A new television show premiered after the big Super Bowl game last Sunday, Undercover Boss. The reality show follows a senior executive who steps down temporarily from their position and becomes a rank and file employee for 7 days. They literally go undercover changing their appearance so as not to be recognized and become a member of the front line. The purpose is for the senior executive to get a real sense of what happens on the front lines of their organization by trying out various front line job positions.
The episode last Sunday featured Larry O’Donnell, President and Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management.
His motivation for wanting to go undercover was to find out the following:
· How did the policies that were made at corporate affect the actual employees who had to implement them in the field
· Were the safety procedures being implemented in the field and adhered to on a day to day basis
· Were the goals and targets that he set realistic
It was fascinating to watch a senior executive tackle various front line job responsibilities like picking up paper, sorting through recycling items, or cleaning out port-o-potties. He had to learn the basics of the job very quickly and pretend at the same time that he knew nothing about the organization. It appears that he learned a lot during his time in the field. He was able to interact with the employees of Waste Management on a different level and it seemed like he had a renewed sense of pride for his organization. He found out that some of the policies and procedures that he had implemented were not affective in the field. A humbling experience in and of itself to see how something that sounded like a good idea can in fact have a negative ripple effect with employees.
How many times does that happen in an organization? An idea seems great at corporate but when it actually gets into the field it falls short of expectations and takes the organization 2 steps backwards instead of 5 steps forwards. A senior executive has many demands and expectations placed on them especially during hard economic times. The people factor is usually the first company value to be ignored as the organization goes into survival mode. This is understandable but it would be wise to remember that the employees in an organization will remember how they are treated in the tough times as well as the good times. So why not break the mold and work together as an organization to come up with solutions that are both cost effective, generate revenue, and recognize employees for their skills and talents. There is a reason why they were hired into the organization, utilize their expertise and their knowledge and you may be surprised at the outcome.
I believe that Mr. O’Donnell has a new appreciation for his employees and Waste Management will probably be a better organization because of his willingness to go undercover and listen.
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