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Three Burning Questions About 'Undercover Boss'

by Joel Keller, posted Feb 22nd 2010 5:02PM
7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto goes undercover in CBS' 'Undercover Boss'In my cubicle world days as an IT guy, I always wondered if upper management would have a much different picture of what went on among the rank and file if they just took some time to come to the office and do what we did. So the premise of the new CBS reality series 'Undercover Boss' intrigued me; a CEO goes undercover to work with various employees to see what really goes on where the rubber hits the road.

But after three episodes (and seeing the preview of the fourth), a few troubling questions have come up that make me wonder if this show is going to be as illuminating as originally thought:

1. Why so many food service companies? Of the five episodes already scheduled, three involve food service companies (Hooters, 7-Eleven and White Castle). I know these companies have more manual-labor, entry-level jobs than a technology company might have, and seeing the CEO of 7-Eleven struggle to make coffee is fun to watch, but the formula is going to get a little boring after a while, isn't it?

The other two episodes are for companies that also have a lot of people who do manual work: Waste Management and Churchill Downs. I can tell you right now that there's about a 99.9999% chance that the Churchill Downs episode is going to have that company's CEO shoveling horsecrap out of a stable.

But there are plenty of different companies around, and a variety of them should be represented. Yes, the CEO of IBM isn't going to be sitting in a computer room programming their latest supercomputer. And, the CEO of Intel isn't going to be flying to China to work in their manufacturing plant. But every company has employees of various positions and skill levels, and the producers should be able to figure out a creative way to give the CEO of a high-tech company, for instance, a convincing-enough cover story to fleece even the smartest employees.

2. Do some of the folks balk at "meeting the boss?" In the 7-Eleven episode, the franchisee of the Long Island store that couldn't get the company to fix the lights in the store and stock room was either not present or cut out of the "big reveal." That was where the workers were summoned to corporate HQ and found out that the unassuming guy they were training, "Danny," was really CEO Joe DePinto. She was also not shown in the epilogue, which shows what happened to the employees/owners that DePinto worked with.

This seems to be the pattern every week, and it makes a person wonder if there were some issues with some of the people who worked with the undercover boss. When I put the question to the Squadders, Isabelle wondered the same thing. "Is it normal editing? Or is it because these employees asked not to appear on TV beyond the undercover bit of the show?"

Also, it seems like that one person gets cheated out of the CEO's generosity; the 7-Eleven franchisee got some light bulbs replaced, while the other four employees got a) a promotion, b) a kidney foundation named for her, c) a freelance gig with the company's marketing department, and d) his own franchise. Which leads me to my last question:

3. Is anything really going to change? Hopefully, the hit status of the show will allow the producers to revisit the companies; this way, we can see if the epiphanies the CEOs had while working their low-level jobs turn into real policies that make the company better and their employees' lives easier.

A CEO can make any policy he or she wants, but anyone who's worked in a corporate environment knows that a policy can change drastically as it filters down through the various levels of management. It's like a game of telephone; either the policy gets miscommunicated or it doesn't get executed correctly.

And just because the three or four employees that the CEO worked with while he was undercover got a boost, doesn't mean that the thousands of others will see any improvement in their daily work lives. Without the update, the picture will be incomplete.

What company would you want to see explored on 'Undercover Boss?' Let me know in the comments.

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L C Smith

With all the new tech equipment, why do they not use a hidden camera? I also agree with everyone that says it seems very scripted and the people the boss deals with always seem to be in a bad situation and need some form of help

April 04 2010 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They should do a segment on AT&T and the Greed that is so prevelant there. It's a huge company with one goal in mind...to make money. They are sacrificing the customer just to bring in the profit probably just like the rest of corporate America. Wake up, before greed does this country in..so how bout it Randall, you game?

March 01 2010 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ana c

I just saw my third episode of undercover boss: I was so shocked at how cheap these multi-million dollar companies are, the white castle owner only gave 5K to help the incredible young man to school Does he have any idea what it cost to go to culinary school? why couldn't he pay for the whole thing? Then 5k to the child of the other incredible worker why not find out what they need to make their lives better and go all the way ie do they need a nurse or a specific program and pay for a year ....all three epeisodes seemed so cheap and less the generous in their appreciation of their exceptional employees gosh i could go on and on the woman who wanted to be healthier why not pay for her to go to a 2 week weight mngmt retreat ....ok i will stop

February 28 2010 at 10:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wesley Ridge retirement community. Reynoldsburg Ohio

February 24 2010 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The company I work for is likely to small and regional to be on this show, but if it were I can tell you what would happen if the CEO or COO were to go "undercover" and mingle with the workers for a while. Absolutelly nothing would happen. It would all be a big PR scam, with maybe a few token changes promised, but probably never delivered. Our company is run by management that has no clue about the industry and business that they are in and it is unlikely that spending a small amount of time doing the grunt work with regular workers would have any effect on these corporate frauds. They would not even understand what they were doing, much less see where improvements could or should be made. Many times I have remarked to my co-workers that our management reminds me of little children playing dress up in their parents clothing. They are only going through the motions of what they think they should be doing.
For a while, corporate pushed a policy whereby on-site managers where supposed to ask us workers what we thought about things and what improvements could be made. So, from time to time, a manager would walk up to you and ask some inane question pertaining to your job, or at least that he/she thought did. The minute you started answering their question you would see that far away look in their eyes, telling you they had checked out mentally and were not really listening as you bored them with your little opinion. Without fail, whenever you would suggest any sort of change, they would say that we couldnt do it that way, because, well, we cant do it that way. But feel free to let me know if you have any more ideas! Imagine how inspired and motivated that makes you feel.
This is also a company where people who work hard are rewarded by being expected to take up the slack for shirkers who management is too lazy or clueless about to replace. Care to guess who gets promoted into management? Thats right, those same shirkers whose work you are doing. And you must be doing a fine job too, cause look how well they are doing because of you.
So, this may be an interesting show, as far as it goes, but its too unrealistic to take seriously.

February 24 2010 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


February 23 2010 at 8:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Joe Rogers founder of Waffle House shows up and works a shift at a random Waffle House every Sunday...there is a lesson there

February 23 2010 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


February 23 2010 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would like to see the CEO or Autozone take a few different positions at struggling or 'unsafe' locations to truly understand how difficult scheduling and the environment is there.

February 23 2010 at 8:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think they should do an episode for Victoria's Secret Direct. Put them to work in the DC and let them know how we have to do things as well as how we are treated.

February 23 2010 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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