My wife is a big Oprah fan, me, not so much. But she had a show last week talking to two company executives who participated in the new show "Undercover Boss". Thanks to the beauty of DVR, she recorded the episode as she thought I would be interested in it.
She was right, which is not uncommon (she reads my blog). The two Presidents were from Waste Management and 7-11. They took on an alternate persona and had to do some of the lowest level jobs in their respective organizations.
For example, the president of Waste Management had to clean a Porta Potty, collect trash that was blowing from a landfill, remove cardboard from a conveyor belt, work on a trash truck, and work at a weigh station. He failed miserably at all of these jobs, in fact, he actually was fired from collecting trash. The CEO for 7-11, had to work the night shift and make coffee, clean the store, and fill donoughts. He also rode on a delivery truck and made deliveries all night.
Both said repeatedly this gave them an entirely different perspective on running their company and they made changes to how their companies were run. As an example, there was a lady driving the trash truck who had to use the bathroom in a coffee can. It never occurred to the president that this is a problem. He is now working to re-route all of his trucks so there are stops along the way where they can use the restroom.
So what can we learn from this? Despite Senior Leaders best efforts to understand their employees, they usually don't. Both of these Presidents seemed like great, caring individuals who had tried to do what was best for their employees. However, this gave them a different perspective. So am I saying all presidents should do this? Well yes, but we all know that will never happen. What leaders should do is try very hard to keep a very close pulse on its employees, the challenges they are facing, and suggestions for improvement. Many of these employees had great ideas to make the company better. An employee survey is a great way to gain this perspective. Another idea is to have regular meetings with different employees at different levels to solicit feedback. If leaders would take the time to really understand their employees, maybe employee loyalty would be higher than one-third of the employees being loyal to the organization.