Bosses Go Undercover

Human Resource Executive Online | Sep 16, 2009
By: Jared Shelly

Martin Walker is just an average construction worker at Clugston Group in Northern England. He lays concrete. He cleans drains. He gets his hands dirty.

But the employees who got to know Martin Walker over a two-week period were stunned to find out later that he was really Stephen Martin, CEO of the 600-employee company.

The trick was part of a British TV show called Undercover Boss. (CBS has planned a U.S. version for its 2009-2010 season.)

Armed with knowledge of the way lower-level workers go about their days and respond to corporate initiatives, Martin changed HR practices. He’s now convinced that communication from an HR executive wearing a suit and tie, and sitting in an office somewhere, is just not that effective.

Jon Younger, a partner at HR management and consulting firm RBL Group in Short Hills, N.J. says there are better ways to find out employees’ unfiltered work-related opinions.

“I don’t know if getting punked by your CEO is a good definition of leadership,” he says. “You might get some interesting info and it might be helpful, but you have destroyed trust within your organization. Imagine how fast suspicion grows if you’re not sure if the guy to your right or left is your co-worker or your boss in disguise?”

See what advice Jon gives about getting feedback from employees.