Undercover Boss, is it really a surprise?


Every once in a while a television programme is made which captures my interest. Over the past few weeks, I have been watching the Channel 4 series Undercover Boss intently and it really has become ‘must watch’ TV for me on a Tuesday night.

For those who have never seen the show, the premise is that a senior manager from an organisation spends a week, in disguise, working within the business to get a feel of what is happening at the ‘coalface’. They then report back to the board and make changes to the business, but not before they invite a selection of staff they have met during the week to the head office for all to be revealed and given a reward of some sort for all their hard work.

The series kicked off with Vanessa Gold of Ann Summers going to work on the shop floor for the first time and last Tuesday night it was the turn of nPower’s Chief Operating Officer Kevin McCullough to go undercover.

So what are my thoughts of the series so far?

Well, taking into account the obvious bias the show’s producers have to use to create suspense and improve ratings, it is not bad viewing overall.

One thing that has become apparent during most of the shows during this series is the surprise of the senior management at the level of commitment and enthusiasm shown by the staff, as well as the desire of these employees to improve the business and ensure the continued success. The employees have also been shown to be frustrated by the lack of top-down communication regarding  their roles within the business and if they do make suggestions, comments or requests for changes to be made, frequently nothing happens and they have to struggle on as before. For those involved with employee engagement, this of course comes as no surprise.

For those involved with employee engagement, this of course comes as no surprise.

So what can the management team do to harness this passion within the business and ensure that it does not go to waste?

Well, there is no big answer waiting in the wings, it comes down to communication. It is no coincidence that the most successful organisations have excellent bottom-up communication channels.

there is no big answer waiting in the wings, it comes down to communication

One way of delivering this type of communication is to have an effective ideas scheme in place, this will ensure all the suggestions from the workforce are captured and acted upon.

The highest performing suggestion schemes involve everyone within the business from front line staff up to the senior management team, after all, the Undercover Boss has shown us that the best person to ask what needs to be improved is the person who does that job every day.

So I will eagerly awaiting the final episode in the series on Tuesday 9th August and would recommend you tune in and see what happens when the Chief Executive of Poundland goes undercover.

My pick of the episodes of the current series are:-

Episode 2 – Andrew Withers, boss of Southern Fried Chicken

Episode 5 – Kevin McCullough, Chief Operating Officer of nPower

In case you have missed any of the episodes, they are available on the Channel 4 website

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