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An undercover boss makes a good leader

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers

While you’re Managing By Walking Around, throw in a dose of Managing by Walking in Their Shoes. 

The entire nation has witnessed what leaders can learn by spending time on the front lines, thanks to the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss.” Meanwhile, other leaders have experienced similar success by walking in the shoes of lower-level workers. Examples:

Scott Moorehead, now CEO of Moore­­head Communications, was initiated into the family business by spending a year working in practically every job. The experience, which included driving a delivery truck, “made me a very employee-centric CEO,” he says.

Through her company’s Reality 101 immersion program, which requires front-line stints by execs, Carolyn Kibler learned about the daily challenges of operating dialysis equipment. Now, as operational vice president, she better understands her front-liners’ challenges.

For example, the experience helped her see flaws with an efficiency proposal by one of her operational managers. She realized the negative impact it would have on dialysis technicians.

Famous for his appearance on “Under­cover Boss,” Subway’s chief de­­velopment officer Don Fertman gained ground-level perspective during his week as a “sandwich artist.”

He now proposes bumping sandwich artists to the top of the org chart, since they “ultimately determine our success.”

Because of that experience, Fertman has since convinced all senior managers to spend a week as a sandwich artist, which may become a mandatory annual assignment. He also conducted a dozen focus groups with the sandwich-makers.

One of the biggest lessons he’s learned from walking in the shoes of these front-liners? “They want to feel good about what they are doing for a living.”

— Adapted from “How to Be a Better Boss? Spend Time on the Front Lines,” Joann S. Lublin, The Wall Street Journal.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ehsaanullah Zahid June 9, 2014 at 4:58 am

It’s ironic how much money is spent annually by subway on advertising and this recent effort by Don Fertman to promote Subways image. I say ironic because here in Pakistan, we are being served everything from Caterpillars, Flies to Cockroaches in our Subs. The outlets have pathetic hygiene conditions with servers picking their nose in front of customers, clipping their nails on counters and cockroaches coming out of their kitchens if it wasnt enough to make you throw up in your mouth already.

There are no checks and balances because the Development Agents are the very people who own majority of the franchises. Convenient, because you cant get your complaint heard or an impartial resolution.

Customers come down with food borne illnesses such as food poisoning, hepatitis, typhoid. I loved Subway, I still do. But I’m a little repulsed now. I had been eating for 3 months straight at Subway store id 39526. There were flies and the insect killers didnt work. I politely filled out a suggestion card and also asked the server to tell the owner to do something about the insect killer.

Next visit, nothing had happened. So I decided to take snaps of the dead and alive flies on the premises and email them to him. As I did so, a server on the counter started clipping his nails since there were no customers to serve at the time. A few days earlier, a server had picked his nose oblivious to on looking customers. I reprimanded him, he apologized and I let it slide thinking it was a one off incident. Keep in mind, we are brain washed by the clever advertising into thinking regardless of geographical location. Subway would maintain its standards of hygiene at least. Not so.

As I was done finishing the email, a large cockroach came out of the kitchen making me want to throw up. I stopped going to Subway after that but it was already too late. I came down with Hepatitis A and was in the hospital for 2 weeks of what seemed like a near death experience.

2 months passed and the owner still didnt reply. I called Subway HQ and threatened a lawsuit. I was given nothing but lip service by their attorney “We will look into this but can’t promise you a time frame for a resolution as we have never dealt with such a situation before’. Add insult to injury why dont you? The owner emailed me saying the workforce was to blame, and took no responsibility for the incident.

These are the kind of people you want representing Subway Don Fertman? The kind that play with peoples lives and safety? Why? Because its good for profits and business? Have you any idea how many customers you lose when this happens? I’m looking at a relapse of the Hepatitis A and Subway International wants to do nothing about it because business is good so far in this part of the World.

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