How Going 'Undercover' Made Me a Better Boss
With a wig glued to my head and colored contacts, I got to check out the day-to-day operations of the company -- not as the CEO, but as a regular guy.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the hit CBS show Undercover Boss (premiering Feb. 20) and examine the inner workings of my smart home technology company, Vivint. I spent a week working with employees across the country in several areas of the business, including Vivint’s 24/7 monitoring station, our wireless Internet division, the field services department and a Vivint Solar warehouse.
After more than two decades as CEO of the company I co-founded, I jumped at the opportunity to slip back into some of the everyday operations and see how things had changed since the early days when I was working multiple jobs across the company. Going undercover ended up being such an incredible experience that I actually didn’t want it to end. I learned a lot about the company, our employees and about myself as a leader.
I’m guessing there isn’t a business out there that couldn’t improve something about how it runs. Here are a few things I learned that I think all business leaders can use to improve their management style and employee relationships:
1. Get back to grassroots.
When I started Vivint, I knew the name of every employee and every job. We’ve grown exponentially since then and now have 7,000 employees providing home technology services to 900,000 customers. Going undercover allowed me see the daily tasks of employees across several departments and levels of the company.
Two of my jobs in the field required actually installing equipment in customers’ homes. While on a slippery roof installing Vivint Internet equipment, I experienced first hand how dangerous some of our jobs can be. I have since reinforced our harness policy and made sure that every employee doing these installations has the proper footwear.
Spending time with employees on the job and taking the time to understand the challenges they face is essential to effective leadership.
2. Keep an eye on the details.
I get that as a leader it’s your job to look at the big picture and focus on the vision of the company, but never forget the importance of details. Working alongside my employees opened my eyes to the little things that make a big impact on their daily work.
While working in our Vivint Central Monitoring Station in Minnesota, I realized that at times some of the phones and headsets had static interference. I also noticed the facility could use some updating. I have since upgraded their phone equipment and I brought in a crew to deep clean the office -- a small cost to the company, but a big improvement for our monitoring professionals.
It’s easier than you think to increase productivity and morale. You can make improvements that may seem inconsequential, but make all the difference in helping employees be more successful in their jobs.
3. Connect with your employees.
Spending quality time with my employees while undercover was my favorite part of the entire experience. In the early days of Vivint, my wife and I knew every employee, and often their spouses. It’s impossible to maintain that same connection with several thousand people.
While I can’t spend that kind of one-on-one time anymore, connecting with employees is still important in creating mutual respect and increased commitment to the job. For me, this connection might be sitting with employees in the company cafeteria or joining an afternoon game of ping-pong. It’s the type of leadership that hotel mogul J. Willard Marriott called “walk-around management.”
When I dropped out of college to start the business that would eventually become Vivint, my dad gave me some advice. He told me that if I were going to run a company, I had to do two things: provide the best service possible for my customers and treat my employees like gold. He assured me that if I did these two things, everything else would work out. Of course he was right, and my time undercover proved it.
I’ve always known Vivint would be nothing without the quality of our employees, and now I’m prouder than ever of them and the way they take care of our customers.
While not every executive has the chance to go undercover like I did, taking the time to work side by side and connect with employees should be a priority for all managers. I plan to give this opportunity to Vivint leadership across the company so they can benefit from the invaluable insight that comes from being on the ground -- although I won’t make any of them wear a wig.