The CBS reality show “Undercover Boss” has captured the country’s attention. In every episode, the featured CEO of the week comes down from on high to anonymously work among his company’s frontline employees. In the trenches of the company, the CEO discovers the challenges that go along with doing the company’s work and also witnesses bad managers, difficult working conditions, and employee struggles.
Not only is the experience eye-opening for the featured CEO, but we, as business leaders, can find some takeaways from “Undercover Boss.”
Walking around your company works. Reading reports and management summaries is not a substitute for participating in the actual experience. That’s as true for our customers’ experience as it is for the staff’s. The more that management can serve on the frontline or experience the business as a customer, the more accurately that managers will view the business.
Be genuinely open to hearing the bad stuff. Most CEOs and managers only give lip service when they ask for feedback. Then, when an employee shares a complaint or concern, he quickly gets the impression that his input isn’t really all that welcomed by the CEO or manager. In contrast to a dismissive boss, a CEO who actively seeks out criticism and constructive suggestions can create a safe environment that inspires employees to speak up. The same is true for our clients. By regularly asking for feedback and accepting critiques from clients, you can improve your business.
We are all teachers. A common insight learned in each episode is that people are often under-trained. It’s not that people struggle with technical skills; it’s that folks struggle with the softer skills that middle managers rely on. Remember that just because someone is a fantastic cupcake baker, it doesn’t mean she is equipped to manage a team of bakers.
The common theme of the above lessons is to focus on communication. The more, the better.