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Good Television - Lousy Leadership


Dr Carol Kinsey Goman - Expert Author

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Right after the Super Bowl, CBS will air it's new show, "Undercover Boss." But earlier this week Oprah featured "cast members" - executives and employees from the first two companies (Waste Management and 7-11). At the end, executives gave "prizes" to participating employees. A 7-11 truck driver received the keys to his own franchise (without having to pay the regular set-up fees), a Waste Management office worker got a promotion and a pay raise, etc.

You can imagine the reaction from employees of those companies who weren’t on the series, but who watched Oprah: Why did that person get singled out? Why did one person in the same company get a much more lucrative reward than another? What about the rest of us who work here? We work hard too!

"Undercover Boss" is a British import and I assumed that the Brits probably handled things a bit differently. But to make sure, I checked with Stephen Martin, the Clugston CEO (and participant in the UK version of the show) whom I’d interviewed for the Washington Post article, "Would YOU be an Undercover Boss?"

Here is his reply:

Hi Carol, Wow – as you say things are certainly bigger over there in the US!

The UK version of ‘Undercover Boss’ could be described as very low budget in comparison.

However, I would comment as follows, as one with experience in the process.

I feel that there is a potential underlying friction between what the program makers want to produce i.e. an entertaining television show that guarantees great ratings and what I, as a company boss, want i.e. genuine feedback from employees on what is and is not working within my business so that I can make positive improvements.

And here’s the rub - what makes great telly does not necessarily make great business and vice versa!

Indeed, the producers of the program wanted me to give out great rewards at the end of the program after the televised ‘reveals’. I, however, resisted on the basis that it would be grossly unfair to single out individuals for treatment over and above what I could realistically achieve with the rest of our workforce.

Furthermore, I went undercover soon after I had made over 100 employees redundant and I felt that it would have been in poor taste to throw money around in such a sensitive business environment.

In terms of ‘rewards and recognition’ for the three individuals singled out by me for the televised ‘reveals’, this is what I did:

  1. Leon Bever – I gave him the opportunity to move to a bigger project where he had the potential to earn more money, as he would be site based and, consequently, have to travel further and work longer hours. I also gave every single person at his work site the same opportunity – some accepted and were moved, whilst others did not want to travel and accepted that they would earn less money but get home earlier every evening.
  2. Les Parker – I moved him from a temporary contract to a permanent contract. His wages and terms of conditions of employment remained exactly the same. This turned out to be a great morale booster for all temporary employees as they could see that if they worked hard they had the potential of gaining a permanent position with Clugston and all of our permanent workers were delighted that Les gained a place on our apprenticeship programme. There was no pay rise or promotion.
  3. Dick Sutton – I asked Dick, alongside his normal duties, to undertake a mentoring role with our less experienced workers so that he could pass on his valuable skills to our next generation of workers. There was no pay rise or promotion.

So, the joy of these three individuals cannot be measured in monetary terms - but in terms of being the people I chose to be representative of the hundreds of hard working individuals we employ up and down the length and breadth of the UK and deserving of praise directly from the top.

As I mentioned to you previously, I also personally visited everyone I met during my two weeks undercover afterwards for their own personal ‘reveal’ – the only difference being that this time the cameras were not rolling.

In terms of ‘rewards and recognition’ for our workforce in general, I threw a party for our entire workforce at a local hotel to celebrate and recognize their invaluable support and hard work for Clugston over many years. This was the first time in our 73 year history that operatives had ever been invited to a party and was incredibly well received by all employees – so much so, in fact, that in December I threw the first ever Christmas party for our operatives too!

What you say is correct in that I actually published what I learned from my undercover experience in the form of my "Top Ten Tips" which have been put onto our website for all employees to read and I also published extracts from the diary I kept while I was undercover so that employees, who were not directly involved, could learn more about what happened.

So to ultimately answer your question, what I learned was indeed transferred into corporate-wide policy and not just individual reward for 3 individuals who became the focus of a TV program.

I think my response poses a further question though – how do you make compelling reality television while remaining true to both your own personal and company values?

Best regards,


About the Author

Carol Kinsey Goman, an international Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of body language in the workplace. Communications coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and effectiveness.
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Office: 510-526-1727
Berkeley, California

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-02-12 04:05:02 in Employee Articles

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