To understand employees, you need not go undercover

The out-of-touch manager descends from his ivory tower to spend a week in his underlings’ shoes, and by the end of that conveniently wrapped week he is shown the light and magically knows exactly how to reconnect with his employees and change his business for the better.

This is the formula for “Undercover Boss,” a reality show that originated in the UK and has spun off into Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Norway and the US. While the walk-a-mile-in-the-employee-shoes method is certainly one way to connect with their employees, by the end of the episode the boss has connected with just five workers.

For most companies featured on the show, there are thousands more. Imagine all the insights and feedback they’re still missing! If only there was a way to reach all those employees … and of course, there is.

How do bosses get so out of touch in the first place? Were they ever in touch?

For most, the problem is one of scale. In geographically diverse companies like Cargill, which runs operations in 65 countries, there’s no way to meet every employee in person with town hall-style meetings.

Leaders at Cargill engage employees through an innovation system called i2i. Through focused innovation challenges that frame a specific business problem to be solved, leaders tap into the minds of hundreds or thousands of workers through this online platform. Since anyone with a computer can join, all levels of the organization are able to participate and collaborate in conversations that lead toward real solutions to Cargill’s issues.

The bosses at Cargill don’t go undercover to walk a mile in the employees’ shoes – they’re all wearing the same shoes. Cargill is better off for it – an interconnected culture united under an umbrella of improvement and collaboration leads to real improvements for the whole business.

These days there’s no need for bosses to feel like they’re out of touch – by providing a framework for innovation they can connect their people and drive meaningful change for their business.

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