From assembly line to field operations a thousand miles from corporate headquarters, undercover boss missions can provide senior management teams with invaluable information. A senior executive in disguise pitches in as a new hire, eager though not overly proficient, in filling orders, moving goods, or responding to customer complaints. Alongside unsuspecting employees, she gets a first hand look at life in the field.
The insights gained from these experiences, something not captured on charts and graphs, can be the highly valued canary signaling where attention needs to be focused as well as identifying areas of excellence.
Perhaps the most consistent revelation from these cloak and dagger operations is a deepened appreciation of company employees. Armed with new understanding, wise leadership re-assesses work environments eliminating areas of inefficiencies and implementing practices that promote sales, workplace safety and worker health. Tasks previously devalued are seen in new ways. Most compelling of all is the discovery that employees become known and valued.
Value is the currency of any successful organization. When people know their efforts are appreciated and those efforts are acknowledged, commitment soars. Workplace culture is revitalized. Efforts have purpose, individual tasks acknowledged as essential parts of the whole. For workplace culture to be transformed, value must be communicated. People need to know that their contributions matter but this requires active intention to communicate value.
Value also requires connection. One organization I assessed could best be characterized as “task rich and morale impoverished”. Though outwardly successful, conditions were such that success could not last. Many employees felt used rather than valued. Loyalties were tenuous. Trust was a mission statement bullet not a reality. But tasks kept getting accomplished so, on the surface, all appeared well. No one paid attention that the employee parking lot emptied earlier than in the past or became alarmed that significant people were finding employment elsewhere. Though ignored, factors such as these should have signaled the disconnect that was occurring throughout the organization.
Successful leadership doesn’t operate this way. On the contrary, it is open to discovery, knowing that there is no transformation without revelation. Great leaders understand that their workforce’s primary commitment isn’t to fulfilling the corporate dream, rather employees work to enable their children to have dreams. They are there building dreams for their own lives. The corporate dream may appear more prominent and draw more attention but it will always come secondary to first priorities. The undercover boss that has looked intently and listened well, understands that the corporate dream can be met but it cannot be sustained without engaged employees who take pride in what they do and are fulfilled in the purposes they accomplish. That requires a culture of expressed and connected value. If employees’ contributions go unacknowledged, commitment to the corporate dream fades. For the employer that will soon mean more nightmares than dreams. Dreams provide everyone with a lot more rest!
How has your workplace added to or taken from your sense of purpose and contribution?
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