Big Switch

Walk a mile in your employees' shoes--you could learn a lot.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the August 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In TLC's six-part series Now Who's Boss?, the heads of six corporations were sent to the "front lines" to perform their employees' duties, with amusing results. These execs took this opportunity to gain new perspectives-and respect-for their employees. Examples include the California Pizza Kitchen co-founders who tried being food servers, pizza makers and dishwashers; while the chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels made beds and flipped omelettes. While entertaining, the show also sends a message to business owners-everyone has an important role in the business' success.

Entrepreneurs can learn just as much from the show as the heads of corporations. "We don't know all the nuances each employee brings to the [business]," says Patti Lewis, marketing professor for American University in Washington, DC, and former entrepreneur. "All associates want is [to] be respected for what they do."

Lewis has done this experiment when she was responsible for Burger King's advertising west of the Mississippi. Her sales promotion presentation seemed like marketing genius but was shot down by franchisees, one of whom challenged her to work in his store. During one week, Lewis worked in the kitchen and at the counter. She encountered challenges like special orders and having to allocate resources with long lines inside and outside. Lewis made amendments to procedures after finding out what it was like to actually execute them and improved the sales promotion to be more effective and practical.

The leaders profiled in the show may have tried the experiment once, but the lessons learned are sure to stay with them. "The decisions we're making would be a lot more effective if we experienced it," asserts Lewis, who thinks entrepreneurs and their key people should routinely do this. Clarence Briggs' Web hosting company Advanced Internet Technologies in Fayetteville, North Carolina, not only cross-trains employees in different positions, but also requires chief officers to spend one day per month in the "pit," a 24-hour tech support center. Briggs, 44, knows this works to his company's advantage and has 2004 projected sales of $32 million-plus to prove it. Walking in the shoes of your employees may pave smoother paths for everyone in your business.

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