I’m a big fan of the show, Undercover Boss. This show depicts company CEO’s who go “undercover” for a week at some of their locations, acting as a new hire, to see how operations are run and where their strengths and weaknesses are. I know it’s scripted, as all reality shows are, and there’s always a formula – they run into an employee who has financial or family hardships, one outstanding employee, and sometimes an employee that is not up to company standards. At the end, the CEO reveals himself/herself and discusses the experience, rewarding the good ones and helping the others do better.
There are two recent episodes I’ve seen that gave me pause. In these episode, the details were different, but the theme was the same. One episode featured White Castle, while the other featured the 7-11 convenience chain.
In the White Castle episode, the CEO learned through talking with employees that they were generally worried about being fired if they didn’t strictly adhere to company standards. Of course employees should be following standards, but the point was driven home when the one employee shared that she came to work every day hoping she wouldn’t do something to cause her to lose her job. This particular employee made the CEO realize that this was the message corporate was sending to its employees, or at least that’s how the message was being perceived.
In the 7-11 episode, there was a scene where a manager was cleaning up the bakery items since the company wants to serve fresh items. All was fine until the manager started throwing away donuts, bagels, and the like. The CEO was upset about this, and the manager shared that he wanted to find a way to have these items donated to a food pantry or similar charity, and has tried to express this to corporate, but has gone unheard. The CEO was upset by the fact that so much food was being wasted and this employee felt that his opinions and thoughts were overlooked by corporate.
Not every company can afford to have corporate be an “undercover boss” for time and financial reasons. However, this show (especially these two episodes), drive home the fact that companies, whether you have five or 5,000 locations, do not typically know what their employees are thinking. They may not be asked, or employees may feel as though they cannot share their opinions, or it’s not worth the time because they won’t be heard.
Since most cannot employ the “undercover boss” methodology, you may wonder what other options are out there….there is one simple program that you can implement to let your employees know you care.
Employee feedback surveys can be a useful tool to gauge employee sentiment, pinpoint common themes that might need attention, and gain valuable insight and suggestions for improvement. This should be an anonymous program so that employees feel they can share freely, and if it is handled by a third party, it gives the employees a comfort level because they are less likely to feel that corporate will try to figure out who’s leaving the feedback or “punish” those who do not leave all positive feedback about their work.
It can be a simple survey asking about their satisfaction level with their work, what challenges the see as being a barrier to being successful as an employee for the company, and if they have any suggestions for improvement. Leaving an open ended area for comments may also encourage additional feedback. Keeping it general, especially the first time out, will give managers a sense of the overall sentiment and give them a starting point for working with employees to create a mutually successful work environment.
If you haven’t watched Undercover Boss, I highly recommend it, especially if you are in an upper management position. You might get inspiration for employing a feedback system or talking with your employees in another manner to see how they’re doing. Nothing ruins customer service like low employee morale!