‘A group of people get together and exist as an institution we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately – they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.’ – David Packard, late co-founder of Hewlett-Packard (March 8, 1960)
The early years of Hewlett-Packard are often regarded as having an innovative founding culture. Highlighted, by the late co-founder, David Packard’s speech to HP Managers in 1960, who empowered each individual working at HP, to be their best self. He wanted employees to know that they were doing something worthwhile, and wanted that communicated directed at every level.
Fast-forward a half-century later, and reality television shows, such as ‘Undercover Boss’, have shone a spotlight on that relationship, between senior executives and their employees. The premise of the show is for high level executives to go ‘undercover’ within their own organization as an entry-level employee, to see how business operations works at a ‘staff’ level.
The end results are often eye-opening, cathartic even, for these executives that gain a better understanding of their employee’s day-to-day work. In many cases, it offers new changes to make processes easier. Working as a function of reality television, it is prone to offer melodramatic moments fused with the tear-jerker endings, leaving executives acknowledging the importance of entry-level work.
“If the camera crews of ‘Undercover Boss’ entered your workplace, perhaps the first question you should ask yourself is, ‘Why?’.”
However, it can also be viewed as a damning indictment on the existing disconnect between executives and staff. One that certainly on the surface sounds at odds with what David Packard envisioned nearly 60 years later.
This of course sounds like a rather cynical take on the show itself, but in truth it speaks to wider communication gap between executives and employees. If the camera crews of ‘Undercover Boss’ entered your workplace, perhaps the first question you should ask yourself is, ‘Why?’.
As a leader, the onus is on you to foster a working environment where employees are empowered to feel like they have real ownership, in the business. This is not a new idea, but it bears repeating, as recognizing staff as individuals, rather than as a collective, is imperative to future success.
This yields positive results in many ways, but perhaps most critically, it aspires people to work to their fullest potential, and inspire innovation. The opposite effect can detach workers from their job, and make them feel truly just another body, another number, performed to only do one task and are disposable when they can’t.
“As a leader, the onus is on you to foster a working environment where employees are empowered to feel like they have real ownership in the business.”
The premise behind ‘Undercover Boss’ is built upon the fact that these entry-level workers, do not recognize the executives of their company. There is no one-to-one relationship, because those relationships have not yet been established.
Establish those relationships, make lasting connections and celebrate the diversity of those that work in your organization. Eliminate the notion of hierarchy and focus on ‘the people’ and not ‘the staff’. Create individualized career progressions, meetings, rather than lumping everyone into one. It’s these little things, where you put yourself ahead of others and attract the best people.
Customers, clients are all important, but it’s the respect you give to the people that work for you that will ultimately decide how far your business can go. A work environment, that doesn’t so much feel like ‘work’ but instead, as Dave Packard described, something that is worthwhile.