T.V. Show “Undercover Boss” – not a Lean Leader?

July 11, 2011

CEO does some value-adding

Have you seen the CBS television show “Undercover Boss”? It’s a show where typically the CEO goes ‘undercover’ for a week working with front line employees. The CEO usually wears a disguise so they are not recognized. The show follows them around as they try to do the jobs of the front-line workers. They show them usually bumbling trying to keep up with the “value-adders” (you knew I would have to bring that in sooner or later). At the end of the day the camera crew shows them in their hotel room exhausted and commenting on how their day went. Then it’s off to another location or job for another day (what I haven’t seen was the private corporate jet that ferries them to the next location).

From the show’s CBS website (1), this is how they describe the show –

Each week, UNDERCOVER BOSS follows a different executive as they leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their companies.  While working alongside their employees, they see the effects that their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run.

Now, honestly I enjoy the show. It is usually heartwarming at the end when the employees get to meet the CEO san disguise. The CEO usually gives them some sort of award (a trip, money to pay for something important, a promotion and so on). Then the company has a big meeting where the CEO shows what he/she learned and what they did during the week. They typically say that they learned a lot and are going to change some of the policies or practices that are getting in the way of work (read: value adding).

So now I have to say this would never have to happen in a good lean company. The CEO, Vice Presidents and all the management should be at gemba (the place where actual work happens) often enough that the employees would recognize them. Shame on the company where people wouldn’t know who is running the company even if they ran into them. The revelations that occur to the CEOs on the television show should never have to occur in a lean organization. They shouldn’t be surprised by their employees’ actions.

Do you think a T.V. show that shows lean CEOs at gemba would get the same ratings? Probably not. One can hope.


  1. http://www.cbs.com/primetime/undercover_boss/about/


One Response to “T.V. Show “Undercover Boss” – not a Lean Leader?”

  1. I’m not a big fan of the show, and think it can teach many things that we shouldn’t be doing. I profiled some of that in What NOT to Learn from the Undercover Boss:


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