Friday, 11 May 2012

Undercover boss... with a heart

If anyone has caught an episode of the eye-opening series “Undercover Boss” they’ll know that it’s a worthwhile watch. It gets me every time.

Like “Secret Millionaire” it’s about an undercover operation when the boss, usually the Chief Financial Officer or CEO, works in disguise amongst  staff who perform the most menial of tasks at the very bottom of the organisation. Members of board rooms have little idea what’s happening at the lower end. It’s amusing to see how poorly they execute some of the duties allocated to them whilst undercover.

Any CEO worth his salt knows that if the lower echelons of the organisation are failing then it’ll eventually spread to the top and affect profitability. Most complaints addressed to companies fall on deaf ears or languish in executive in-trays and are rarely followed up. That also goes for the “Suggestion Box” that doesn’t usually invoke much enthusiasm amongst staff.

One of the workers?
It’s a humbling experience for the CEO to come down from his lofty perch in the boardroom and get his hands dirty with his co-workers on the frontline. Far from the imagining that most employees are inept and lazy individuals, the boss gets an insight into their selflessness and dedication. The employees discover the human face of the company and are amazed to find that the CEO can relate.

A good many of the employees have challenging personal circumstances; a disabled child or spouse, a life threatening illness themselves, bereavement and financial hardships. Each person has a cross to bear and they bear it with a mix of bravery and good humour.

Keep your foundations strong
Some employees work double shifts, sacrificing proper rest and time with their families, to earn extra. Some do charitable work in their spare time and take their undercover boss along. He is amazed at the time they devote to philanthropy despite the fact they are suffering hardships themselves.

If roses grow amongst thorns then we see a demonstration of how these company “roses” keep hitting the target through the thorns of their personal situation. Some of their plights are heart-rending.

A cancer stricken man who uses his annual leave to attend hospital appointments; a fast food worker who regularly devises new menu items without being asked  or for extra pay, pest control operators who work without the correct safety equipment due to budget cuts, single parents working double shifts, studying and paying for daycare!

None of them appear  miserable and they wear their brightest smile to work.  The personal and professional multi-tasking is incredible and testament to human resilience and resourcefulness. Adversity is not as much a deal breaker as one thinks and it clearly tests the mettle of the best.

The boss is genuinely shocked and in awe. It provides him with an opportunity, away from the boardroom, to reflect and empathise with his employees. He is truly brought down to earth and gets a first hand experience of their kindness, compassion and diligence. He starts to understand that good people, worth keeping, work for the company with a genuine passion and pride (and meagre pay).They bust a gut to make sure the company keeps ticking over.

When he walks a day in their shoes, he knows the difficulty of buying shoes on a tight budget and working in them too!

Supportive management systems
The boss has himself undergone personal and professional turmoil so he understands that it takes an indomitable spirit to come through tragedy and be a better person.

It’s a win-win situation as boss and employee come together. Barriers and prejudices are broken down as human warmth surfaces. This piece of reality TV couldn’t work if the employee had prior knowledge that he’d be working with the boss. It would be an artificial exercise and the truth would never be revealed. Nobody’s going to feel comfortable discussing aspects of their personal lives.

The climax is when the CEO reveals himself to his shocked and surprised co-worker. The CEO then goes on to bestow a series of gifts to each of the employees he worked alongside. A new wheelchair-access equipped van for transporting a son with cerebral palsy, an all expenses paid vacation, a once-in-a-lifetime-trip to visit relatives, university loans/mortgage paid off,  six months paid leave, donations towards philanthropic projects, a business initiative promoted, are some of the ways the employees are re-paid for their hard work and commitment.

Spiritual rewards
“Work is love made visible”, says the Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran and he’s right. When we work we bring love to the jobs we do. It's not written into our job descriptions but it’s an essential quality for improving conditions. There’s nothing worse than a negative atmosphere to turn you off your job and spread unhappiness. If you keep the bottom end happy then the top knows it’s doing right when the profits start rolling in.

We're all in this together
If the giver and receiver are twice blessed then no where can you see this more than in programmes such as these. This is television at its inspirational best.

 People at the bottom need to have their contribution recognised and a chance to smell the roses of  their success  People at the top need to stop being figure heads and fat cats and feel the love.The lifeblood of a company are its employees and no CEO should ever take that for granted.

“Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth's furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life's inmost secret” – Kahlil Gibran

He worked for a dream not money



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