What Distributors Can Learn from ‘Undercover Boss’

What would happen if you went undercover in your company?

There’s a new television show called “Undercover Boss” on Sunday nights that the president of every distributorship or manufacturing company should take a look at.

The show features a top officer of a major corporation who goes “undercover” and gets a job working at his company’s various branch operations. He meets workers and engages them in conversations as to how the employees like working for the company.
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The executive also gets a chance to see the many facets of the operation he directs and often finds a number of systems that can be improved based on employee input. He also learns how many employees who previously would have gone unnoticed should actually be considered for advancement.
At the end of the show, the boss brings the employees-who have performed badly or excellent-brought into the company’s headquarters where he singles them out for either improvement or promotion.
Okay, the show is a lot of schlock in many ways. But at the same time it’s an interesting concept.
What would happen if you went undercover in your company? Do you think your employees would say favorable things about the company? Would they exhibit some sort of pride in the work they do or would they be constantly complaining about he failure of the company to recognize the talent they possess?
When those employees are interviewed at the end of the show, almost all of them mention they’re just glad that their hard work is finally being “recognized." In fact, of seven people interviewed every one of them used the word.
One of the most important things any manager can do is to connect with their employees. Any study will show that money doesn’t always motivate employees: Working conditions do. 
As a reporter and editor for many years, I’ve visited executives of hundreds of companies. Usually I can size up within minutes how those executives are perceived. As I tour their plants, production facilities and warehouses, it always interests me as to the reaction of their employees to the manager.
Sometimes the glance by the employee is hostile, to say the least. Other times an employee might come over to the boss, engage him in conversation and talk about what is going on in their respective areas of operation.
Why is this so important?
If an employee doesn’t believe in your company and the work that they’re doing, how likely is it that he or she will go the extra mile for you? How many of those employees will stay beyond quitting time to make sure that all orders for the day are processed? How will they represent the company in the community and will that mean prospective employees will seek employment in your business?
It is true that with the lingering recession, management is in control when it comes to retaining employees. But it won’t always be that way. Soon, there will be a fight for talent and those who are your best workers will be sought after while the “marginal” employees will be kept on your payroll.

Learn more about what you can do to retain employees post-recession.

According to a worldwide survey of senior managers, sponsored by StepStone Solutions, an  international human resources/recruiting firm, two years of cutbacks have undermined workplace trust.
“Combined with increasing demand for executive talent and a sharp drop in graduate recruitment, the survey found that companies without the right talent strategies risk developing a major skills shortage just when they need employees’ energy and commitment the most,” the survey says.
Nancye Combs of HR Enterprise, a consultant to distribution associations, points out that “people work for people. They don’t work for companies.” That is why, she says in an interview, that when a supervisor leaves a company, many employees soon follow. 
She advises managers to be open with their employees, letting them know how important they are to the success of the company. “Tell them you appreciate their support and work ethic and that even if you can’t do something for them now, you’ll recognize them in the future," she says.
Combs adds that that employees want three things for their employers: One is to be appreciated for the work they are doing; they want to be included in as much decision-making as possible; and they want the company to help them when they’re dealing with personal issues.
You don’t have to go undercover to find out what’s going on in your own company. But the more you recognize the talent that exists in your business, the more successful your company will be in the future.

Jack Keough is a contributing editor to Modern Distribution Management and the owner of Keough Business Communications. He can be reached at jack@mdm.com or by phone at 508-734-0029. Keough is the former editor of Industrial Distribution Magazine.

Related Blog:  Companies aim to stay lean despite improving demand.

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