Where's Your CEO Going Today?

I hate reality shows...well, maybe hate's a strong word, but the contrived scenarios, the melodramatic participants and artificial cliff - hangers leave me pining for a good PBS program. But there's a new series in town that I think is fascinating.

Have you seen "Undercover Boss" yet? It's the new CBS reality series where a CEO of a major corporation goes incognito, deep into his company to see what his employee's work lives are really like. The maiden show featured Larry O'Donnell, President and CEO of Waste Management. He pulled shifts on the garbage trucks and hung out with local supervisors, all without them knowing who he really is. The end result of his foray into the lives of the 'little people' left him feeling that, things have gotta change around here. After he reveals who he is, he sets about implementing the changes, he sees the need for, and the show ends with the locals grinning from ear to ear.

Watching the interactions between the CEO and their employees, should raise some interesting questions for the senior leaders among us. Do you know what life is like for your front line employees? When was the last time you spent time with them, or invited them to a planning session or gave them an invitation to give you anonymous feedback and critique? To put a fine point on it - how in touch are you with the day-to-day realities of the workers in your company? And, if it's been a while - or maybe never - that you've made a concerted effort to investigate your employee's working challenges, how can you possibly expect to get those same employees to implement the changes you want?

The key factor in an employee's decision as to whether they will cooperate with the company's change agenda is how attached, appreciated, valued, heard and understood they feel by their immediate supervisor, and how much the company is interested in their working realities associated with the changes. Too often, when there's a change announced, management talks only of the benefits to the company and fails to factor in the 'transition' the employees will have to make in order to accommodate the new routines and processes.

Now, maybe your CEO can't / won't consider going 'undercover' and finding out for him/her self what needs to happen...but could you? Would you be willing to do some version of this with your direct reports? Might you spend a day doing the jobs of your front line employee's? I just wonder how it would affect the way you view their participation, or lack of it, in your grand plans.

Here's a challenge for you leaders out there - close your Outlook, walk out of your office, walk down the corridor and/or drive to one of your company's operational sites and spend a day. Talk to the people, not with your 'title' front and center, but with humility and curiosity. It might just surprise you what you see and hear.

If the thought of this leaves you sweating about how you'd handle the questions and feedback you might get, let me help you. Come join me, and an eager group of managers from several industries, on April 27 & 28 for a two- day coaching immersion experience - the Coaching Clinic. Let me show you how to have powerful conversations that will begin the change within the conversation itself. One of the concepts we teach in the Coaching Clinic is - if in doubt...ask. Make a commitment to begin to ask more questions and see what happens!