I must admit I was intrigued after watching CBS' reality show "Undercover Boss." The show basically follows high level CEOs as they go "undercover" in their own companies to discover what it means to be a rank and file employee.
As an HR person, I thought the idea was pretty slick. We are always looking for ways to get honest feedback from employees and for management to learn what is really happening in the trenches. We have at our disposal a number of tried and true techniques -- suggestion boxes, 360-degree performance reviews, surveys and exit interviews. These all seem to pale in comparison to a CEO actually going undercover and learning firsthand -- in real-time and unfiltered.
Now, realistically, most of us don't work in companies that are large enough where we would just blend in and not be recognized. This doesn't mean though that we still wouldn't benefit from the experience. True, you wouldn't technically be undercover, but you could still learn some valuable things by spending a few days working in the warehouse or even sitting at the receptionist desk. What about taking some turns as a route driver or running the cash register? Instead of the "front of the house," what if you worked a week in the kitchen?
To do it right, you would not just be observing; you would actually be doing the job. And doing the job would mean shutting up and working -- not commenting, suggesting or managing. You would clock-in and clock-out, eat and take breaks like everyone else. No special treatment, excuses or exceptions. If it is hard, confusing, and you are exhausted at night, then chances are you are doing it right.
Here are some areas that should be considered before undertaking this "undercover operation":
Yes, HR people will still want to do surveys and exit interviews to find out what employees think, and I suppose even the old suggestion box has a place. But today's CEO can perhaps get a little more creative and spend a week or so in someone else's shoes. Make it as real as possible. Listen more than talk. If you have some sore muscles, you are probably doing it right. Pay attention to how people are rewarded and trained and if you do it right, you may even learn something.
Not bad for a day's work!
If you need some advice or assistance in "going undercover," getting employee feedback, creating a better workplace or any other human resources issue, call on Forté Human Resources.