The Anti-Undercover Boss

By now you’ve probably heard about the hit reality TV show, Undercover Boss. If you haven’t, the concept involves a Chief Officer of a company infiltrating a few locations within the organization, disguised as a newly hired employee. The objective is to find out “what’s really going on out there”. During the 1-hour show, real problems that are inherent in the organization and the effect those problems have on employees, are discovered. At the end of the show, the executive brings in the people that he/she interacted with and pulls back the veil, so to speak. They then talk about some key strategies for overcoming the problems that were identified. It makes for great TV, but is it the right method? Understanding your organization is critical, but our experience is that how you do it matters. The RAD Group has been successfully helping organizations assess their cultures, and the problems inherent in them for many years. So here is a simple review of how we do it? First, we interview the executive team to gain an understanding of the culture that they view as their ideal. We then head to all levels of the organization, including the front-line and interview a cross section of employees. We conduct one-on-one interviews and all information is completely confidential. It is critical that the employees feel that they can trust us so that they will be candid in their comments, so we spend time building trust with each person that we interview. We have specific questions that we use to start the interviews, but when issues within the culture are discovered we investigate. Once the data is gathered we then analyze all of the information and evaluate it in light of the ideal culture that was identified by the executives. Invariably there are gaps between the actual culture and the desired ideal. With these gaps identified, we can then devise strategies to close those gaps.

So what’s the difference? In Undercover Boss, we see two glaring issues. First, the executive is only exposed to a very small sample within the organization. It could be likened to a doctor simply taking the blood pressure of a patient and declaring that the person has heart disease. There are many more tests that must be run before an accurate diagnosis can be made. Secondly, in the TV show the data is gathered by tricking the employees into trusting the new hire, only to find out later that it was an executive all along. With our method transparency is crucial and employees know exactly why they are being interviewed, that they are safe from repercussions, and that the information gathered will be used to make their organization better. Since they know that they are anonymously participating in a diagnosis designed to identify both what is working and what is not they are more willing to contribute and help give us a clear picture of the organizational culture as it actually is. Since they are involved in identifying issues, they are also more willing to accept changes that will inevitably follow.