The Undercover Boss Method


The ABC show Undercover Boss takes a top executive and puts them “in the trenches” of the company. Typically the executive puts on a disguise that makes them seem as if they are an everyday worker. This allows for the executive to get insight and the workers give honest and open accounts of what it is like to work at the company. Typically the show will end with both parties (executive and employees) having a better relationships and open communication. I started thinking about my philosophy and mindset with running a business and it dawned on me that I should always have the “undercover boss” mindset (sans the disguise).

Executives can easily lose sight of what matters (the people matter most, of course). Getting the management team to get out in the field can be eye-opening and rewarding. People are amazed when I show up to handle an issue with a customer. They are typically baffled that the person that owns the credit card processing company would be the one to come and inquire about the issue. I feel that as a business owner is it just as important to stay in tune with the business as it is to be on top of the business.

Listening is the most important skill when running a business. There is so much noise in our lives that the simple act of listening has become increasingly more difficult. Shutting out employees and customers can be one of the more damaging things you can do as a leader. Listening creates trust, builds relationships, and promotes productivity. Becoming a good listener takes a lot of work, but the rewards are endless.

Small changes can lead to big results. Taking the listening skills and applying it to being hands on with your staff and customers can open your eyes to small changes that can lead to a more successful path. For example, communication is critical in my line of work. All of the lines need to be open in order to create a successful credit card processing stream. A loyal customer had been just “getting by” with the system when I stopped by to inquire about how things were going. I picked up that there was some frustration with the processing time for credit card transactions. I asked certain questions that allowed the customer to not only show them that I was curious, but also that I really cared about the problem. I listened. In the end we realized that there was an update that needed to be performed and soon enough the processing times went back to a satisfactory level and the customer no longer needed to hide behind the curtain brimming with frustration.

As business owners, sometimes we mess up. Taking the initiative to own up to that mess up and publically announce to the appropriate people that you made a mistake and what you learned from it will only help everyone involved. Fessing up to messing up creates an image that you are a real person. A leader with that messes up and says “I messed up. This is what I learned. This is how I am going to fix it” can bring great value to the organization. The employee or customer will see the flaws and will more than likely be open to admitting when they make a mistake. Don’t be afraid of apologizing.

It all goes back to respect. Respect your employees. Respect your customers. Listen. Admit to mistakes. Get to know everyone that has gotten you to where you are today. Everyone. The customer with a thriving new business, the person that cleans the office, the customer with a struggling business, the associate with amazing organizational skills. Learning and growing with the people that surround will not only make you a more approachable leader it will make you a leader that people will look up to.

Try the “Undercover Boss” method (without the disguise). Get in the trenches. Understand that what matters is the people. You will not be sorry.