“Undercover Boss”…Good or Bad Opportunity?

By: Angela Walschinski, Account Assistant, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

It has long been preached that time spent on the frontline improves management skills and employee relations. However, a new reality TV show “Undercover Boss” has taken this to an innovative level. For those of you who have not seen the show, it is based on the concept of top ranking executives going “undercover” working as frontline employees within their organization.
These executives are no longer sitting back, observing, surveying and reporting their views, they are experiencing them first hand.

As I watched, the thought of how this could be a great public relations opportunity for any company that appears on the show was in the back of my mind. I’d like to believe that the show does more good than bad because it reinforces that a strong organization uses efficient internal communication. Part of that internal communication involves the top executives understanding the job of an entry-level worker, which this show attempts to achieve.

However, the show makes me wonder if the top executive has to go undercover in order to understand job tasks, learn that the company policies aren’t being followed or that front-line employees don’t see promising career paths with the company. What does that say about the company’s communication environment? Could that environment be an obstacle to leaders getting the advice they need? Or on the other hand, what communication changes need to be made in order to keep top executives in touch with how front-line employees are thinking and behaving?

Of course opening your company up to the public also welcomes criticism because companies who participate in reality TV shows have no control over what’s shown in the episode. That’s a gamble in terms of the company’s public image. The owner or top executives have to ask themselves if that is a gamble they are willing to make. If yes, the company becomes vulnerable to the public, revealing everything within its operations.

It’s a public relations opportunity and potential nightmare all rolled into one. The companies on “Undercover Boss” take huge risks by exposing their companies at all levels of employment. But great risk is often met with great reward. The company’s brand is exposed to millions of viewers, business lesson are learned and the company is seen publicly trying to make the working environment better.

In either case, top executives who partake in “Undercover Boss” will most likely discover good or bad publicity, and good and bad things about their companies from working on the front lines. If you were a top executive at a large company, would you appear on “Undercover Boss”? Do you think the experience of being on the show would make the company better?