I don’t know about you, but I eagerly anticipated the premier of Undercover Boss after Sunday’s Superbowl. Sure, I may be a reality TV junkie. But, really, this premise intrigued me more than Jake the Bachelor ever could. A CEO going undercover in his own company, taking on jobs of his everyday working class employees, and experiencing firsthand the impact of his decisions.
The first episode followed Lawerence O’Donnell, the President and COO of Waste Management, as he posed as a newbie on front-line jobs that his employees do every day. He learned firsthand that some of them do really hard, messy work for low pay. While most of us aren’t literally picking up other people’s shit, it sure can feel like it some days. Right?
If I was an employee of Waste Management, I would have a deeper appreciation for my COO right now. He saw problems with how his own policies were implemented and how his decisions, made in a pretty corner office, impacted the real people of Waste Management. In the end, he vowed to make some policy changes to make some of their work lives easier.
Don’t you want to know what really happened after the cameras left? I sure do.
What struck me most were the faces of his midlevel managers when he reported on his undercover experiences to them. I saw defensiveness. Fear. And a whole lotta skepticism. Do you think the plant supervisor who sat at a desk, watching his employees on closed-circuit video has really changed? He looked like a third-grader getting called to the principal’s office when his draconian time-clock policies were challenged. Mr. CEO said he never intended that time policies be construed to justify docking two minutes of pay for every minute an employee was late clocking in from the 30-minute lunch break. I’m pretty sure the policy, while nasty to the employee, is also illegal. I didn’t think that employers could dock your pay. Like ever.
I think that Larry’s willingness to solve issues that he confronted while undercover is a testament to his own leadership. But I also hope that executive management doesn’t think that they need to go on a reality show to get answers or get their employees engaged. If you genuinely care about your employees, if you treat them well and show them that they are respected and valued, then you’ll have engaged employees. When we feel like we matter, then we’ll share our opinion. (And some of us loudmouths will always share our opinion, whether you want it or not.)
A reality check doesn’t have to start with reality TV.
Photo credit: CBS