How Real Is Undercover Boss?

Have you caught this Undercover Boss show on CBS? For the unitiated, they take corporate head honchos and send them undercover at their own companies for a few day. To the skeptics (like yours truly), it always seems a little too packaged and contrived to be genuine, but some of the workers featured on the show say it’s the real deal.

Speaking to the L.A. Times, three different employees shown on Undercover Boss say they were told that they would be filmed for a documentary about their respective companies (7-11, Waste Management and White Castle). The employees were each observed working on their own for a full day before their undercover bosses showed up, posing as new hires.

What about the bosses? These are leaders of mammoth, often global, corporations. Are they pulling the strings to make sure they look as good as possible? According to the Times, they apparently have no say as to which divisions or locations they work at, or who will be training them when they get there.

And, as often happens on these types of shows, the bosses learn heartwarming life lessons from their employees, usually ending in tears and hugs and whatnot. Certainly that can’t be genuine, right?

Jaclyn Pilgrim of Waste Management was featured on the pilot episode of the show. She spent the day with her undercover boss, WM’s president and COO Larry O’Donnell. During their time together, he was exposed to her workday and realized that layoffs had left her doing the work of four people for the pay of one.

After their time together — which included dinner with her family — Jaclyn was promoted.

“Some people win the lottery; I won Larry,” she said. “That’s better than anything for me because who gets to have a relationship where he calls me and asks me how I am, or I call him and say, ‘I sold this today.’ Who gets to have that kind of relationship with a COO?”

What do you think of the show — Is it a genuine case of executives learning from their employees, or is this just window-dressing for PR purposes? Is it possible to have both?

The rewards of hanging with the ‘Undercover Boss’ [LA Times]