Underground Boss Vs. Management by Walking around


Have you seen the reality show titled: Under cover Boss? I saw the recent episode where the CEO of Roto-Rooter Co. goes to work as a new employee and huddles with a number of folks at various levels. At the end of the show, the boss has a reunion with all those folks he worked with undercover, except now they know he is the “Big Cheese”. To be sure they all know that, the boss hands out some favors or rewards to the employees that should make their life a bit more easy or more bearable. There is emotions and tear. It was a good show. But I can’t say how much of it is real and how much of it is made for TV? With the constant repeats and digital rewinds, one can not believe everything we see on the TV – even in the so called “reality” shows.

But, it makes me wonder: Is it necessary for the boss to go undercover to see what is going on in his/her company, at the grass roots levels? This almost reminds me of what we read in history books: the kings and emperors who used to go in disguise to find out how their citizens feel and what happened in their daily life? The last I checked, we live in a democracy and the companies are places to work with the policy of “employment at will”. This means both sides are free to work or quit at will and there are no imperial hierarchies!

There is a term used in management called “Management by walking around”. Every one with any responsibility is required or expected to walk around, so that all levels of employees can get to meet and greet their “bosses”. This is supposed to be a two way street: The boss lets the employee know what is going on at the upper levels and the employee lets the boss know of the “skeletons in the closet”. This is supposed to be free and fair exchange, with out fear or favors. In due course, there is sharing of information and corrective action at all levels. This is democracy at action, where management at all levels is “participatory” rather than “command and control”.

I wonder if the reality shows like undercover boss is giving reason for the senior managers and to pause and reflect: “Am I spending enough time with employees at all levels and getting to know them and their issues well? Can I use more of management by walking around? Can I promote the same at all levels below me?” This would be better than boosting their inflated egos and creating a sense of “I am the CEO, which means I am the emperor!”

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