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What can we really learn from TV’s Undercover Boss?

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
You’re the MD of a national company. You are concerned about experience employees leaving and the failure to recruit young people. You decide to be part of a tv program where bosses go undercover in their own organisation to find out what the real situation is. During the filming you’re genuinely embarrassed by the working conditions some staff endure and surprised by the hourly rate of pay which makes other comparable  jobs far more attractive.
So here are some questions that as an experience senior manager I would ask but the t.v. program didn’t.
If you were aware the organisation had an urgent recruitment and retention problem how come you didn’t know what these employees were being paid and what the competition was paying workers doing the same job?
You say the annual employee survey revealed a serious morale problem at a particular depo. You seem to have accepted this was because staff had been unhappy with the move to another location and didn’t pursue why. Do you accept that if you had you would have uncovered the appalling conditions which you said you were embarrassed to discover.
There is no mention of Trade Unions or employee representatives I assume your organisation doesn’t recognise trade unions. Do you think organisation’s that recognised TU’s are better informed about what’s  bothering employees? How do you propose to keep in touch with the workers in the future?
You make no mention of your senior management team or locality managers, would you not have expected them to be flagging up these issues? Why do you think they didn’t? How will you ensure lines of communication are better in the future?
You were told by employees they did not feel valued, you agreed to review the wage structure and introduce a reward system for long servicing employees. You were impressed by one young employee who said that his ambition was to become a driver for the organisation but couldn’t afford driving lessons.  You decided to pay for his driving lessons and gift him a car! I couldn’t help wonder what other employees would feel when they learnt of this favouritism. Presumably it is not your intention to gift every young employee a car , although it would be a a very attractive recruitment incentive. However couldn’t the organisation provide driver training to employees who wanted to be drivers but didn’t hold a license?
The MD at the start of the program was keen for us to know he had worked his way up the organisation from the shop floor. The program then served to illustrate that those who come up through the ranks are often the most out of touch because they have done the job they think they know all about it but of course things have changed a lot since they were on the front line.
It might make good T.V. but it really isn’t necessary for the boss to put on a wig and false beard to find out the reality of working in an organisation. All you have to do is ask questions and don’t accept the first answer you’re given.

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