Undercover Boss: A 4-Point Reality Check

Linda Dulye's picture

Undercover.jpgHave you caught the CBS program “Undercover Boss”?

The show debuted immediately after the Super Bowl and each episode follows a different CEO’s journey from the executive suite to the trenches – undercover, of course.

Certainly the program makes for compelling television but does it pass a reality check? Unfortunately not, at least in our view.

The fact is, it takes more than a new outfit and camera crew to be a star executive; it takes authenticity and it takes courage. But that’s just the start.

Here are four additional points leaders must consider when facing their workforce:

  1. Get humble. Most leaders intimately know their products, the markets and the competition, but most don’t know the true dynamics about their workplace and their workforce. Admitting that they don’t know everything about their business – as uncomfortable as that may be – is step one.

  2. Pure accessibility. What most leaders know about their organization is what they’ve been told. If an unvarnished view is what a leader truly wants, they need to be ready to walk the halls, visit the manufacturing floor without corporate handlers to filter what they see.

  3. Small talk. Today the art of small talk is taken too lightly. In a tight economy, the default mode tends to be “get down to business.” Sure, everyone has a lot on their plate, but the cost can be steep to leaders who don’t take the time to engage in small talk with workers. Ask about their weekend. Talk about current events. This shows that a leader is a three-dimensional person, not an impersonal task master.

  4. Three V's. We coach leaders to monitor the three cues to better understanding their workforce. The first is Visual. What does the team’s body language tell you? Are cubicles tidy or in disarray? Vocal. Are people speaking up or do they seem hesitant to weigh in? Verbal. What’s the tone of the workforce? Are they upbeat or deflated? Take in all three and you’ll have a clear snapshot of your staff’s mindset.

Bottom line? If you adopt these four practices, you’ll discover that you don’t need to go undercover to be a real and effective boss.


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