Sunday, 2 January 2011

Thanks George!

In my home we really enjoy watching "Undercover Boss." It's the CBS show where CEOs go "undercover", disguising themselves as rookies so they can truly learn about what's happening on the front lines. The whole thing is videotaped, and the cover story is about making a documentary so the unsuspecting staff is fooled into behaving normally, as normally as you can when you're being filmed.

The CEOs experience the good and the bad, and then things get ugly. They hand out perks and prizes randomly to employees with compelling life stories, but without creating universal policy to help all employees who might be experiencing similar hardship. Everyone weeps. Young men and women with dreams are magically whisked by their counterparts with similar dreams simply for having appeared on camera. Tears flow; serendipity! No long term plans for a company-wide career track are implemented. This is usually a case of being in the right place at the right time.

I'm not an Exec, so I don't know, but how is it that:

1. The CEOs' impersonation of a new-hire usually means not shaving and skipping showers in a crummy motel? Really - you run a company that hires people who show up on day-one looking like they could use a shower and a shave? You think so little of your workers and customers that this is how you imagine you'll be incognito?

2. I get why a CEO doesn't know the nitty-gritty of the front line process, but what's wrong in the exec offices that this stuff isn't being discovered, worked on and resolved by everyone from the entry-level supervisor to the divisional VP long before the CEO shows up?

3. What kind of CEO so insulates himself (and they're predominantly white men, it seems) that he doesn't even know he's got quality and service issues? Do you really need an elaborate scheme to tell your brain what your gut already knows?

I know of companies where the President telegraphs his visit far enough in advance to allow for carpet cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. I've know of restaurant companies where the Exec team never eats a meal that isn't personally prepared for them by the highest ranking culinarian on shift. They wouldn't want to risk finding out what their dwindling customer base already knows - quality is hit and miss.

And when I was a much younger man I worked for a company where the President showed up completely unannounced in our very busy restaurant two hours away from his office in Toronto, saw we were getting hanmered and jumped in to give us a hand. He started by grabbing a broom and dustpan, and then washed his hands and dug in; he was a pretty mean fry-guy as I recall. I'm not sure how many billions of burgers McDonald's had served by then but George Cohon, President of McDonald's Canada sure helped us sell a few more that day.

That was 32 years ago. I didn't get a chance to say it then, but thanks for your help, George!

1 comment:

  1. Take tonight's episode for example, where the employees bring forward a concern: there is no internal posting for management opportunities at the company. The CEO's answer to this is to arbitrarily promote 3 of the 4 employees he worked with, thereby proving the futility of the exercise.