Undercover Boss – Will They Really Change?

I am skeptical that this reality show (Undercover Boss) will actually do any good but the webclip looks fun. It will premier right after the Super Bowl on CBS.

The concept, if done right, could actually be interesting. But even in that case, I would be skeptical it would do much good. I may be wrong, but I would think we will get a whole bunch of thoughts based on one single data point (no appreciation of a system, no understanding variation, no understanding psychology – just playing to psychology, and no understanding of how we form beliefs). My guess is the show will largely be having fun with making bosses actually do physical and customer service work. And probably the bosses trying to appeal to the common working man with admiration about how hard this work is.

They then will go back to their overinflated salaries and continue to limit the rewards for those they spoke so highly of while TV cameras rolled, and in general practice disrespect for people not respect for people. If it actually gets a few MBAs to stop managing by spreadsheet and start actually managing with an understanding the business systems they manage that would be great.

Going to the Gemba, where the rubber meets the road is great. But unless the management systems are in place to improve it is more like a site-seeing trip than a management tool. More like those people that go to a working ranch for a vacation (where they work on a ranch) to experience something new before returning to their normal life.

via: Dan McCarthy, How to be an “Undercover Leader”. He is more hopeful than I am about the show.

Related: Management Advice FailuresHow to ImproveThe CEO is Only One PersonManagement Improvement

7 thoughts on “Undercover Boss – Will They Really Change?

  1. We covered the UK version of the show and I think there were some decent insights from it. That was very much the view of the managers from the show that we interviewed. Obviously the format of the show will mean it has to be entertaining as much as (if not more than) informative, but I think a lot of good work went on off camera.

  2. Yes. If it is anything like a show we had over here a few years ago called “back to the floor” it will be a bit of fun – and not much else. I recall one episode where a CEO of one of our biggest supermarkets (Sainsburys) manned the checkout for a while. He started commenting on just how awkward certain things were (like reduced price labels that wouldn’t come off when you wanted them to, but wouldn’t stick when you wanted that)- and how he was going to change a few things to make his staff’s life easier. I distinctly remember noticing, some months after the show, that those pesky labels were still doing their merry thing at the checkout as I loaded my groceries. I guess it is a sort of televised, potted demonstration of the value of MBWA, and it does that quite well. As I said though, if you’re hoping that the show will take you through to the tail end of the improvement cycle, I suspect you’ll be disappointed

  3. Nice post, John. I’ll hold out hope that this is more than a form of industrial tourism. Executive tourism, fly-bys of the gemba could do more harm than good if:

    1) the employees think the CEO is just trying to be on TV
    2) the CEO somehow comes across as being condescending to the employees or the real work being done.

    I’ll be watching.

  4. I am curious to watch it. I believe the executives will probably have some ah-has and some good will come of it. But a common challenge and question people have when talking about direct observation of the work is that when they go observe, they are worried that the environment will change. Therefore they aren’t really seeing current reality. Can you imagine how the cameras change things? They people involved may not know they are the CEO, but they must know something is up.

    Hopefully some of us lean bloggers can use the opportunity to educate people on what real direct observation and engagement with employees should look like.


  5. Pingback: A “Go to Gemba” Show (of sorts) Premieres after the Super Bowl — Lean Blog

  6. Pingback: Undercover Boss « Lean Is Good

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