Undercover Boss: Where the Revenue Meets the Road

Over 38 million viewers watched the premiere of Undercover Boss when it aired February 7 on CBS. And why not? We all need a break from hearing about the greed and misconduct of some corporate executives. The show has a great premise, and it’s a wonderful way for an organization to get some positive PR.

In case you’ve missed it, Undercover Boss is a “reality” TV show that features a corporate leader working surreptitiously in the bowels of his own company. The leader is filmed under the guise of being a new recruit to the frontline while the camera crew is present shooting a work documentary about someone working various entry level jobs.

So far the show has visited a waste management company, a restaurant chain, and a convenience-store chain.

What are the priorities of a CEO?

According to the CEOs shown in Undercover Boss, they care about many things. But they care most about the people.

And that is why I put “reality” in quotes.

The third episode features Joe DePinto, President and CEO of 7-Eleven. While working the graveyard shift undercover in a 7-Eleven store, DePinto watches in horror as an employee throws away several trays of day-old donuts, pastries, and bagels.  DePinto is told that this practice is company policy. He is horrified that this food is being wasted instead of being sent to food banks.

I was horrified thinking–Where is the inventory management tool that would prevent this waste?!

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean to suggest that most CEOs don’t care about their people. You can care about people without them being your top priority. CEOs must care greatly for two very special groups of people: customers and shareholders. These constituents must be the CEOs priority. CEOs must be fluent with spreadsheets, dashboards, and all tools related to reading the bottom line.

Why? Because any CEO who takes his eyes off the bottom line dooms every employee in that company to unemployment when the company fails.

A CEO who cares about his employees will keep a careful eye on the business. A caring CEO sets a sound direction. He hires strong planners, thinkers, and implementers. He entrusts the day-to-day implementation of strategy and people-practices to those who have the greatest proximity to the work and the employees. In tough economic times, he might have to cut costs and jobs to keep the business afloat. In strong economic times, the CEO grows the business and increases profitability so employees can see more than a cost-of-living adjustment at the end of the year.

A CEO cares for his people vicariously by hiring a leadership team that carries out the business strategy while managing simultaneously key business enablers like:

  • increasing employee engagement. Business driver: discontent costs you money
  • seeking feedback for business improvement. Business driver: ignorance costs you money
  • rewarding high performers. Business driver: treating everyone the same costs you both talent and money
  • identifying and maximizing emerging talent. Business driver: failure to develop others costs you money

Undercover Boss will stay popular because employees love the idea of seeing “if the big boss can do my job.” If the job is sweeping a floor or cleaning a port-a-potty,  most CEOs can be trained over time to be competent in that endeavor.

What I’d like to see is the CEO of a large hospital perform brain surgery, or the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces doing KP duty. Wouldn’t that improve medical outcomes? Or wouldn’t that be a good use of the President’s time?

Every employee in a company has a job to do. There are no small jobs. Thank goodness some are willing to do the thankless service tasks, the ones that have no glamor, prestige or a fancy title. And thank goodness most CEOs keep their eyes on producing revenue, even if some of them take to the road moonlighting on Undercover Boss for the sake of good entertainment.

The next episode: Dave Rife, CEO of White Castle. I’ll be watching with a sack o’ sliders!

monitoring employee engagement: discontent costs you money

cascading key messages to every level of the organization: ignorance costs you money

rewarding high performers: treating everyone the same costs you money

identifying and maximizing emerging talent: failure to develop others costs you money

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *