The concept behind the CBS television show, Undercover Boss – though the approach is a bit dramatic and underhanded – is that of a senior leader becoming a “secret employee” at their own business. These senior leaders shadow their employees and learn about the real work lives that their employee’s experience.

In the purposeful, positive, productive organizations I study, senior leaders don’t see the “live in your employee’s shoes” opportunity as a once-in-a-career. They see it as a regular occurrence. When senior leaders take the time out from their daily strategic and administrative tasks and meetings, they can truly appreciate which policies and procedures help or hurt or hinder employee engagement, service, and results in their organizations. This practice is at the heart of authentic leadership which benefits employees.   Instead of going undercover – let’s look at what it would be like to go side-by-side!

leaders learn by working side by side with their employees

Employees know a great deal about what systems and norms enable effective performance and great customer experiences. They know which policies and procedures inhibit them from doing the right thing the right way the first time. Senior leaders need to honour their employee’s knowledge and savviness by learning from their staff members, side-by-side.

Seek out a few employees who would be willing to have you shadow them for two hours on a given workday. Schedule appointments with them. Let’s say Bill is your first appointment. Stand by Bill and observe him doing his job. At the end of that two hours, take Bill out for coffee or soda. Ask what gets in his way on a day-to-day basis. Inquire about how you can improve his work environment so he can perform better and serve customers perfectly. Act on his suggestions as soon as you can. Schedule your next “side-by-side” appointment with a different employee, in a different department.

Do this two times a week. Over the course of a year, if leaders shadow their employees, they’ll meet over 100 employees and learn a bunch about their work environment. And, by acting on their suggestions, you’ll make significant workplace improvements that will inspire better performance, higher service delivery, and increased employee work passion.

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S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He shares insights on organizational culture, servant leadership, employee engagement, and workplace inspiration.

He writes books and articles and records podcasts.

In his free time, he’s a working musician with the Brian Raine band in Denver, CO.