To linger in the observation of things other than the self implies a profound conviction of their worth. -- Charles-Damian Boulogne, My Friends the Senses
I do not watch TV very much but the show "Undercover Boss" has so impressed me for the message that it sends to all entrepreneurs and managers. The whole theme of this valuable show is that the CEO of the business goes undercover and works various entry level jobs.
I have only seen two shows of this series featuring the CEO's of both White Castle and Hooters. However, in both of these shows the CEOs' experience changes the way they see the entire business. For example, at Hooters, the CEO saw a manager abuse the serving staff. While at White Castle the CEO observed the lack of teamwork that was happening at many of the restaurants. David Rite, White Castle CEO, saw vividly how many of the productions jobs were difficult and, more importantly he saw how policies and procedures that came from his top staff did not work in practice.
The entire message of this show is important for each and every entrepreneur. That is, your perspective of the business is a whole lot different from how your employees see the business. Additionally, the problems that you think staff are having are a whole lot different than the actual problems. In one case, a manager at Hooters thought he was doing a great job as he was making his numbers but his staff despised him with
the associated decline in morale.
It is amazing to me to see entrepreneurs who think everything is going well when they visit different parts of their operation. These parts look great and staff seems happy. Of course, management knew the entrepreneur was going to visit so the place was cleaned up and everyone was on their best behavior.
Sure you need to visit your operations on a scheduled basis to communicate critical things about your operation. You also need to visit unannounced to each and every part of your operation to see what is really going on without being shown around by the department manager.
You might not be able to go undercover but there is no reason you cannot spend time wandering around the various parts of your organization unannounced and talk to the staff about some of their issues. I really believe that more information can be achieved from the staff closer to the customers who have to live with the rules and procedures top management has instituted.
As an effective manager and leader you must find ways to discover how your organization is really operating and how effective it is. Clearly this is not to punish anyone but to find out how the organization "really works."
Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is a Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.