Over the past few years with the soft economy, we've gone through some tough times, and had to make a lot of changes. The show was a way for me to work at the customer-service level and see whether those changes had any impact.
What surprised me is that before going undercover, I felt that I knew the jobs and would be really good at doing them. They were a lot harder than I thought. The amount of personal attention we give to our guests blew me away. I was a line cook. I was not qualified to do that, although I do occasionally make food at home and know how to make scrambled eggs. Making food in mass quantities requires a different level of skill. The last thing I would have thought of is teamwork. The seven guys on the line worked with precision. How many pancakes are we going to make? How much fruit should we put in, at the same time keeping costs in mind? All of those things were happening in this little unit without a supervisor. If you could spread that throughout the company, you'd become so much more productive.
The takeaway for me was that I am now looking for ways we can engage our line employees in committees to improve the way we provide personalized service. Management needs to get workers more involved in what we're trying to do because the employees are the ones who know how to do it. We just have to ask them what they would do differently and what would make their jobs easier.
It's amazing how much more you can learn when you don't think you're the smartest person in the room. I've brought it down a notch. My advice for other executives? Why not try going to work in a department for a week? I think after a while your employees would be comfortable, and they'd let their ideas out. Just make sure you're not trying to fix everything while you're there. Let them do the talking.
NEXT: Steve Phelps