Undercover Boss: Reverse Your Pyramid!

Are you an Undercover Boss?

I recently watched the new show “Undercover Boss” on CBS and thought I would write about an old management technique that I learned years ago that relates to the approach the show uses. For those of you that do not know what the show “Undercover Boss” is about, I will take a moment to bring you up to speed. Undercover Boss is simply CEOs and Executive Managers pretending to be employees at some of their retail locations, and take notes on whats going on within their organizations at levels that they would not always be involved in. This practice allows them to understand their front line, their customer practices and also the changes that are needed in order to help grow their business. The final 5 minutes of the show is the undercover executive talking to those he interacted with during his experience and either awarding them or coaching them on how to remain true to the brand.

So what if you did that?

Lets take that a bit further and look at it from multiple angles. I used to tell a lot of the people working for me to think about their business in a different way. To think of it as a Pyramid! That’s right a pyramid with you all the way on the top/peak of it, overlooking your empire. You would be on top, and your staff down along your side on lower levels and finally your front line workers would be all the way on the first step at the bottom. The idea of you being on top is being overlooking everybody and keeping an eye on the horizon, as you are higher you will be able to gauge the road ahead and make business growth decisions as you should. The real problem however is that the higher you go in your organization/empire, the more you lose sight of the people at the bottom and the more layers you create in between them and you.  Many would argue that this why you put people in charge, but do you really expect their dedication, pride and love for the company to be like yours? Can you also guarantee that their intentions are your well being, no matter if that means they must give up their money and jobs for the sake of the company? Many would now agree that no one prides in their work like those that have sweat to build what they’ve become.

undercover boss

Now that you are on top of your pyramid, then maybe you have earned your spot and should remain there but perhaps you might want to think about the implications we discussed, the layers and the lack of communications that you create in order to continue to grow your company. The best reality to hear is the one straight from the source itself, and not from the 10 layers all wanting to make sure they look as if they are still in control. Coming down from your pyramid and spending most of your time with your front line is a way to look at things and to keep in check with your business’ reality but I had a different solution for managers and executives alike, one that they often wish to ignore but can improve their employee’s performance on all levels.

inverted management pyramid

Reverse your pyramid!

Create Stability: Stand on a platform, not a peak! Being at the edge of a peak only gives you view but doesn’t allow you to move/act on your need other than communicate down to others the orders you want them to follow. Wouldn’t it make more sense to stand on a flat platform and move freely on it?

Its easier to to down a hill, than a set of stairs. When your pyramid is reversed, its much easier and faster to reach the peak, as you don’t have to climb all those levels and foundations to go back to the peak. Instead you are downhill ready to change the course in minutes but are still strong on your platform, listening and delivering on what matters most.

Keep your employees alert of doing their best as you are there. Isn’t it true that when you are told that your boss is coming, you are most likely to try to impress them by working your best? Isn’t it true that when you boss’s boss is coming, everyone is stressing to make sure you all know what you are doing and look good doing it? Then ask yourself how ALL your employees and their managers would feel if you actually were know to drop in at anytime? Wouldn’t they be more productive?

Lead by example with your front line. By being present on the front line, you can watch and coach all your employees on how to bring the brand to life, and how to make sure everyone else that works there knows how to do the same, and when they are confused, all they have to do is watch you.

Listen to those that represent your brand.  Your front line employees might love or hate their job, some of their issues might be very easily fixable and simply never brought to your attention as others in your management don’t want to nag or do their job, which is to communicate their problems upwards. Now you see and hear of the issues, and can simply change employee’s performance by giving them what they want. The power to listen is now directly back in your hands as it once was when you were growing your company.

Hear it from your customers. Your customers represent your profits, and therefore their voices count and should be heard. No one is better equipped to act on customer’s complaints and comments than you. More importantly, when customers complain, there might be a broken process that needs to get fixed so others are not affected by it.

By reversing your pyramid, you get access to the most important aspect of your business, your customers and your employees but more importantly, it gives you access to their interactions. Those interactions are your profits that are either growing or being thrown away. Being there allows you to see, correct and understand all aspects of your business and be standing on a concrete platform, one that is not bound to one peak location but rather an entire platform to walk on, while giving you access to your peak just going down a hill, in other words being able to multitask faster and better than before. Donald Trump even wrote a book on management discussing the benefits of being closer to those that manage and work in your front line.  It is simply a better and more effective way to grow your business.

In conclusion, I ask all leader in Corporate America and Franchise owners that live on their peak to come down and drop the whole “too proud” attitude and focus on what matters, employees and customer who are the reason you are on your peak, as without them there wouldn’t be a business and there wouldn’t be a pyramid. Instead there would be YOU standing on a meaningless peak by yourself, with no foundation and no one to catch you when you fall.