Undercover Boss – Well-Meaning Window Dressing

By Michelle Malay Carter on March 1, 2010 

Undercover Bosses Should Call PeopleFit for Next StepsI must admit I’m touched by the hearts of the CEOs who agree to go undercover to experience their organization on the ground floor.? They seem to geniunely care about the people, not just the publicity afforded to their organization by the show.

Systems Drive Behavior
However, in the end, their righting single incidents or donating toward a personal financial burden of an employee simply perpetuates the idea that good intentions with a handful of feel-good outcomes makes everything right.? Systems drive behavior!? If you don’t tend to the dysfunctional systems, the dysfunctional behaviors will continue.

Managers Are Accountable for the Output of Their Employees
In the show, when these CEOs come upon a manager who is failing in his/her managerial leadership duties, the CEO usurps the authority of their accountable manager by taking action directly with the manager.? To add to that, the action takes the form of “be nice now”, and as the camera fades over grateful smiles and joyful tears, everyone appears to live happily ever after.??

Creating an Accountability Leadership Culture
A clear, requisite framework of accountabilities and authorities would do more for these workplaces than all the good intentions and fatherly advice we see.

Managers-Once-Removed Should Be Accountable to Identify Talent
The CEOs often identify promising young talent, and at least once, a Training Future Leaders program is set up, but it begs the question, who is accountable for identifying talent and what is it that we are looking for?? And is it all about training?

A System for Talent Assessment and Management
An understanding of work levels could create a science-based foundation for fair and consistent talent assessment and management system.

Call Me!
So I’m sending a shout out to Larry O’Donnell of Waste Management, Coby Brooks of Hooters, Joe DePinto of 7-Eleven, and Dave Rife of White Castle:?? You’re OK.? Your employees are OK.? Let’s fix the system!? It’s clear you have both a head and a heart.? Let’s put them to use toward designing systems!

Executive Leadership Defined
Creating and tending to the system is executive level work.? Through this, you ensure your operational organization is designed correctly and a leadership system is in place to ensure employees have what they need.? PeopleFit can provide you a framework from which you can make informed and intentional decisions in the areas of organizational structure, talent management and managerial leadership systems.

Filed Under Accountability, Employee Engagement, Executive Leadership, High Potential, Organization Design, Requisite Organization, Talent Management, Work Levels


6 Responses to “Undercover Boss – Well-Meaning Window Dressing”

  1. davidburkus on March 2nd, 2010 9:14 pm

    I’m struggling with this show because it doesn’t seem like the Undercover Boss’s are making significant enough changes in their organization.

  2. Michelle Malay Carter on March 3rd, 2010 7:22 am

    Hello David,

    Thank you for stopping by. Yes, I’m having the same issue. Without a model for effective organization design and managerial leadership, even when you see symptoms, because you don’t know the root cause, you are still stuck guessing at a solution.


  3. Sharon Marks on March 4th, 2010 3:06 pm

    I think it is important to remember it is TV. The employees are real people and it is very heartening to see the good. I totally agree it isn’t much that happpens with respect to the issues raised here.

    I am an optimist and I know the show inspires me. I want to believe that after the experiences these men have and allow to be aired on national TV, other managers, supervisors, and senior executives will be more open to the employees. Small incremental changes are good too.

  4. Michelle Malay Carter on March 4th, 2010 7:08 pm

    Hi Sharon,

    I agree with you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I don’t want to discourage these gentlemen, and I want to encourage them toward doing more.


  5. Tom Foster on March 9th, 2010 5:23 am

    One of my clients smilingly says they should rename the show “Undercover Boss” to the “Benevolent Dictator.” In the short run, it makes for good TV, in the long run, they may go the way of “How the Mighty Fall.”

  6. Michelle Malay Carter on March 9th, 2010 7:06 am

    Hi Tom,

    That’s funny. It’s an interesting dichotomy. We want the big guy to come in an take care of us, until the big guy comes in and takes care of us in a way we don’t find pleasing. You can’t have it both ways.

    Thanks for the comment.