If you are an organizational leader, I hope you have had an opportunity to watch several episodes of the reality television show Undercover Boss on CBS.  On each episode the CEO or top executive goes undercover in their own company to see first hand what kinds of things go on on the front line.  Before going undercover, the leader create an assumed name and have an appearance makeover so that they are not recognized by their employees.  To explain the presence of cameras, they create a contrived story that the leader is competing for a prize in a reality television show.

Leaders learn about things they are doing well and things that are problematic.  They have an opportunity to meet and work with some amazing employees and some that are not.  Leaders on each show seem to find a handful of front line employees misbehaving or with bad attitudes.  Some of the things employees say, to a complete stranger on camera, are remarkable to me.  Although I have worked on projects, where it is known that I am an outsider, several employees have confided in me things they might not ever say to a co-worker.

23692407_BG1The show is really a great way to capture the leader on videotape doing an activity called Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA), a concept that originally was coined by executives at Hewlett Packard and made popular in the best selling book In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman.  I believe that all good executives and leaders should practice MBWA on a regular basis.  MBWA means getting out of your office and talking to people.  People all over the company, the folks who really know what is going on in your organization.  In the process of MBWA, the leader is building relationships, solving problems, giving positive recognition and affirming to employees that you are a highly present, hands on leader, who not only cares about the organization and also about it’s people.

So many of my clients say that they don’t have time and are too busy to do it.  I ask them, too busy doing what?  My theory is that if you don’t know what is going on in your own company, and don’t have competent people in place to do the things you shouldn’t be doing, then you are going to have far bigger problems.

Howard Schultz the CEO at Starbucks is said to visit 25 Starbucks locations every week.  Costco Co-Founder and former CEO, Jim Sinegal was also a big advocate of MBWA by visiting Costco Warehouses all over the country.  He had been publicly criticized of putting employees and customers in front of shareholders, a strategy that not enough companies enlist. If these top leaders can do it, it shouldn’t be that hard for you to do it.

Blog Category:  Leadership