Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Fakery of CEOs Undercover?

I recently read an article by Walter Kirn of Businessweek entitled "The Fakery of CEOs Undercover" where he discusses the CBS show Undercover Boss.  Mr. Kirn asserts that "Undecover Boss is entertaining precisely to the extent that it's dishonest."  Mr. Kirn I respectfully disagree.

The article can be found by clicking here.

I'll admit I assumed that this show would be a campy take on corporate life, sort of like Donald Trump's show The Apprentice.  I also assumed that CEO's of large corporations would only do this type of reality television to extend brand recognition and awareness.  I also assumed I wouldn't really like the show.

Well you know what they say about assumptions.  Yeah, so...anyway.....

This show surpassed all of my expectations.  It has been downright entertaining and quite thought-provoking.  Sure it's a little bit funny and yes there are portions of it that are truly tongue and cheek.  But that's what makes the show compelling to watch for me as a viewer and hopefully insightful for the CEOs who choose to risk committing brand suicide by participating in it.  I mean think about it, the ramifications of airing your dirty corporate laundry in front of millions has to make some stakeholders very very nervous.

But that's what makes the show so darn compelling.

I can only imagine being a CEO of one of these companies.  I cringe at the thought of how some of our internal policies or the employees' responses would be perceived by the average viewer.  I would be fearful of being found out that I as the top guy, can't do some of the more fundamental but success dependent tasks that our company requires.  I would be worry about seeing firsthand the daily fallout of the decisions that I've made from behind a big lofty corporate desk and a fancy CEO plaque.

But that is sort of the point of the show isn't' it?

These CEOs go out and participate for one and only one reason - to see the good, the bad and the ugly.  More CEOs of should be so lucky.  The mere fact that the brilliant, albeit it somewhat hard to swallow assumption, that the local delivery drivers from 7-Eleven don't recognize the CEO of the company that signs their paycheck is hard to imagine.  Then again, I remember working in connection with Xerox and if the CEO at the time had tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a quarter I wouldn't have recognized him either.

This show offers value for both the companies participating and for those of us who lead companies as well.  Every decision has a Ripple Effect and in my opinion you can't get more honest than that!  Most organizations have great people working for them - many are in the trenches and are rarely recognized for their efforts.  Of course there are always bad seeds, many of which we aren't even aware of when we aren't truly looking.  There are bad policies, bad directions, lack of communication and employees who simply feel disconnected from the companies they work for.  

There are lots of ways to improve the performance of a company but real change, real improvement, real understanding can only be accomplished when the CEO can come down from their 30,000 foot view at the top to see things from the internal and external customer's point of view.

My hope is that each of these CEOs embrace their new found perspective and that it somehow positively impacts the culture, the performance the brand in which they lead in some small (okay maybe not so small) way.  I agree with Mr. Kirn the power is all theirs and let's just hope that they use that power and new found knowledge to the betterment of those they lead. If they can do that then the show will truly be more than entertainment, it will be reality t.v. in the purest sense.

Ripple On!!!

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1 comment:

Carlon Haas said...

I usually hate shows like that, but I think Undercover Boss is riveting TV.

The 7-11 CEO episode was pretty good. The only thing is that the "solutions" part seems to be either "create a task force" type of stuff (which usually results in nothing) or a human interest angle.

That aside, I think this show is good for a company's brand. With the 7-11 episode, I thought it looked like 7-11 was run pretty well.

But with the Hooters episode, I laughed at Jimbo. They should have fired that guy. He didn't even look phased and felt he did nothing wrong. The guy's a walking lawsuit.