Jim Gilbert's Return on Intelligence: Undercover Boss - 6 Things I Learned Watching This TV Show That Can Help Your Business Thrive
I had a boss in the early stages of my career, one of the last great bosses I’ve ever had, who was a huge fan of Tom Peters and his “excellence” training.
Tom Peters’ notion of “management by wandering around” (MBWA) is one of the concepts that really hit home and became a career-defining principle for me.
MBWA is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as “Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.”
Recently, a version of MBWA has shown up on network TV in the form of CBS’ show “Undercover Boss.”
If you're not watching, you should be! While it’s not a perfect show by any means — it’s sappy, formulaic, sometimes manipulative, and as reality TV goes, a lot of it feels staged — it does convey the right message.
Each week a different CEO goes undercover in his or her own company, taking entry-level positions. These CEOs learn about their companies, processes and employees (lots of sappiness here) as individuals, in an attempt to better manage their businesses. The bosses in the first four weeks of the show have been from Waste Management, Hooters, 7-Eleven and White Castle.
Somehow — and I find this to be highly disingenuous — all these CEOs managed to have game-changing “aha” moments. The game changers usually centered around actually learning who their normally nameless/faceless employees were on a human level: their medical problems; their multitasking in order to keep roofs over their heads; their stupidity (especially the Hooters manager and his humiliation of his female workers). Somehow these bosses were reminded that they were in business to employ people, and that people matter. Reality show emotional manipulation at its finest. Oh the humanity!