Go Undercover to See How Hard Your Staff is Working

Posted by Kristin Arnold on May 31, 2013

One of my favorite shows of late is “Undercover Boss”. The appeal is not because it catches employees or managers doing something wrong, although it sometimes does.  It is that more often it does just the opposite, catching them doing something great.

Each episode features the experiences of the owner or high-ranking executive going undercover on the front lines in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work.  The executive will usually have an altered appearance, an alias and a fictional back-story.  The show often celebrates hard working employees who usually receive a well-deserved reward.

Going undercover is a great process for owners and senior executives to find out how their managers are treating employees. Most of the issues I deal with as a management coach are not customer complaints. Most issues originate with employees who feel they are being bullied or mistreated by managers.

For a business to grow, staff must feel appreciated and be treated respectfully. Owners must ensure they have constructive managers who treat people as a valued resource.  When managers treat staff wonderfully, staff will treat customers wonderfully.

What most employees experience is when their manager checking on them, it is only to find ammunition to surprise them with a lower rating on their annual performance review. This is totally counter-productive to what managers should be doing, and the unnecessary cause of lower morale and productivity.

Unfortunately, leaders only hear from customers when there is a complaint or problem.  For this reason, I always make it a point to inform management when I do receive exceptional, service. When management does get feedback, it is important to act on it appropriately.

A recent personal experience happened when I was checking in at hotel that belongs to a chain I use frequently.  The reason I am loyal to this brand is because they consistently provide me with excellent service and have friendly, helpful staff.

But at this particular location, the person at the front desk was at best indifferent and at times rude.  I later understood why.  I witnessed a manager reprimanding a staff member publicly.  It made all the guests within hearing distance very uncomfortable.

These two observations may seem unrelated, but they are not. The person was treating me in the way she was being treated by her management, and the culture at this hotel.

The hotel sent me an opinion survey to fill out so I informed them of what I had observed. Unfortunately the response I received did not give me the confidence that appropriate action would be taken.  Therefore, I will probably not stay there again, even though it is close to my client’s location.

Many people who travel frequently are talking about the significant decline in service by many airlines.  So I now make it a practice, that whenever I do receive exceptional service from airline staff, I send a letter to the president.  I do that because I know Air Canada passes these on to the staff member.

Has there ever been a time in the past when you wished that management could witness the wonderful things you do for the company or when you went out of the way to keep a customer or colleague happy?

You can be certain that your employees often feel the same way and it is up to you to ensure they are acknowledged.

My question this week is, “What are you doing to get accurate information on how hard many of your staff are working, even when you are not around, and how often do you reward them for it?”

Joseph Sherren, CSP, HoF, Canada’s management effectiveness expert.  Watch for information on our upcoming public management skills seminar scheduled for October in Prince Edward Island, Canada. 

Skip to content