Sunday, February 21, 2010

A lesson from Undercover Boss

Have you had a chance to see this show?  It is on CBS and has CEO's go undercover in their organization to get a sense of what it is like on the front lines.  The messages have been amazing.

The lesson that I get from the show is to never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and participate at the ground level.  This gives the unique perspective that many lose touch with.  We all have many ideas on how to run an organization or improve operations.  If we are lucky enough to set policies and make key decisions for a company, we rarely get to see the impact.  We also forget at times how each job is an important factor in how the overall organization runs.

Key Executives from organizations such as Waste Management and 7-11 are participating in this show and learning lessons that change their behaviors.  They see first hand how their policies are being carried out.  For instance, Larry O'Donnell, President of Waste Management, was very focused on efficiencies.  He wanted to ensure that everyone was a productive as possible.  Then he saw how one of the plants were carrying out his effeciencies.  They were docking double the amount of time they were late back from lunch.  This was something he did not anticipate.

Joe De Pinto, CEO of 7-11 saw how their charitable plans were not being followed.  A fantastic idea that was lacking in execution.  He also was taken aback by the people that really made the operation tick.  It is a lesson we should all learn.  When is the last time we truly walked a mile in someone else's shoes?  When is the last time we saw the impact of a decision?

For project sponsor's out there, when is the last time you really understood the impacts of the cost, schedule, and quality triangle?  If you are not sure, maybe it is time for you to become the undercover boss.

No day but today,



Don Larson said...

What would be another alternative is a low-level worker taking on the CEO job for a similar duration to make changes at the executive level.

Russell Voss said...

So this new series has been on my radar, but with an already busy schedule that has a limited TV allowance I made the choice to hold-off on trying to fit it on my calendar. It probably didn’t help my decision that I had made some assumptions about the show. In my mind I had aligned “Undercover Boss” with “The Apprentice”, which didn’t make the “cut” when it came to my TV roster. Fortunately, “prime-time on-demand”, an added feature of my cable provider, has “Undercover Boss” in its line-up. As I was surfing through the “on-demand” line-up, on an evening that I surprisingly had free, I came across this show that I knew little about and had already “written-off” based on my assumptions. Since nothing else in the line-up really caught my attention I thought I would see what “Undercover Boss” was all about. I watched the three episodes available and each one proved inspiring and entertaining. The challenges faced by the undercover leaders I could easily relate back to my work experiences from both sides --as leader and frontline worker. And the moment of epiphany I shared with the leaders, that “ah-ha” moment, when you see a solution that is not only easily implemented but is something you already know, gave me hope. I think the overall message I took from “Undercover Boss” is that in a time of economic uncertainty and the clear realization that efficiencies are not only goals but are important to the health of an organization, that connecting with the people you serve and actually listening is paramount.