I won’t bury the lead on this. The great reveal of Undercover Boss, which premiered on CBS after SuperBowl XLIV is this: Whatever the size of your company, there are layers between you and the truth you need to know about, layers which are smothering untapped energy in getting your best possible work done.
I doubt the premise of the show was much of a surprise to any manager anywhere. I could easily imagine all the heads nodding at their television screens, saying, “Welcome to my world.”
So what will the Alaka‘i manager do about that? You can have an Aloha approach to dealing with your layers (or your ‘bubble’ as President Obama refers to it) which is much better than resorting to going undercover. Sneaking around in your own company is not that great an idea for the reasons Jon Younger offered up on his Guest Insights for The Washington Post yesterday: Why “Undercover Boss” gets leadership all wrong. Younger wrote:
While popping the lonely-at-the-top bubble, “Undercover Boss” creates a much bigger one: creating a deeply suspicious work environment in which business leaders risk the confidence of employees in their leaders and colleagues. One of the most important jobs of the boss is to create a positive work ethic and a supportive work environment. The undercover boss does the reverse, establishing a culture you and I certainly wouldn’t want to work in.
The short term impact: good TV. Longer term: a big hit to teamwork, productivity and performance and, probably, the bottom line. Would you want to work in a place where you didn’t know whether your mate was a co-worker or a corporate spy? Had the boss simply visited with teams, or worked night shifts, or utilized an employee survey, he or she would have learned most of the same information without destroying trust.
A boss who misrepresents him or herself invites employees to misrepresent themselves, or perhaps misrepresent the company or its products and services to customers. Sneaky leadership authorizes sneaky behavior from others. What’s next? How long before unethical conduct is acceptable in other areas, such as sales overcharging customers just a little, or accounting cooking the books just a tad to see if anyone is paying attention? Two hour lunches – why not? The most likely consequence of managerial deceit is, well, a culture of deceit.
I have higher hopes for Undercover Boss. It did disappoint me in a couple of different ways, yet near the end of the show’s premiere I tweeted, “Happy to hear all the #undercoverboss chatter! Hope it gets workplaces buzzing, talking about things we assume can’t be done, when they can” and I meant it, for I prefer to think of the show as a conversation starter, and with that positive expectancy. As I will often write here, I don’t believe we talk story enough, allowing for the continued conversation which can truly matter, and that certainly proves true within the workplace.
And you will never convince me that a workplace which cannot improve in some way exists.
Undercover Boss IS another reality show, constructed for entertainment ‘value’ according to the judgement of those making that decision at CBS, so take it with a grain of salt if you watch it. Make that a big rock of cleansing Hawaiian salt, for next week’s preview clip highlighting “reindeer games” at Hooters’ has me very concerned, and stopping short of any “see it for yourself” recommendation one episode into it.
If you watch Undercover Boss, allow it to challenge you.
Walk your own gauntlet in doing better as an Alaka‘i manager accepting your Kuleana [your personal responsibility and accountability] for the health and well-being of your workplace culture.
I agree with the cautions Jon Younger well articulated in his article, and I add my voice to his in saying, don’t go undercover in your own company, for there is a better way.
So let’s talk about that, shall we?
What is the better way?
Start from the place of what your company values are, the ones you hold near and dear to your heart, knowing they define you —or you couldn’t work there, certainly not as a manager charged with demonstrating them, championing them, and upholding them to ever-higher standards!
For instance, in an ‘Ohana in Business ® as defined by the Managing with Aloha business model, we apply the values of
Kākou [inclusiveness and the language of “we”]
Ha‘aha‘a [humility as open-mindedness]
Mālama [caring within the stewardship of workplace assets]
Ho‘ohanohano [Aloha, dignity and respect to all people]
to any discussions that have to do with the way we communicate. We get these values to guide us and grow us.
In addition, the Daily 5 Minutes ® (D5M) is our adopted tool for ensuring that we talk about anything and everything, and as often as we need to: We commit to it, and we practice it daily: Two Gifts: Values and Conversation. If they are ever done, our employee surveys are not anonymous, because they don’t have to be. Managers are responsible for ensuring that anonymity isn’t required in order for people to speak up without fear of repercussion: They foster a culture of open communication, with other tools in addition to the D5M used so healthy communication is practiced constantly and not left to chance.
Does our ‘Ohana in Business ® approach take a lot of work? Sure. That’s why managers matter.
That is, they matter when they courageously do the right work.
That can be the way you can watch future episodes of Undercover Boss: Reveal a manager’s right work. Have episodes of the show challenge you as the manager YOU are. Ask yourself the questions it triggers and be honest with your answers. What would you do if you were in the shoes of the managers portrayed in the show? Help your peers who co-manage with or alongside you, to see what they must see when blinders threaten the health of your workplace culture, and ask them to help you see better too.
If Undercover Boss can convince CEOs that the job of managing people at any level in a company must be a calling which serves human beings, I’ll be cheering for it.
Related posts in the archives:
- A quick review of the Role of the Manager the Alaka‘i way, and as a calling:
Reduce your Leadership to a Part-time Gig in 2010
- How leadership and management are defined connected to energy in the workplace:
3 Ways Managers Create Energetic Workplaces
Photo Credit: Natasha by The Real Darren Stone on Flickr
Cross-posted: This also appears on Say “Alaka‘i” at The Honolulu Advertiser today.