Oh boy! It’s time for a new season of Undercover Boss!
This may be one reality show that many wish their bosses would discover.
If you haven’t watched it before, the boss, usually the owner, CEO or high level exec, puts on a weird disguise and goes undercover to see what it’s really like to be in the trenches with the poor slobs who make him/her a millionaire.
Usually the boss is a Class-A jerk, incompetent at the most basic jobs during the assignment and gets an earful about the crappy management decisions that are made.
Usually the employees are hard workers, doing their best and patient souls trying to train this weird looking person who showed up in their workplace under weird pretenses.
Usually the boss gets to hear the reality of the employee’s kid who has a life threatening disease and no insurance; the single mom who works 3 jobs because her base pay can’t cover groceries or the kid who couldn’t go to college and is supporting the family and dreams of having their own business.
Usually there’s a “come-to Jesus” moment when the CEO confesses to all the wrong doings, is humbled and a few dedicated souls get a $5 – 10,000 bonus, a few operational changes are made and employee benefits are changed. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Usually I cry at the sentimentality of it all and then become despondent and melancholy about the real reality of many workplaces.
The Real Reality Show
I wonder how Timothy Sloan, Martin Winterhorn, Mary Barra or Steve Mnuchin would fare as the Undercover Boss walking in the shoes of the people in the trenches of their businesses. Timothy Sloan was CEO of Wells Fargo at the time when over 2 million false accounts were created because people couldn’t meet the sales goals. Over 5300 employees were fired before Mr. Sloan was forced to resign with his $133 million exit package. What a hardship.
How about Martin Winterhorn, CEO of Volkswagen. How would he fare as an engineer who was forced to falsify emission control for more than 6 years?
Or Steve Mnuchin – the hedge fund guru who capitalized on the housing crisis in 2009 by buying failing banks and instituting aggressive foreclosures. Do you think he would have any compassion when talking to a person who lost everything?
Or Mary Barra, bless her GM heart, who took over after over 15 years of key executives knowing there was a faulty ignition switch that could have been fixed for 57 cents and resulted in almost $3 billion in fines and payouts for loss of lives and injuries.
So I hate to say it, but this is the real reality show for many businesses.
Fear and Intimidation Leads to Trouble
When there is an environment of fear, intimidation and corporate bullying, people make bad decisions and bad choices, like Wells Fargo and GM. People will blame others, make excuses (or lie) or deny wrongdoing to protect themselves.
As you well know, this is not confined to big corporate. It happens in government, not for-profits and in local school administrations.
I recently had a conversation with a high school physical education teacher who was also the union rep for the teachers. She’d been there 20 years and was contemplating leaving because the administration bullied, intimidated and created such a hostile environment that more than 40% of the “good teachers” left. The remaining teachers became obedient, compliant and critical of those who spoke up so they didn’t incur the wrath of the administrator.
So what’s the point of this rant?
Now, more than ever, we need to Get Out of B.E.D. (Blame, Excuses and Denial) and hold people accountable. We need to take ownership for our own level of participation in the dysfunction or in trying to make it better. We need to take responsible actions to represent our constituencies – the people who have entrusted us to act on their behalf… whether it’s our employees and their families, our communities, customers, or shareholders.
I maintain that most people want to act in integrity. They want to do the right thing. They want to work in an environment that is safe and stable – physically and emotionally and financially.
Our job as leaders or people of influence is to be good stewards.
What would you learn if you were an undercover boss?
Be the Change.
Marty Stanley, CSP, is a national speaker and consultant on personal and organizational change. She works with executives on how to lead and manage with integrity and accountability in the 21st century so they can attract and retain their ideal employees and customers.
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