Undercover Boss – would you try it?

undercover bossMany readers will have seen either Undercover Boss or Undercover Boss USA where the boss goes undercover, working with frontline staff to see how the business is really performing. I’m sure that these companies are selected for their entertainment value but they do throw up some real issues.

In many cases the businesses are not performing but the bosses seem not to be playing the blame game and realise that in many cases head office is a little out of touch. What they do seem to get though is that if they support their staff then they will get the best out of them and stand a fighting chance of beating the recession.

So, you’re the boss. Do you dare to go undercover and find out what is really happening? How will you react when employees do not worship your photograph or have less than ideal things to say about you, their pay or working conditions? What will you do when you find that front line staff are abused, spat at or are targeted by armed robbers?

You’re not the boss. Is your the sort of business where the boss would come and find out how you are doing? If so then great, if not then how can you attract his attention? If the boss (or bosses) is not interested then I recommend you look for a new and better job right away!

Finally, no bosses should be going undercover anyway. Employees should know who the boss is and how to contact them (about important issues) and be able to equate those at the top with company vision and values. Bosses should also have their finger on the pulse and have a much better idea of the workings of their business and the opinions of frontline staff. Sounds like a call for a cull of middle management – make up your own mind about that!

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Good Boss, Bad Boss?

good boss bad boss

Do you identify with any of the following?

  1. You have criticised an employee openly in public
  2. You have taken credit for the work of others
  3. Your employees are anxious in your presence
  4. You expect employees to do what you tell them without question
  5. You believe employees should automatically know what to do without guidance
  6. You shout or scream at others in the workplace
  7. You publicly belittle employees as a method of punishing them
  8. You have favourites amongst your employees and you make this known
  9. You dislike or fear  delegating
  10. You constantly check the work of others and micromanage constantly

The more of the above statements you identify with, the greater the chance that you are a ‘Bad Boss’.

Think about the last time you had a ‘Good Boss’. I bet that they:

  1. Were humble about their own achievements
  2. Showed integrity
  3. Were knowledgeable
  4. Allowed people to work unhindered
  5. Provided support when necessary
  6. Were keen to try new things

And if you had a ‘Bad Boss’ they probably:

  1. Were never there when needed
  2. Wanted to know what you were doing and why
  3. Usually said ‘no’ when you suggested new ideas
  4. Made you feel as if you were not trusted
  5. Looked glum most of the time
  6. Talked about themselves a lot and listened very little

I think that you get the idea. Now which type of boss are you and what are you going to do about it?

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Asking The Right Question

the right questionTo get the right answer we need to ask the right question. Consider the scenario where your sales are falling. You ask the question ‘why are our sales falling?’ and get an answer like ‘because our sales people are rubbish’.

Before we fire our sales force let us try a different and more in depth style of questioning.

Why are sales falling?  – Because customers don’t like our products

Why don’t they like our products? – Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model

Why are our products outdated? – Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years

Why have we not done this before? – Because the boss has not allowed us

Why has the boss behaved in this way? – Because they have no spare time to spend

So our sales are falling because the boss (potentially us) needs a lesson in time management. Not only do we need to ask the right question, we might need to ask more than one in order to inform our decision about which course of action to take.

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Getting To Grips With Metaphor

understanding metaphorKeen followers of Agatha Christie’s fictional character Miss Marple will be familiar with her technique of mapping happenings of the wider world with things she could understand that occurred in her own village of St Mary Mead. So already we have a list of things that metaphors can help us with:

  • Giving explanations to those unfamiliar with a concept
  • Examining problem situations from an alternative perspective
  • Reframing situations
  • Communicating concepts to a wider audience
  • Learning or making sense of a concept that we are not currently familiar with

Another interesting use for metaphor is within stories and for use as a more sophisticated business tool but that is an article all of its own. But how about the application of metaphor, will it work for everyone and will it work everywhere?

We can use metaphor directly in:

  • Business
  • Politics
  • Creative Industries and the media
  • Any other areas that rely on human interaction

Metaphor works best when individuals can ‘connect’ easily with metaphors i.e. they are used to metaphor or storytelling and their lives are not littered with distractions. In developed countries we are buried underneath mountains of gadgets which we either rely on to automate our lives or which we take great delight in exploring in detail – we either want it to work or we want to read the instructions in detail. We do not wish to know that our new MP3 player is like a pepperoni pizza (or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor). I am speaking generally here, those who are emotionally intelligent will be using metaphor regularly.

In developing countries there is less technology and less complexity in life generally (but life is often very hard) and so people are often closer to their emotions. Storytelling and metaphors will work well here and have a very powerful effect.

But what makes a good metaphor? During a recent debate it was suggested that a good metaphor for a modern organisation was a jigsaw  puzzle. I was not sure about this as it suggested to me that everyone has their place when in fact people can continue to contribute in many different ways. The originator of the metaphor then proceeded to explain it to me. When I suggested that a good metaphor should not require explanation they got a little upset!

A good metaphor should not require explanation. When someone suggests that a task or project is like ‘wading through treacle’ we instantly understand (unless we do not know what treacle is). Good metaphors should work for those who respond to different types of stimuli (audi, visual, kinaesthetic …) and be easily modified and shared. Imagine the details of a house given to you by an agent. You like the garage, your partner likes the bathroom and the kids like the garden. You all know that you are sharing the same idea but have different perspectives. Others can also share and modify different aspects (the dog loves the garden!!).

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