Since I couldn’t seem to move after the Super Bowl last night (too many chips), I decided to watch the new television reality show “Undercover Boss.” I’m glad I did. For those of you that missed the show, watch the clip I’ve provided above. In this episode, the President of Waste Management (Larry) went undercover as a new hire and proceeded to experience the life of his employees in five key company jobs.
Larry seemed to be a CEO who was at worst uninformed, and at best a leader who wanted to truly understand the people that made his business work. There were some very simple moments in this show that illustrated this truth: Moving people, getting them to do something differently, might be as simple as observing them in action.
How many of us have been in jobs where we truly feel our opinions make a difference to the company? Odds are, not many. I remember one training participant telling me that “I could set myself on fire and stand in the middle of the cafeteria and our CEO wouldn’t look up from his lunch much less put the fire out.” Other managers pay attention by throwing training at employees, sure that this will provide skills that MUST be missing because they’re not doing their jobs correctly. Certainly it couldn’t be a leadership issue, right?
Most employees are frustrated by two things – 1) lack of clarity about how they’re expected to perform, and 2) lack of attention from their managers. Larry said it best last night when he said he discovered that most people want to do a good job every day, and they want to be heard. Many employees have really good ideas that could make their branch or store better — but no one asks them for their ideas, or they are lost forever in a “suggestion box” that has spider-webs on it. Worse case scenario, they have a manager that sits behind closed doors all day and says things like “I trust my people – no need to micro-manage.” HUGE red flag when a manager uses the phrase “I don’t like to micro-manage.” That usually means “I like to take long lunches, sleep at my desk, and avoid human contact.”
What amazed me about the show last night is that once the employees discovered that the president of the company had been working side-by-side with them, you could see that they were elated rather than intimidated. Not because they received some big cash reward for being part of the show (only one woman got a new position which she had already earned, everybody else simply got a small change they were hoping for), but because someone had cared enough to recognize the difficulty of their job.
Because of this visit, each employee was significantly motivated to do something differently in their lives. They changed their behavior, because the CEO had cared enough to change something like a useless rules being incorrectly reinforced. So, my point is this – stop looking for the newest complicated change model. Instead, start by paying attention to your employees, listen to them, and recognize the difficult job they do and the effort they exert.
The biggest missing piece in any change effort is the daily coaching and recognition – you know, the “soft skills.” Those “soft skills” can impact numerical results, so don’t underestimate them. You know why they’re called “soft?” Because they’re hard.