Over the past few days, I've seen a number of previews for a new CBS reality show titled "Undercover Boss." I'm generally not a fan of reality shows, but this one has attracted my interest. According to CBS:
"The series follows high-level chief executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their companies... Each week a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company. While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run."
I'm very intrigued because my last book argues that CEOs can derive great value from this type of interaction with front-line employees and customers. In the book, I wrote:
"Discovering your organization’s problems requires more than a few town hall meetings to ask for employee input. Effective leaders become adept at watching how customers shop, employees work, and competitors behave. They break out of the isolation of the executive suite and “get out and look.” They do not simply “manage by walking around.” They become careful and systematic observers of people, processes, and facilities. They immerse themselves in the everyday contexts in which work is being done, and in which consumers buy and use their products. They engage with people on the front lines of organizations, and they get their hands dirty doing some of the real work that must be done to serve customers. Working alongside their employees, they see how things actually get done."
I give some examples in the book of CEOs who did this effectively, including David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue. When Neeleman boarded one of his planes, he would introduce himself to the passengers over the intercom system. Then, he would join his flight attendants in providing drink and snack service. Neeleman actually donned an apron with his nickname – “Snack Boy” – as he worked the aisles. He found these interactions with employees and customers to be incredibly valuable.
Who knew that I'd find a reality show profiling an activity which my research uncovered as a valuable leadership activity?! Undercover Boss premieres after the Super Bowl on CBS. I have no idea if it's a good show, but I'll be watching to find out! Here's a preview from CBS: