Undercover Boss

How 'Undercover Boss' Taught Me to Hire the Right People and Continue to Nurture Them

How 'Undercover Boss' Taught Me to Hire the Right People and Continue to Nurture Them
Image credit: Nader Masadeh
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There’s something you should know about me. For more than 40 years, I’ve been a proud wearer of a moustache.

When I was presented with an opportunity to explore the inner-workings of Buffalo Wings & Rings by participating in the hit CBS show Undercover Boss, I was tasked to do so under the guise of “Pete.” But here’s the thing, "Pete” is an older guy -- maybe by nearly 20 years -- and he’s balding. He has gray, wispy eyebrows. He wears thick glasses. And he doesn’t have a moustache.

Related: How Going 'Undercover' Made Me a Better Boss

You probably know where this is going. To truly embed myself in the day-to-day operations of the company, not as the CEO and co-founder but as a regular employee, my nearly life-long moustache had to go. So I shaved my head and my face, stripped the dark color from my hair and died it gray. To be honest, looking in the mirror kind of freaked me out, but I knew that if I really wanted to understand what makes my company work -- and not work -- I had to fully commit to this new and strange persona.

For nearly 11 years, I’ve been a part of Buffalo Wings & Rings, a club-level sports restaurant franchise, as its co-owner. But as the company’s CEO, I’m still pretty new to the game. Taking part in Undercover Boss presented itself as an incredible opportunity. This would be my chance to see firsthand how we execute on a day-to-day basis at our franchise locations. 

“Pete” became my alter-ego for a week. He worked alongside employees to complete those understated routine tasks that are paramount to keeping the business in working order. I’m talking about the other side of daily operations that we don’t usually see from our corner offices. From washing dishes in Cincinnati to serving tables in Chicago, “Pete” was on the ground floor of it all.  

Going undercover was exhilarating. I was able to share laughs with dozens of employees who work hard to keep our customers smiling. I saw where we were excelling and thriving. But I also saw where we struggled. And while those rough moments aren’t always easy to swallow, they serve as a lesson: There is always room to improve your business.

Nobody is perfect, and Buffalo Wings & Rings is no exception. At the end of the experience, there were two key lessons learned. I hope that they will not only guide me and my company as we strive to be better than ever, but they will help other businesses improve their vital inner-workings, too.

Related: Take It From a Cupcake Maker: True Entrepreneurs Are Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

1. Select people who share the same values as your company.

It sounds simple, right? Turns out that, a lot of times, these kinds of things get lost in translation as they trickle down the management ladder. For me, it was hard to see employees not always offering the VIP experience to customers and giving respect to each other that we expect to be see across the system -- they were being rude to customers, reading from an emotionless script and making it clear that their patronage wasn’t appreciated. That’s not who we are -- and that’s not how I want to see our brand represented to the people who keep us in business.

When you’re interviewing that next potential franchisee, make sure they believe in the same things that you do. Make sure that they’re thinking with their head and their heart. And make sure they embody kindness, hospitality and passion. From there, the rest falls into place. When you select the right franchisee, their zeal for the company will become contagious. It’ll spread down and creep into the thoughts and actions of every other employee who comes along.

2. Once you have the right team, nurture them.

The problem is that in our line of business, there’s often a high turnover rate. When you’re constantly training and retraining, those certain intangible elements -- like values and pride -- can slip through the cracks. So maybe your new employee knows how to run the cash register, but do they know how to personalize service to the guest to be able to make them feel special or get them to smile when they’re having a bad day?

When you have an employee who truly lives and breathes what the company stands for, and you reach a point where you can trust them as a genuine ambassador for your brand, hang on to them. It’s important to focus on longevity and a low turnover rate. Do this by creating a safe environment and a culture that inspires personal and professional growth. Treat them fairly, and reward them for a good day’s work. Let them know they’re valued.

In the end, going undercover taught me a lot about my company. I never had the “A-Ha!” moment everybody often hopes for, and I’m totally OK with that. This experience has reaffirmed to me that the path Buffalo Wings & Rings is on is the right one, as long as we continue to immerse our employees -- from the top to the bottom -- in the lifeblood that keeps our company alive and well.

I’m looking forward to spreading this message across Buffalo Wings & Rings for years to come -- and I might not even grow back my moustache. 

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