Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sending Your Boss Undercover

Want to know how to get your boss on Oprah? Send him undercover.

The CEO stars of the CBS hit show “Undercover Boss” appeared before a fawning Oprah Winfrey today. I’ve had more than a passing interest in this show since several PR people told me their companies were approached about doing it and took a pass. I bet they’re kicking themselves today.

With a couple of exceptions, the show has placed its participants in an overwhelmingly positive light. It has humanized participating companies by telling their stories through the perspective of their dedicated employees, including single parents, caretakers and students. As importantly, the employees’ interactions with their “undercover bosses” have been touching. The bosses have created programs for them, added benefits, and doled out scholarships, raises and promotions.

Having your CEO shown as devoted, caring and fair is no small thing, particularly in this environment of bailouts where corporate leaders have generally been portrayed as cutthroat, greedy and out of touch.

That’s the good news. There’s been some bad news, too.

In the Hooter’s episode, for instance, a restaurant manager degraded his waitresses. The CEO admonished him, but not nearly enough for my tastes. Additionally, the CEOs generally bumble around at their tasks like George Bush with a grocery scanner … but that’s before the big, heartfelt conclusion.

Sure, “Undercover Boss” is over produced. Of course, the skeptic in me wonders how the CEOs would’ve behaved in the same situations if the cameras weren’t around. Nevertheless, if presented with the opportunity, I’d like to think I would have advised my boss to shave his moustache and go undercover. Then I would have collected a big bonus after he appeared on Oprah.

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