"Undercover Boss" Provides a Wake-Up Call for CEOs

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Few companies truly understand the importance of investing in their employees. But fewer still realize how critical it is to routinely listen to employees to know exactly where to make their investments in their companies. A new television show "<a href="http://www.cbs.com/primetime/undercover_boss/">Undercover Boss</a>" on Sundays on CBS reveals how some executives are in the dark about their companies' employees and policies.

Few companies truly understand the importance of investing in their employees. But fewer still realize how critical it is to routinely listen to employees to know exactly where to make their investments in their companies.

A new television show "Undercover Boss" on Sundays on CBS reveals how some executives are in the dark about their companies' employees and policies.

The reality series follows executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their own companies. Each week, a different executive leaves the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their organization. While working alongside their employees, they learn about the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization, the perception of their company, and discover the unsung heroes of their work force. Imagine that!

Larry O'Donnell III, the CEO of Waste Management Inc., for instance, rides with his truck drivers and discovers that a female employee must urinate in a cup because if she stops at a bathroom, time is money. At the end of the show, O'Donnell changes that policy for female employees. He later said in an interview, "Going out there and doing the job as a first-time employee, I have a whole new appreciation for what they do every day, and now everything I do, I think, 'What impact will this have on those front-line employees?'"

Joseph DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven, a national chain of convenience stores, discovers after working at a Long Island, N.Y., store--one of the busiest in the country--that a female employee knows every customer by name. DePinto rewards her at the end of the show.

While these enlightened CEOs can now grow from these experiences and do the right thing for their companies, why does it need to take a television show with nearly 40 million viewers to wake up these top brass?

Not all executives have their heads in the sand. eHarmony CEO Greg Waldorf has been listening to his front-line staff since the company's inception. He visits them regularly and even sits in and takes calls on occasion. And David F. Dyer, CEO of J.Crew, is known to pop in on his stores regularly to talk with employees and ask them what they like and dislike about working for apparell retailer.

I applaud Waldorf, Dyer, and the bosses on "Undercover Boss" for putting themselves in a vulnerable position in order to grow the company. Many CEOs don't want to hear criticism from employees. But what sets top-performing leaders apart is their ability to receive feedback and determine how it can directly impact business results. While it may be difficult to hear criticism, executives should welcome the open dialogue to find out what isn't working and fix what's wrong.

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