organisation a success.
  • Praise people who work with passion for your organisation
  • Appreciate EVERY area of your organisation and remember that everyone contributes to the success of your organisation
  • Listen to your people you might just get a few golden ideas
  • Catch people doing things right - MBWA
  • Work on the front line at least once a month.
  • Most people want to be able to do their job
  • How disconnected are you from the front line (difference been controlling everything and knowing it's working)
  • 2 ingredients for a successful growth organisation : Consistency and Transparency
  • Train your people to do the job your expect them to do and deliver the results you expect Question your middle tier. Is this where the communication channel dilutes ?
  • Identify your growing pains and ruthlessly achieve your standards, by making it easy for your people to succeed
  • There will be distance between layers in your organisation as you grow, but layers should not result in dilution and disconnection
  • Remember your employees are real people with their own real lives
  • It is lonely at the top, ensure your decisions consider all factors throughout your organisation and are not just boardroom driven

So yet another reality style show appears on TV. Undercover Boss started in 2009 with a very simple idea, to get the boss back to the shop floor to see how their organisation was really working.

I recall a similar idea in the late 1990's called 'Back to the Bread Line' where the, then head of Rank Hovis worked on the shop floor.

He had an interesting experience and some employees took advantage of having the top man work under them for a month, but when you scrape away that superficial layer the outcomes influenced performance improvements and better results.

As a global economy we are challenged, actually expected to grow our organisations, but growth means more than just increase in size.

Far too many organisations grow too quickly and are ill prepared for what their growth will bring about.

Whether organically expanding your brand or building your portfolio through acquisition all growth is accompanied by growing pains.

Are your middle managers delivering the right messages ?

One of the most painful is that of disconnection. Growth requires the seniority of any organisation to focus on strategy and larger scale aspects. This often leads to a disconnection with the operational aspects and moreover the front line employees.

One of the common complaints in a growth organisation is that the front line don't get to see the top person anymore, when they used to see them all the time. This complaint goes both ways where many top people feel disconnected and they recall when they knew every employee by first name, but things have changed.

This space often leads to disconnection. In every episode of Undercover Boss this seems to be the main issue. Decisions made in the boardroom are not happening on the shop floor.

This is rarely due to acts of direct defiance, but the result of diluted communication. Somewhere along the communication chain the message has not been understood and the actions have not been carried out.

So what the boss believes is happening is often far from the reality. Bosses should look at their communication channels recognising pinch points such as mode of communication, frequency, intensity, amount and styles.

Those decisions that are carried out are not always explained and so they are met with resistance as people don't understand the reasons. When people don't understand they try to make sense of it with their own interpretation.

Interpretations are often the result of rumours and when did you last hear a positive rumour ?

Despite popular belief the majority of people want to do a good job. Yes there are those who feel the world owes them a favour and maybe these few are not the right people for your organisation, but the majority of people want to do a good job.

They just want the tools to do the good job they want to do well. Successful organisational leaders enable their people and then get out of their way. Give them what they need to deliver the results you desire. Tools of their trade include knowledge and skills.

If you expect a certain standard develop those standards within your people, do not assume they will just get it.

Another common factor on Undercover Boss is the amount of simple, effective ideas that come from the front line employees. They spend their working day doing their job why would you not ask them for ideas ? In fact aren't they the most qualified to do this ?

Tap in to this knowledge.

Educate the business case for decisions and help them add commercial focus to their ideas, but listen to their ideas, you may find a real nugget worth implementing.

No matter how busy you are or how important you believe yourself to be always make time to manage by wandering around (MBWA).

I challenge you to go back to the shop floor and do a shift at the coal face of your organisation.

Even if it's only once a quarter, think of the return on investment you will gain ?

You also get to catch people doing things right. You can recognise the rising stars in your organisation and you can make informed decisions about your future growth and success. You get to see the fruits of your boardroom decisions providing valuable feedback.

I want to share a real positive example. I recently had the pleasure of working with a group within the property sector. I was there in the capacity of facilitating a session about change and the challenging road ahead as this group of companies continued to grow in a moving economy. What happened was positively encouraging.

The audience, all managers and senior managers responsible for driving the results, were encouraged by the opportunities that lay ahead and they decided to take these opportunities starting with the way they responded to a few team challenges on the day.

One individual really shone amongst the stars on show that day and at the end of the day the group CEO flexed his inspirational muscle by promoting this individual there and then in front of his colleagues.

This single action sent a peristaltic wave of positivity throughout the organisation and delivered a message to everyone stating that organisation will recognise and reward passion and commitment.

So to the end of each episode of Undercover Boss.

The boss finally reveals him or herself as their true identity much to the shock of every employee they had encountered during their work experience.

They fedback what they gained in their experience often thanking each individual for what they have shared with them.

On most occasions the boss then adds a note of personal thanks and recognition for the contribution each of the people make.

This is either a promotion, additional training, the opportunity to work with more senior people or to mentor them to advance their career opportunities.

Even when there is a monetary reward this money is usually associated with something that has a personal meaning to the individual.

This reinforces the truth that money is not the prime motivator it’s what it means to each individual that's the motivation.

So if you are not utilising the benefits of being an Undercover Boss (or an overt presence on shift as the boss), consider your success measures and your goals as an organisation and then think again !