Undercover Boss and Your Change Project

Each CEO who participates in the hit CBS TV show Undercover Boss testifies at the end of the episode about what a transformative experience they’ve had. These CEOs experience firsthand aspects of their companies by going under cover that they could never see (or feel) in their “day jobs.”

They ALL say they will never forget what they learned as a result. Each one comes back with things they want to change about the way their company operates – tools to provide, employees to train better, sometimes systems or processes which need enhancing, or a new/different vision. Recent examples from this season include:

What compels them so strongly? John Kotter, the change leadership guru, would tell you they’ve lived out his concept of see-feel-change. It’s integral to increasing urgency as the first stage in Kotter’s framework. Kotter’s research shows nothing sustains behavior change better than the visceral connection with the heart, not just the head (see his books Leading Change and The Heart of Change for more specifics).

Short of sending your CEO onto the TV show under cover, what can you do for your change project to help your key stakeholders see-feel-change? The possibilities are endless!

  • Can you have executives sit in on customer calls in a call center? Could they especially listen to disgruntled customers and better understand why they are complaining?
  • If you work in a consumer-centric environment, can you send stakeholders on a market tour? Or better yet visit your competition’s retail outlets to see how your products compare on the store shelves?
  • In one project I worked on, we had employees from an outsource service provider join a panel to talk to our employees about their own experiences changing employers. That way our personnel could see someone “like them” who had made the leap to the other company and thus, better envision themselves making a similar switch.
  • In The Heart of Change, Kotter gives a great example called “Gloves on the Boardroom Table.” It’s related to a procurement challenge where a team physically displayed all of the different kinds of gloves used in the company’s various factories, illustrating the magnitude of cost savings possible.

See-feel-change is a concept our colleagues in marketing understand inherently. They bombard us with it constantly. I leave you with links to a few commercials which, although not new, convey it beautifully. When you start looking for it, you’ll see it all around you!

Betsy Winkler is Partner at PeopleResults with 20+ years of experience in Change Leadership. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1.