W&D: Undercover Boss – 7-Eleven

I’m glad to see that each episode of Undercover Boss has a slightly different twist or message – some I am sure that are unintended.

This week, Joe DePinto from 7-Eleven announces to his executive team that he will be going under cover on the front lines.  In each episode, I’ve been paying close attention to the reactions (at least the ones we get to see) of the CEO’s team when they hear that the boss is actually going to see the operation.  So far I’ve seen expressions that range from nervous optimism to restrained panic.

I think this may contribute to why a program (such as 7-Eleven’s commitment to donating food to a charity rather than throwing it away) lives mostly in the boardroom, and not in the individual stores.  While I wouldn’t fully speculate without getting to know the people and organization a little better, I think there might be some communication issues among Joe’s executive team.  Again, we see what the producers want us to see, so it’s tough to draw concrete conclusions.

Communication would solve a number of the problems highlighted in this episode.  The lights that were out and the wasting of product are two that pop to mind right away.  By no small coincidence, ultimately it was communication (down from Joe) that created a better situation.  My glass half-full brain wonders if these wouldn’t have even been big enough issues for a TV show if somewhere along the way there was more effective communication, and the issues were resolved early on.

I will say that my favorite realization for Joe was the fact that the store that sells the most coffee DOES NOT do so because of the type of coffee, the food selection, the store layout or anything else you can replicate from location to location.  It was because of an employee named Dolores.  She is the heart and soul of that store and treats everyone coming in for a cup of java not like a ‘customer’, or even the nicer version, ‘guest’.  She treats them as people… as friends… as members of her family. She knows their name, what type of coffee they like and when they come in.  It’s no secret that as human beings we want to belong, want to connect with others and be a part of ‘something’.  Dolores makes that happen in that store, and by the way sells a TON of coffee in the process.

What did you think?

Next week, we all go to White Castle!

W&D: Undercover Boss – Hooters

For me, the revelations of our Undercover Boss this week were very similar to last week – CEO was unaware of the struggles of frontline employees, and vows to make changes.

The new twist this week was centered around a manager who was making his employees play his “reindeer games”, and didn’t seem to understand how wrong that was.  Even when it was brought to his attention, he stated that he wasn’t going to apologize for being profitable and productive.  Of course those measures were not the issue – respect for his employees was the issue.

What I think was really interesting was one of the executives responses to this behavior – we can retrain him. 

Retrain him to do what?  Play different games?

Here’s my problem with the “retraining” mentality when it comes to these types of issues – it doesn’t work.  Training is used to build a skill, not correct inappropriate behaviors.  By sending him to “sensitivity training”, it doesn’t specficially address his own behaviors and give him the opportunity to see just how wrong it was.  It’s a waste of time and gives training a bad name.

From what we saw in the episode, he was made to apologize to his employees and from there his behaviors turned around.  I would bet there was more coaching going on than what we saw to make that happen.

If nothing else, this continues to be a reminder that no matter how large the company is, what happens on the frontline equates to the bottom line.  And you have to get close to see it.

Next week: 7-11 (Oh, thank Heaven!)

W&D: Undercover Boss – Waste Management

Last night was the premiere of Undercover Boss, a new reality show that puts CEO’s face to face with their front-line employees and the challenges they encounter on a daily basis. This week it was Larry O’Donnell with Waste Management. In working front-line positions, Larry got a new-found appreciation for the people of Waste Management and what they do. Of the experience Larry stated, “‘I thought I had a good understanding, but I was wrong.”

If you missed the episode, you can see it here.

So far I’ve read a lot varied opinions about the show, and would love to hear what YOU think.

Here are some of my observations, from a leadership perspective:

Larry started seeing his employees as people.
When this happened, he realized that the decisions he had been making about productivity were doing the exact opposite of what he intended. While he wanted to run an efficient company, it was happening at the expense of the happiness and comfort of his employees. Case in point: a female route driver was under such pressure to finish her routes and be productive, she was afraid to stop and use the bathroom. She felt like she was being spied on by her supervisor and that if  a directive “came down from corporate, that’s just the way it was.” Larry saw that the true value of the route drivers was the relationships they had with the customers, because they were the face of the company, not him.

Larry saw that some people are overworked. When visiting one of the WM landfills, he met Jaclyn, an office manager, admin assistant, scale supervisor, and the list seemed to go on and on. Her multitasking was the result of being more “efficient” with resources while trying to achieve a lower payroll percentage. Larry seemed to be most impressed by the fact that Jaclyn, with many other hardships in her life, took it all in stride. In the end, Jaclyn was promoted to Supervisor and allowed to hire two other people to work for her. When asked how it felt, she said, “Unbelievable! All of my hard work as been noticed.”

Larry found people with special talents. Freddy G. was a guy who could make the nastiest jobs fun, and Walter was a motivational leader, using personal health problems as inspiration to accomplish more than most thought possible. Freddy G. was asked to speak to the senior leadership team about staying positive and Walter became a health mentor for the company.

Larry found that policies were broken or not being enforced correctly. At his first assignment at a recycling plant, Larry was eating lunch when a co-worker ran out of the room to punch in. ‘I only get a 30 minute lunch break”, she explained, “and I get docked 2 minutes for every 1 minute I am late.” Of course after she punched back in, she went back to the break room to finish her lunch. Larry didn’t think this was right, so he called in the manager (Kevin) of that location. He made sure that Kevin understood this wasn’t the right thing to do and that there had to be a better way. He asked Kevin to work on it and get back to him.

I think ultimately what stuck with me is how important it is to stay connected to the front-line of any business. It’s great that the CEO’s of the world get experience this from time to time because they can really see how their decisions impact the true face of their business. The other BIG lesson for us non-titled CEO’s, is that there is no reason we can’t ACT like a CEO. Larry had the power to fix the problems he saw, probably the same problems that his mid-level managers noticed, but those managers didn’t know what to do about them (or were too scared to try). We have that same power if we decide to use it. Just because we are not the final decision maker doesn’t mean we can’t make a decision.

That may be something else Larry needs to look at to make sure these changes and new outlooks are sustainable. He can’t be out there every day, so he needs to count on his mid-level managers to carry out his vision and to challenge back when things go too far. Larry seems like a smart guy, and I think he’ll take a look at this as well. Once he realized that is was his decisions and directives that made his employees more frustrated and less productive, he set plans in motion to fix it.

What did you think?  Add a comment!

Thanks for reading!

Next week: Hooters

Watch and discuss: Undercover Boss

I’m really intrigued to see what leadership lessons might be taken away from the new CBS series, Undercover Boss.  This a reality show that puts CEO’s in frontline positions in their own companies.

It premieres after the Super Bowl this Sunday (Feb. 7).

I’ll be watching and posting comments on what I find interesting.  I invite you to share your observations as well.

Have a great weekend!