March 2013

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff

Don't be an "Undercover Boss"

I've watched the television show "Undercover Boss" a few times. It's entertaining proof that most leaders are afflicted with the same form of tunnel vision. They get so wrapped up in "their work" they disconnect from what's most important - their employees.

The story line is always the same. The boss goes undercover by assuming the identity of someone looking to start a new career; works alongside employees; discovers things are wrong; bonds with some employees; gifts employees thousands of dollars and/or training they should have had to do their jobs then the show ends with the leader vowing to maintain the connection with employees.

Leading and growing a company is tough work and keeping your finger on the pulse of your company isn't as easy as it sounds. As Undercover Bosses discover in this TV show, to truly feel the pulse of your company means monitoring its pulse from the corporate office to the front line. The bigger your company gets, the easier it is for you to get disconnected from your people and the quality of their work. Even if you have a small company with just a few employees, it's easy to get disconnected because you're so busy working and generating sales.

You can hate numbers, be a control freak or a master procrastinator, but you can never allow yourself to be disconnected from your people and their work. Here are some no-compromise leadership disciplines to keep your finger on the pulse of your people as well as your company:

Get out of the data box: Reports are scorecards. They tell you what happened while the game was being played. Too many leaders get consumed analyzing reports and data that they invent more reports. They are so deep into the minutia they can't see what's really going on. I'm all about data and reports, but I want to know what people are thinking, what their successes are and where they're stuck and need help. If you want to see better outcomes in all those reports, shift your attention from paper and pixels to your people. It's a lot more fun.

Get a bigger box: Your box is that reality you create for yourself to work in. As the leader, you can fill your box with all kinds of stuff and expand or shrink it at will. Human beings are creatures of habit and get comfortable in their boxes -- even if the box is dark, filled with problems and stressful. You just can't see what's really going on when your box is packed so tight with funk and junk. How about moving to a new and bigger box and leaving the entire funk and junk behind?

Give it windows to let light in and a big door so you can get out; connect with your people and your company. You're the leader; you don't have to ask permission to change how you work and your work environment. You're only stuck if you allow yourself to be stuck.

If time is money: Invest your time where it counts the most. Go talk to the people doing the work of your company. I call it "office-itis." It's when you're either stuck in your office or so busy doing the work you do that no one is really leading the company. Think of it as going to work every day and being an absentee owner. You're there -- but you're not leading. You're not inventing time to interact and listen to what your employees are thinking. You're not inspiring greatness and innovation. YOU are officially the problem in your own company. Talk to your people. Listen to your people.

Culture is everything: In every Undercover Boss episode bosses hear something like, "They sit in their offices and don't really care about us or have a clue what's really going on." In my work, coaching leaders to create no-compromise business cultures in their companies, getting leaders to change first is the biggest hurdle. Too often, they're so wrapped up in their perception of what's not right; they point the blame finger at everyone else. Fact: leaders create cultures by design or default. If you don't like what you see in your company, you must have the courage, commitment and tenacity to change first.

You don't need to go undercover to discover what's really going on in your company. You just need to slow down and connect with people at every level of your company by asking, "How are you doing and what can I do to help you deliver your best work every day?" No-compromise leaders go the distance not just growing dynamic companies, but by creating extraordinary cultures that are open and transparent.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. His is author of Fast Forward, No-Compromise Leadership and Wake Up! For signed copies, go to www.strategies.com. You can email Neil at neil@strategies.com.