What did you watch after the Superbowl?  If you are like more than 36 million other viewers, you watched the premiere episode of Undercover Boss . . . a new reality show on CBS that features high level executives who go undercover to interact and work with daily employees.

Waste Management President and COO Larry O'Donnell

The premier episode featured Larry O’Donnell, President and Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management, as he worked alongside his employees.  O’Donnell got down to the nitty gritty, cleaning porta-potties, picking up trash at a landfill, sifting cardboard at a recycling plant, and driving on a trash route.  If you saw the interaction between O’Donnell and his employees, you felt the authenticity of the moment.  Whether you call it "good reality television" or a case of "good scripting," there were a number of lessons that can be gleamed from O’Donnell’s experience:

  • A company’s success depends largely ( …if not entirely… ) upon its people.  While this may be common sense, many company leaders do not realize how far down the ladder this principle applies … all the way down to the bottom man or woman.  If there is a friction between your hourly employees and your middle management, that friction may never be realized by upper management.   
  • No matter what level on the company ladder, innovation and hard work should be rewarded.  O’Donnell saw this in an employee named Jaclyn, who was a paid-by-the-hour administrative assistant.  Jaclyn also acted as an office manager, scale operator, and scale supervisor, and accountant for accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll.  Ultimately, O’Donnell promoted Jaclyn to supervisor, placed her on salary status and made her position bonus eligible.
  • Work policies enacted by management should be reviewed for effectiveness and acceptability.  Some of best decisions made from above have the best intentions for the best results.  However, management decisions can achieve an opposite result if not carefully enacted.  For example, O’Donnell heard complaints from an employee who was docked pay for two minutes for every one minute they were late clocking into work.  Wanna know the kicker?  O’Donnell was the one pushing for increased productivity from WM employees.

Question: Did you identify any other "lessons learned" from the undercover boss of Waste Management?