Have you heard about the new CBS reality show “Undercover Boss?” The idea is that CEO and other C-Suite types assume false identities to infiltrate their workforce as entry-level new hires. Oprah Winfrey’s February 1 show contained some highlights and interviews. In it, the CEO of corporate giant Waste Management, Larry O’Donnell, went undercover as “Randy,” an entry-level worker. Instead of running the largest waste and recycling operation in North America from his comfy corner office, Randy set about learning such tasks as cleaning port-o-potties and sorting recyclable materials from a fast-moving conveyor belt. He struggled with these tasks. In fact, a long-term employee who was charged with training Randy concluded after just a day that he did not have what it takes to get the job done.
When Randy revealed his true identity to the workers with whom he had interacted, they were naturally surprised. But instead of the ruse being some kind of cruel prank on them, Larry O’Donnell went on to recognize each for their efforts and committed to implementing long-term changes that could improve the lives of all Waste Management workers. Needless to say it was a warm and fuzzy “t.v. moment” ending.
Management could take a lesson here — don’t just sit in your corner office day in and day out never having face-to-face interactions with your employees. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty (figuratively, at least), and talk to employees at all levels of the organization. You may find better ways to do business. You may just give morale a boost or increase employee loyalty. Whatever the result, the experience is likely to be eye-opening. What have you got to lose?