Undercover Boss? I’d prefer a Side-by-Side Boss.

I’m pleased that the recent CBS television show, Undercover Boss, has garnered some attention. Though the approach is a bit dramatic and underhanded – kind of a senior level “secret shopper” but more of a “secret employee” – I appreciate that senior leaders in these companies are learning about the work lives that their employees experience.

In the high performance, values-aligned organizations we study, senior leaders don’t see the “live in your employee’s shoes” opportunity as once-in-a-career but as a regular occurrence. Rather than throw stones at the Undercover Boss concept, let’s look at tweaking it a bit.

How can senior leaders truly appreciate which policies and procedures help or hurt or hinder employee performance and work passion in their organizations? Don’t go undercover – go side-by-side!

Employees know a great deal about what systems and norms enable effective performance and great customer experiences . . . and which policies and procedures inhibit them doing the right thing the right way the first time. Senior leaders need to honor their employee’s knowledge and savvy-ness by learning from from their staff members, side-by-side.

Senior leaders: get out of your offices, out of those endless meetings, and away from your spreadsheets!

Seek out a few employees who would be willing to have you shadow them for two hours on a given workday. Schedule appointments with them. Let’s say Bill is your first appointment; stand by Bill and observe him doing his job. At the end of that two hours, take Bill out for coffee or soda, and ask what gets in his way on a day-to-day basis. Inquire about how you can improve his work environment so he can perform better and serve customers perfectly. Act on his suggestions as soon as you can, and schedule your next “side-by-side” appointment with a different employee, in a different department.

Do this two times a week. Over the course of a year, you’ll meet over 100 employees and learn a bunch about their work environment. And, by acting on their suggestions, you’ll make significant workplace improvements that will inspire better performance, higher service delivery, and increased employee work passion.

How cool is that?


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