Directly following the Super Bowl, CBS (Stock Quote: VIA) premiered an interesting new program that might interest MainStreet readers. Undercover Boss follows captains of industry as they try out lower level jobs in the companies they run. It’s now the top rated network show of the season. But are the discoveries the bosses make genuine and are the changes they promise really in the works? We spoke to one of the companies that participated and it turns out that while in some cases real change may have occurred, in others, facts were obfuscated or left on the cutting room floor, apparently for the sake of making better TV.
MainStreet took a closer look at the first episode and here are our findings.
The premiere episode of Undercover Boss featured President and Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management Larry O’Donnell. The $13 billion company has 75,000 employees, and does just what you’d imagine. According to its Web site, WM serves “20 million municipal, commercial, industrial, and residential customers through a network of 367 collection operations, 355 transfer stations, 273 active landfill disposal sites, 16 waste-to-energy plants, 134 recycling plants, and 111 beneficial-use landfill gas projects.”
On the show, Larry stripped off his suit, donned work clothes and journeyed to a number of WM locations where he did a number of jobs that, frankly, most of us probably would do everything in our power to avoid. He cleaned out toilets, cleared garbage off of landfills, sorted trash and rode around on a garbage truck. At every stop he was paired with an employee who evaluated his work and provided him with the “inside scoop” on the operations of the company (as far as the employees knew, he was just a regular guy trying out an entry-level job for a TV show). In most cases, Larry wasn’t any good at these jobs, and in one case he was basically fired. It was, without a doubt, gratifying to watch a boss get taken down a notch, and that sense of comeuppance seems to drive the show.
First and foremost, it’s a feel-good show for the American working stiff. What disgruntled, underpaid and underappreciated American worker wouldn’t enjoy seeing the boss get shamed on national television? Who among us hasn’t thought that there’s no way the boss could do what we do on a daily basis? Seeing that kind of bitterness validated on national TV is powerful stuff. In this episode, they have Larry actually cleaning up human excrement.
Second, and more importantly, the show is like a public relations valentine for the companies participating. In this episode, Larry is portrayed as a genuinely concerned boss who is shocked — just shocked — that some of his workers are less than thrilled with their jobs and/or compensation. He was committed to doing something to right these egregious — though by all accounts isolated — wrongs.