When the Boss Learns

I can binge watch Netflix like a boss.  It suits my addictive personality well.  I start a new show from the pilot episode and see it through to the final season.  It’s always so disappointing when I get to the end of a show because finding the next show is like having to go out and find new friends.  You can’t just do that hastily.  So when I finished New Girl (Nick and Jess FOR-EV-AH!), I went a different route instead of rushing right into a new relationship with new characters.  I started watching Undercover Boss.

If you haven’t seen the show, the premise is the CEO (or upper level exec) from a large company goes “undercover” and attempts to do various entry-level positions in the organization.  They not only get a feel for what is expected of their employees, but they also hear from ground level employees about the company.  I’ve watched over a dozen episodes now, and the number one takeaway for every boss is compassion.  This includes both compassion for the individuals working for the company and compassion for the way their decision making trickles down throughout the organization. 

The big boss is almost always partnered with people who has some sort of challenge in their life.  So they train the big guy on how to clean the bathrooms, and also spill their guts about their struggles in life.  Sure, it’s partly because that makes for good TV, but it also parallels reality, really.  Who doesn’t have a challenge in their life?  When an employee says he has to schedule his wife’s cancer treatment after work because he can’t afford time off or a single mom says she misses her son’s basketball games because she has to work overtime, the big boss listens intently.  Of course it’s not realistic for the boss to accommodate every person’s individual scheduling needs, but it does make him stop and think about what else the company can do to improve the work-life balance for its employees. 

Not only does the CEO learn compassion for what individual employees are dealing with in their personal lives, he becomes more aware of how top level decisions affect employees.  One guy found that because higher ups remodeled a store without employee input, now employees don’t have a break room.  He hated the idea of his employees sitting in their cars alone to eat lunch because no space was provided for them.  Another CEO was talking to the employee training him and suggested that the method they were using to get the job done was ineffective.  The employee agreed and showed him how he would prefer to do the job, saving both time and money.  But then the employee said that he doesn’t do it the better way anymore because he got written up by his boss for not following protocol.  The CEO was upset to hear that protocol he helped write was holding his employees back from doing their job better.  Nearly every CEO ends this experience promising to open the lines of communication because those people doing the job day in and day out are truly the experts in their field. 

Each CEO walks away from this experience enlightened and with a greater appreciation for their employees.  I can’t help but wonder how else could this understanding and compassion be developed?  As a person becomes more and more successful, how can he move the vision forward while still looking out for the employees under him?  I think it comes down to relationships.  I think it’s a genuine desire to look out for the best interest of others while keeping in mind the greater good of the company.  It’s respecting employees and empowering them to share ideas with higher ups.  It’s listening to individual stories and looking for the pieces of the story that might resonate with others as well, and finding the big picture takeaway that can be applied across the board. 

Relationships are messy and complicated, but I think it’s worth it every time.