Lessons from Undercover Boss Australia 2. PR for a purpose, making surveys count, being interested.

I wrote last week that despite some flaws inherent in the ‘factual television’ format, there is a lot communicators and leaders can learn from Undercover Boss Australia. Episode one highlighted the benefit of finding opportunities to listen to employees.

Undercover Boss (Australia) is interesting for three reasons.

  • It has the potential to be good reality TV based on human drama and conflict (resolution).
  • It is a variation on the public relations approach of using factual TV as part of a campaign for awareness of the featured organisation (Airline, Border Security, RPA, etc). The first episode drew 1.3m viewers.
  • And it has the potential  to educate leaders and employees by showing a version of what occurs when an organisation’s operations and its leaders are able to communicate – what can we learn from their culture, choices and approaches.

Veolia Environmental Services’ Head of Operations, Peter Murray was the second boss to go through the process. Murray has over 25 years experience in the waste management business. His undercover experience included riding the garbage truck, sorting refuse for recycling, visiting a subsidiary where waste is converted to energy and working a landfill site. What did we learn from his experience?

When is a public awareness campaign not a public awareness campaign?
As an exercise in public awareness using the factual television format to cover issues for the  organisation, the Veolia episode was particularly effective. Operational efficiency and the employee safety depends in part on households and businesses taking care in how they sort their rubbish from their recycling. This message was illustrated dramatically when the recycling sorting line had to be shut down because of non-recyclable materials, and through the fears of sorter Rachel that she may suffer a needle-stick injury as a result of incorrect disposal.

Getting the most from surveys
In preparing to go undercover, Murray cited responses from a recent employee survey including the comment “The management team does not know what problems staff face in their working lives.” He uses the undercover experience as a way to make real the issues and concerns that have been raised through the survey process. This approach is a valid way of drilling down to the issues that cause the most concern and frustration for employees within organisation. Murray demonstrates the end-to-end approach required for effective use of employee feedback and surveys for them to be an effective driver of engagement, trust and business improvement.

  • Use employee surveys as a barometer
  • Conduct further qualitative face to face discussions to understand the issues
  • Involve employees in developing solutions
  • Reward contribution to solutions (not just participation)
  • Communicate about the actions taken

Constructive leaders show genuine interest
In the reveal, Murray’s feedback to his employees is based on having listened authentically to their circumstances, and the choice of rewards in recognition of their service and participation reflect a genuine interest in them.

Human Performance consulting firm Human Synergistics describe these constructive leadership behaviours as ‘humanistic encouraging’ (focussing on the potential of people, providing support and encouragement) and ‘affiliative’ (developing and sustaining relationships). Their research with a range of organisations demonstrates the impact constructive leadership behaviours have on the overall culture and subsequent sustainable performance of an organisation.

Next week: Will the Boost Juice boss discover just how loud the crews play their music when they are cleaning up?

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